All is not well in Indianapolis. Rumors of turmoil between the Colts’ front office and head coach Chuck Pagano have become commonplace in the early weeks of the season, presumably about the offensive line’s complete inability to protect franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck was limited in practice on Thursday and didn't practice on Wednesday to rest a sore throwing shoulder, a product of the continual beating he's taken since his rookie year. Luck’s first three weeks to the 2015 campaign have been the worst three game stretch of his career, highlighted by a league-leading seven interceptions and league-low QBR of 65.1.
The Colts finally righted the ship in dramatic fashion last week in Nashville, coming from behind to beat the Titans 35-33. The Colts have a great opportunity to prove once again that they run the AFC South with their next two games being against division opponents, starting Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars come to the Circle City.
The Jaguars are still very much the Jaguars that you know and don’t watch. After a Week 2 win against what now looks like a shoddy Dolphins team, the Jags allowed a franchise high in points when they were absolutely rolled by the Patriots last week, 51-17.
Blake Bortles is still learning to find his groove as an NFL quarterback while the defense that has been near the worst in the league the past several seasons is... still near the worst in the league. Against the Pats, the Jags D surrendered 473 yards of total offense and 35 first downs.
With a banged-up Luck and two bad defenses, this game has all the makings of being a very, very ugly matchup as the Colts look to extend their AFC South win streak to 15 games.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Indianapolis -9
Three Things To Watch
1. Can Either Team Run the Ball?
Last week was the first time in Andrew Luck’s career that he’s had a running back on his team average over six yards per carry in a game. Free agent signee Frank Gore looked like the running back the Colts have missed since the Edgerrin James days, as Gore ran for 86 yards and two scores on 14 carries against the Titans. The big question is, will Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton force feed Gore, who only had 23 carries the first two games, with an ailing Luck?
One early positive note for the Jags defense (aside from last week) is their ability to stop the run. Jacksonville ranks second in the NFL by only allowing 3.3 yards per carry. But if the Jags want to snap the Colts' five game win streak against them, they are going to have to solidify their own running game offensively.
Rookie running back T.J. Yeldon was rendered useless against the Pats (11 att., 33 yds.) due to such a deficit and the Jags being forced to throw. The Colts' defense is nowhere near as stout as New England’s, as Indianapolis gives up an average of 112 yards per game on the ground. If Jacksonville can get Yeldon going on the ground early and often and keep the Colts' offense off the field, the Jags have a shot.
2. Andrew Luck
The sore shoulder and bad offensive line aside, Andrew Luck just doesn’t look like the same QB that we’ve seen the past couple of seasons. Too many times Luck is making just really, really bonehead plays. Last week he was being chased from the pocket to the sideline, but before stepping out of bounds or simply throwing the ball away, he chucked the ball in the air off his back foot like it was a recess pick up game, just sort of hoping that 5-foot-9 T.Y. Hilton comes down with it in a crowd. The ball was picked off, the second straight possession Luck threw a pick that lead to Titans points.
Luck has always played a little close to the vest in terms his throws, but many of his throws this season are almost like he is trying too hard to make big plays instead of making the smart play. Instead of checking down, Luck is locking on, and often times under throwing his primary receivers downfield.
This week against the Jags would be a great opportunity to get his tight ends involved and keep drives going instead of the persistent three-and-outs that are exhausting the Colts defense. Coby Fleener was ignored in the first two games, with just one reception against the Bills and Jets before adding four catches last week. Dwayne Allen has been banged up, but should be recovered from an ankle injury and ready to go Sunday, giving Luck another reliable target over the middle.
There is little doubt that Luck will turn things around and make better decisions going forward, and this week will be a great opportunity for him to smooth out where his game has gone rough in the first three weeks.
3. Jaguars' Wide Receivers vs. Colts' Vulnerable Secondary
The Jaguars' receiving core of Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson aren’t household NFL names but they each are going to have the opportunity to be heard this week against a susceptible Colts secondary. Hurns, Robinson, and tight end Marcedes Lewis could have a field day on underneath routes, where Indy’s secondary has been exploited early this season.
Colts defensive backs Greg Toler and Darius Butler are questionable for the game on Sunday. Toler hasn’t played a single snap all season and Butler hasn't played since Week 1 — both are going to be rusty. To compound matters, All-Pro cornerback Vontae Davis has been getting beat this year rather noticeably. Normally one of the league’s shutdown corners, Davis has been caught many times on defensive holding calls and has been the target of many opposing quarterbacks in red-zone situations. While Davis’ setback could simply be the sum of a struggling secondary, its worth keeping an eye on.
The Jaguars have a great opportunity to walk into Lucas Oil Stadium and steal a victory against the Colts on Sunday. Bortles is going to have to find his young and talented receivers quickly and get running back Yeldon off and running early to give the Jaguars a fighting chance. The last thing Jacksonville wants to do is give Luck the chance to find his rhythm by giving him extra possessions. Converting on third down is going to be paramount for the Jaguars as they only move the chains 36.8 percent of the time.
A hurting Luck might not sound like the ideal situation, but his aching shoulder could be the reason the Colts change their offensive scheme for the better. Instead of taking shots down field and risking quick possessions, the Colts should give Gore upwards of 25 to 30 carries this week in hopes of extending drives and protecting Luck.
Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 17
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.