As we look ahead to the first game of the week, the question to ask is the same every week – what’s the outlook for Thursday? This week the AFC South is under the spotlight as rookie phenom Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts travel to EverBank Field in sunny Florida to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here’s the tale of the tape:
Indianapolis Colts: 5-3
Injuries: The biggest concern for Indy here is the loss of their two starting cornerbacks – Vontae Davis is missing his second consecutive game with a knee injury and Jarraud Powers also didn’t travel due to a toe problem. The other player who didn’t go to Jacksonville is tight end Coby Fleener who partially dislocated his shoulder in late October and is probably out for the next two games. With the short week there are multiple players listed as questionable. Of those, running back Donald Brown is most likely to miss the game – he didn’t look very comfortable in his return Sunday and would benefit from another week of rest. Center Samson Satele, LB Robert Mathis and T Winston Justice did not practice Wednesday but all are expected to make the start. Wide receiver Donnie Avery is also listed as questionable but of this group he is most likely to play. LB Pat Angerer (foot) and LB/DE Dwight Freeney (ankle) are both expected to play.
Three Keys To Victory: With their two top cornerbacks out, generating a good pass rush is crucial in this game. Blaine Gabbert hasn’t been particularly effective this season but there will be holes in the Colts secondary that can be exploited – but they’ll only be exploited if Gabbert has the time to see them.
Next is Vick Ballard. With Donald Brown unlikely to play and probably extremely limited if he does play, it rests on Ballard to give Andrew Luck the option of using play-action effectively. I don’t have a huge amount of confidence in Ballard but his role isn’t so much to make big plays but rather to add to the tools in Andrew Luck’s arsenal.
Lastly I would point to the inspiration the team draws from head coach Chuck Pagano. I know that it has little to do with what happens on the field but it does go toward the psychological mentality of the players and provides that extra motivation. These players have gone hard for the coach and last week’s emotional post-game speech will still be fresh on the minds of this team.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 1-7
Injuries: For yet another week, Maurice Jones-Drew is out with the mid foot injury he sustained some weeks ago. Joining him is backup running back Greg Jones with a hip injury and safety Dwight Lowery who is still recovering from the ankle injury he got against the Bears in week 5. Cornerback Rashean Mathis is the only player listed as questionable this week which is no surprise given he missed last week’s game against the Lions. It is likely he will not play due to his ongoing groin injury. Fellow starting corner Derek Cox is listed as probable and expected to return to the starting lineup after missing last week with a back injury. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert (non-throwing shoulder), center Brad Meester (foot) and running back Montell Owens (shoulder) are also probable and should all be available to play.
Three Keys To Victory: Blaine Gabbert. This team desperately needs their quarterback to find his feet because right now he’s just about all they have. From start to finish Gabbert has been an utter disappointment and, while he was always going to be a player who would need time to grow, he is supposed to be a starter in the National Football League. With the Colts missing both starting corners on what is already a poor secondary, Gabbert needs to either play well or the Jags need to find someone to replace him.
Next up is the Jaguars own secondary. With Mathis and Lowery out again and Cox likely to be a little rusty, I am looking squarely at safety Dawan Landry and corner Aaron Ross who both have received good money from Jacksonville and need to deliver on that investment in this game. Landry in particular has so much talent but has done so little with it lately and needs to step up his game.
I’ll finish with MJD’s replacement Rashad Jennings. With the rest of the offense failing to fire, Jennings needs to make big plays. For so long this team has relied on the running game and Jones-Drew’s amazing talent out of the backfield to get them through tough matchups. If Jennings is ever going to step from behind MJD’s shadow – something of a pun considering Maurice’s short stature – then he needs a good game against a defense that has struggled against the run in the past.
Betting: The Colts are a 3 to 3.5 point favorite and for me the much better team. They may have lost to Jacksonville earlier in the season but I see that as an anomaly. Give the points and bet on blue.
Final Score: Andrew Luck is a genuine franchise quarterback and just keeps getting better. While road teams have struggled on Thursday Night Football due to the short week, I am confident Luck will throw for at least two if not three or even four touchdowns with Jacksonville unable to respond. Gimme the Colts over the Jags 34-13.