‘Chopping Wood’ is back and insiders Zak Keefer and Joel Erickson discuss the Colts’ winning streak and what to expect in Jacksonville. Clark Wade,
INDIANAPOLIS — Three questions that will be answered when the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars (3-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.
How will the Jacksonville offense change under Cody Kessler and Scott Milanovich?
The Jaguars offense that put up 415 yards of total offense — 324 through the air — against the Colts just three weeks ago was blown up this week. Jacksonville fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched quarterback Blake Bortles, opting for big changes after Bortles threw for just 231 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against the Steelers and Bills.
And that means Jacksonville’s offense is one big wild card.
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Quarterbacks coach-turned-offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich has tried to play his cards close to the vest on how much the offense will change under his direction.
Indianapolis has to prepare for the unknown.
“I think he will have a little bit of his own rhythm and his own emphasis,” Colts coach Frank Reich said.
Kessler, on the other hand, is a little bit more of a known commodity after making eight starts for Cleveland two years ago and one relief appearance with Jacksonville earlier this year. Kessler is smart with the football, gutsy and doesn’t take a lot of chances; he also doesn’t push the ball down the field much. When he was thrown into the game against Houston earlier this year, Kessler completed 21 of 30 passes, but for just 156 yards, and he was sacked four times.
“I have been in the situation before on the other side where we have had a quarterback change, for whether it be by injury or you are just changing,” Reich said. “In my experiences, it’s not quite as big of a deal as everybody thinks.”
Will the Colts be able to get the running game going?
Only one team has held Indianapolis to fewer than 100 yards rushing when the Colts have had Marlon Mack available.
As bad as Jacksonville has been as a team this season, the Jaguars defense remains formidable. Jacksonville ranks sixth in the NFL in yards (320.2 yards per game) and eighth in points (22.1 per game), and the scoreless second half the Jaguars pitched against the Colts three weeks ago is really the only time the Indianapolis offense has been brought to a grinding halt in the past two months or so.
Whether or not star cornerback Jalen Ramsey is healthy — he’s questionable with a knee injury — the Jaguars remain supremely talented at defensive line and linebacker, and that could make the sledding tough for Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, particularly with center Ryan Kelly out for a second consecutive week.
Indianapolis picked up only 81 yards on 23 carries against the Jaguars, and that included a 53-yard run by Jordan Wilkins. Take away that carry, and the Colts averaged just 1.3 yards per carry against Jacksonville the first time, far below their season norm of 4.5 yards per carry.
And that could make life a little bit harder on Andrew Luck and company.
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Can the Colts make Jacksonville one-dimensional without Leonard Fournette?
Kessler and Milanovich won’t have the services of Jacksonville’s driving engine on offense. Fournette was suspended one game for his role in last week’s brawl against Buffalo, and that’s bad news for a Jaguars offense that has relied heavily on the running game.
In the five games Fournette’s been available, the Jaguars have averaged 151.8 rushing yards, topping out with 179 against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and a whopping 226 against the Bills last week.
When he’s out, the Jaguars turn to T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde. Both players are talented, but Jacksonville is averaging just 82.8 yards on the ground in the six games Fournette has missed this season.
And that’s music to the ears of a Colts defense that shut down the Jacksonville ground game in the first meeting between the two teams. Indianapolis held Fournette and the Jaguars to just 91 yards on 34 carries in that game; with Fournette unavailable, Jacksonville might find the sledding even tougher this time around.