This season’s first AFC South rematch looks like a mismatch.
The surging Indianapolis Colts have averaged a little more than 33 points over their last eight games while the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars have topped 21 points once in the last two months. The Colts (6-5) have won five straight since a less-than-ideal start. The Jaguars (3-8) have dropped seven in a row since thumping the New York Jets to end the season’s opening quarter.
“Definitely dumbfounded,” Jacksonville defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “If you would have told me in April we’d be 3-8, I’d say you’re lying. I don’t know what’s going on. … I don’t know what to say, what to change. We work hard. Guys have bought into the scheme. The locker room is still together.
“Nobody’s waving (goodbye), nobody’s searching for flights to get out of here at the end of the season. Guys are locked in. To go out there and keep losing, it’s unexplainable. I don’t even know what to say to you.”
The teams played three weeks ago, with the Colts winning 29-26 thanks partly to Jacksonville receiver Rashad Greene’s fumble in field-goal range with 1:30 remaining.
Jacksonville won’t look the same in the second meeting.
Coach Doug Marrone fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched quarterback Blake Bortles this week, making two major changes in hopes of jumpstarting one of the league’s worst passing attacks. He promoted quarterbacks coach and former CFL head coach Scott Milanovich to play-caller along with backup quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler, who went 0-8 with Cleveland in 2016, will make his first start in two years.
Those tweaks could provide a spark for Jacksonville and might be a challenge for the Colts.
“I have been in the situation before on the other side where we have had a quarterback change, whether it be by injury or you are just changing,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “In my experiences, it’s not quite as big of a deal as everybody thinks.
“It’s usually not as big a systematic change as people might think. You nuance a couple things, you shift a couple things, but mostly you are running your system. So he will be ready. He’s been running their system, right? He’s been running their system, been in it, so we will just prepare against what we have been seeing on tape.”
Indy won’t have to prepare for Jacksonville’s best offensive player. Running back Leonard Fournette was suspended one game without pay for leaving the sideline, running across the field and instigating a fight at Buffalo last week. The penalty will cost Fournette about $100,000.
Former Browns running back Carlos Hyde is expected to start in place of Fournette.
Jacksonville also will be without left guard Andrew Norwell (ankle), who became the third O-line starter and fifth lineman to land on injured reserve.
“We’ve had some injuries,” center Tyler Shatley said. “You hate to see that.”
The Colts know the feeling, having played all of last season without quarterback Andrew Luck and losing by a combined score of 57-10 in two games against Jacksonville in 2017.
Now, Indy is going for its first six-game winning streak since 2009, and Luck has three or more touchdown passes in eight consecutive games.
“You work together and you should be getting a little better every day,” Luck said. “It’s great to see it show up on the field, but we know as the season goes on, the challenge gets a little bigger and the climb gets a little tougher.”
Here are some other things to know about the Colts and Jaguars:
No team has been more proficient finding tight ends this season than the Colts.
Eric Ebron already has 11 touchdown catches, matching his total from the previous four seasons, and he’s tied for the league lead with Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill. In fact, Andrew Luck has thrown 18 of his 32 TD passes to tight ends — more than twice as many as any other team.
The Jaguars are hoping to play a little cleaner. They lead the NFL with 22 personal fouls, and Marrone has grown tired of all the flags for undisciplined behavior .
“The way the team plays is a reflection on me,” Marrone said. “I understand that. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in having a well-disciplined, smart football team and obviously I’m not getting that done.”
HOLDING THE LINE
The biggest turnaround for Indy has come on the offensive line. The Colts have given up just 11 sacks all season, matching New Orleans for the league low and have allowed just one over the last six weeks.
Source: The Associated Press