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Divisional foes going in different directions will meet tonight in Florida.
Two AFC South teams with drastically different 2012 results will clash on Thursday Night Football, when the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Indianapolis Colts at 8:20 p.m. EST on the NFL Network. The solid play of No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and the inspiration of coach Chuck Pagano, who is currently battling leukemia, has the 5-3 Colts in contention for a playoff spot. Conversely, the 1-7 Jaguars have lost five in a row and are in search of their first victory since winning in Indianapolis on September 23.
When the Indianapolis Colts have the ball:
Luck has been as advertised since taking over as the franchise quarterback. Despite a low completion percentage and a mediocre passer rating of 79.0, Luck already has four games with over 300 yards passing (tying former Colts QB Peyton Manning’s rookie record) and he set the all-time single game rookie record with 433 yards passing against the Dolphins last week. Luck is also tied for fourth (with Manning) in the NFL with 2,404 passing yards on the season. One of the biggest keys to Luck’s and the Colts’ success has been veteran wideout Reggie Wayne, who leads the NFL with 835 receiving yards.
The Jacksonville defense has struggled this year, ranking 29th in the league in total yards (allowing 392.9 per contest) and 26th in scoring (27.4 points per game). Besides a suspect run defense, the Jaguars biggest problem has been generating pressure on opposing signal callers. Jacksonville is dead last in the NFL with a meager eight sacks in eight games, and Jags defenders have compiled only nine takeaways this season. Despite giving up 437 total yards in the Colts win in September, it was the only time this season that a Jacksonville foe did not reach the 20-point mark.
When the Jacksonville Jaguars have the ball:
The picture is not any better for the Jacksonville offense, which ranks dead last in the league with a putrid average of only 254.4 yards and 14.6 points per game. The Jaguars have been hurt greatly by the absence of intrepid running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who will miss his third straight game because of a foot injury. His backup, Rashad Jennings, has totaled 148 yards on 50 carries as the lead option over the last three games. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has had a rough go in his second season, throwing for nine touchdowns and five interceptions while being sacked 18 times.
The Indianapolis defense is adjusting to a new system, but there has been improvement as the seasons has progressed. The Colts rank 18th in the league with 352.3 yards allowed per contest, but they have only given up 46 combined points in the last three games — all wins. One area where Indy must improve is in causing turnovers, as the Colts have a league-low three takeaways in eight games. Indianapolis should benefit immensely from the Jags not having Jones-Drew, who has torched the Colts many times including 177 yards rushing earlier this season.
The Jaguars have been awful at home this year, and they must find away to limit Wayne and keep this game low-scoring. The bad news is that Luck found other weapons in last week’s win over Miami, with both T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery eclipsing the 100-yard mark in receiving. The Colts have rallied around Pagano’s fight, even shaving their heads this week to support their coach. While Jacksonville should play desperately hard on national television, look for the Indy magic and the solid play of Luck to continue.
Colts 23 Jaguars 16
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)