A big-time AFC South battle is set for Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts host the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two teams played back on Sept. 18 with the Jags holding serve 24-0 at home in an easy victory. Christian Kirk had two receiving touchdowns while James Robinson added a 37-yard TD run. Meanwhile, it was a miserable day for Matt Ryan who had three interceptions and was sacked five times in the loss. Jacksonville has won five of the last eight meetings between the two division rivals.
The Jags are coming off a rather awful effort as they lost 13-6 at home to the Texans last Sunday despite being a touchdown favorite. The loss was their second in a row and dropped their record to 2-3 on the season. Trevor Lawrence went 25-of-47 for 286 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. One of the few positives was the effort of running back Travis Etienne Jr., who accounted for 117 yards of total offense and may finally be making himself a consistent option.
The Colts (2-2-1) won one of the worst "Thursday Night Football" games of all time last week, escaping Denver with a 12-9 overtime victory. The offense managed just four field goals, although that was still enough to steal a much-needed W. Matt Ryan tossed two interceptions but made enough plays when needed. It also had to be satisfying for him and the team to pull out the win without running back Jonathan Taylor, who was sidelined by an ankle injury. To make matters worse, backup Nyheim Hines left the game early due to a head injury, leaving the backfield work to Deon Jackson and Phillip Lindsay.
Jacksonville (2-3) at Indianapolis (2-2-1)
Three Things to Watch
This is Jacksonville's third road game over the last four weeks and fourth so far this season overall. This contest comes after a tough loss at home and precedes a home tilt with the Giants. The Jaguars already have a win in Los Angeles against the Chargers but struggled in the other contests to close when they had the chance to win, including last week vs. Houston. Finishing games strong is one of the next steps this young team needs to take.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis has had extra time to prepare for this after playing last Thursday. The Colts have a chance to basically draw even in the AFC South standings with idle Tennessee, which would be huge since the two teams play each other in Nashville next week. Even though Jacksonville has had some disappointing results, the Jags still have a chance to sweep the season series from Indy for the first time since the 2017 season while the Colts can thrust themselves right back into the division race, so expect both teams to be fired up for this one.
2. Signal-caller struggles
As mentioned earlier, neither quarterback is exactly entering this contest on a high. Both tossed a pair of interceptions with no touchdowns in their team's last game. It's been a rough Indianapolis introduction for Ryan, who has more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five) thus far. Pass protection has been a persistent problem, which is a little surprising, and Jonathan Taylor's absence certainly didn't help last time out, although Ryan and Co. found a way to grind out a win. But even with Taylor around, Ryan's highest QBR effort this season was 55.6 in a Week 3 win over Kansas City, which isn't that impressive.
Trevor Lawrence started out this season strong with six touchdowns and just one pick over the first three games, but it's been a different story since. Two weeks ago, Lawrence floundered mightily on the road against Philadelphia, with the less-than-ideal conditions contributing to four lost fumbles in a tough, 29-22 loss. And then last week, he struggled with this accuracy (53.2 percent) against the Texans and couldn't get his team into the end zone despite the Jaguars accumulating 422 total yards and him not getting sacked once. The two interceptions were huge as both occurred in the red zone (one in the end zone). In many ways, whichever QB gets out of their slump will be the one who comes out victorious on Sunday.
3. Ground and pound
This game features two of the top six rushing defenses in the NFL with Indianapolis fourth and Jacksonville sixth. Because of the QB struggles, both teams would love to turn the offense over to their running backs. Indianapolis' backfield will be short-handed, however, as both Taylor (ankle) and Nyheim Hines (concussion) were ruled out on Saturday. That leaves Deon Jackson and Phillip Lindsay to handle the backfield touches. This duo combined for 102 rushing yards on 24 carries last Thursday night against Denver. Jacksonville is in much better shape with James Robinson and Etienne sharing touches. Etienne appears to be coming into his own after missing his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury. He outgained Robinson last week 71-27 with both getting 10 carries. Etienne is becoming a growing factor in the passing game. For his part, Robinson is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and has three rushing touchdowns. However they go about it, both teams will need to try and establish the run to help take pressure off of their scuffling quarterbacks.
The Jaguars have shown improvement under new head coach Doug Pederson but need to tighten up on the little things and learn how to win, especially when it comes to late-game situations. Winning organizations don't lose to the Texans last week and certainly don't score only six points. The Colts may be struggling to find their own identity, but they are at home where they can claim a win over Kansas City (Week 3). I also expect Matt Ryan to play better, although Jonathan Taylor's continued absence (and Nyheim Hines') puts more pressure on unproven running backs. I still like the Colts to get the W in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Prediction: Colts 20, Jaguars 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
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