Pregame Notes: Colts-Jags

Let’s take a look at tonight’s Indy-Jacksonville matchup on NFL Network, a game that carries some big playoff implications for the AFC.

Indianapolis (13-0) at Jacksonville (7-6)

Current Line: Colts -3

How much Peyton?

I think this is the big question for not only fantasy owners and the Jags, but for teams such as the Ravens, Jets, Dolphins, Texans and Titans. Are the Jags going to get a free pass tonight? We can’t answer that question until we see how many key players Jim Caldwell dresses and how long they play. However, starting to rest players in Week 15 seems a bit early, considering it’s still a long way until the divisional round for the Colts. But, if Manning is taken out early, this game takes on a completely different look, as I see the running game taking center stage for the Colts and the passing game—as well as the checks at the line of scrimmage—taking a back seat. They will become much more vanilla on offense and much easier to defend.

Stopping Maurice Jones-Drew

This is always a concern when playing the Jags, as most — if not all — of the game plan is based on what this team can do with MJD. Last week, the Colts were able to hold Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno to under 3-yards per carry because they decided to play a lot of single-high safety (instead of their core Cover 2 look), which brings the strong safety down into the box. The Colts can then play their Cover 1, Cover 3 and Cover 10—which brings the free safety down to the weak side of the formation with “A” gap responsibilities to defend the cut back run. But, as we saw last week, it does put the Indy corners out on an island, and that is where the 3-step passing game comes into play. Can Garrard do what Kyle Orton was able to produce last week?

The Red Zone

If you want a reason to judge why the Colts are a 13-0 team, look at the red zone numbers. Indy is scoring touchdowns in the red zone at a clip of 64.6 %, good for second in the league, while the Jags are only scoring TDs at a rate of 43.6 %, which puts them near the bottom of the league at 29th. Obviously, that comes down to QB play and Manning’s ability to work with his red zone combination routes, such as the flat-7, the stick route (double outs from No. 2 and No. 3) along with the one step fade and the 3-step slant. But, the Jags have to do some of their own work tonight, and that means running the ball against an Indy front seven that is getting good penetration off the line of scrimmage, and a secondary that closes down the reduced field the offense has to work with. To beat Indy, you can’t kick field goals — you need touchdowns.

Garrard needs to show up

I have been hesitant to buy the Jags as a playoff team because of QB David Garrard. He struggled last week in a playoff atmosphere against a good Miami team, and although he has played well against the Colts in the past, this is the type of game where he not only has to outplay Manning, but protect the football and convert on third-and-medium situations. Too often the Jags rely on MJD to set up manageable third down situations, but to become a playoff team, Garrard has to make some key plays in early downs and use the play action game to his advantage. Good December QBs in this league don’t miss when the opportunities are there.

Limit the big plays

One area where we can watch closely is the secondary of the Jags. Most often when a big play is given up in this league, the secondary is to blame. And, I can’t see the Jags sending a ton of pressure at Manning tonight. Look for them to play a lot of coverage, but to do that, you have to tackle against Indy. The wide receiver screen, the slant routes and the deep dig routes are manageable if you make the tackle after the catch, make Manning work the ball all the way down the field and earn touchdowns. Don’t give them a free pass by missing a tackle that leads to a big play.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

For a look at how the Jaguars could upset the Colts on Thursday night, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

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