That’s the hope at least in the battle of winless AFC South teams in Jacksonville on Sunday. The Jaguars are playing their home opener.
Here are three storylines to watch in the game:
Pressure the QB: This will be a weekly storyline until the Colts show they can put pressure on the quarterback on a consistent basis. They didn't get any sacks against Philadelphia in the previous game. The Jaguars, who will have two new offensive line starters, have given up 13 sacks, including 10 against Washington last week, in two games. You might as well throw your hands up if the Colts' defense can’t sack Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne at least once. Is that too much to ask?
Spread the ball around: The Colts have plenty of talent at receiver with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks, tight end with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and in the backfield with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. Now it’s up to quarterback Andrew Luck to spread the ball around. Luck still relies heavily on Wayne and Hilton, who have been targeted 20 and 22 times, respectively. Bradshaw, a running back, is next in line at 12 targets. “I feel like our scheme is comprehensive enough,” offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “Once teams adjust to try and take away one component or one person in our offense, we have other guys around that will make plays. The NFL season is a long season. We have 14 more games to go and it’s the ultimate chess match. Over the course of time, you’ll find out that there’ll be enough opportunities for guys to make plays throughout the offense.”
Protect the ball: Richardson ran for 79 yards against the Eagles, his highest total since the Colts acquired him on Sept. 18, 2013. But he has to do a better job protecting the ball. He fumbled twice, with Wayne diving on his first fumble. Richardson’s second fumble ended up costing the Colts, as the Eagles took advantage of the turnover to score a touchdown. Going back to the Kansas City playoff game last season -- four games total -- Richardson has fumbled three times. “Trent runs extremely hard and he’s always fighting for extra yards,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “When you put the ball on the ground, guys are going to point that out in other meeting rooms in other cities and say, ‘Hey look, this guy, you know, yada yada yada.’ Trent understands that and all our backs, all those guys that touch the football know how important ball security is and we harp on it every single day, and we’ll continue to harp on it. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football.”
Mike Wells: I'd be surprised if that happened because the Colts need immediate pass-rush help. Sam played defensive end at Missouri, so he'd have to learn how to play outside linebacker in coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme, the same way Robert Mathis and Bjoern Werner had to make the change. It took Mathis a full year to be comfortable playing outside linebacker and Werner, the team's first-round pick in 2013, is still learning how to play the position.
@MikeWellsNFL what are thoughts on signing michael sam from PS? Would he work in our scheme?— beer swigger (@Allardis) September 19, 2014
Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton have been quarterback Andrew Luck's primary targets through the first two games. Allen has only been targeted six times this season, which is sixth behind Wayne, Hilton, Ahmad Bradshaw, Coby Fleener and Hakeem Nicks. Expect his targets -- and receptions -- to increase as the season goes on.
Wells: First off, there is no replacing Mathis, but the plan was for Werner to try to fill the void left by Mathis. If the first two games are any indication, Werner - and the rest of the defense - have a long way to go before they can come close to making up for the loss of Mathis. One sack in the first two games isn't going to cut it. The Colts will definitely have an opportunity to get after Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne on Sunday. He was sacked 10 times last week against the Redskins.
@MikeWellsNFL Is there a plan to replace Mathis? I know they were waiting for his return but what's the plan for a pass rush?— Ray Hoalt (@rayh2586) September 19, 2014
Wells: It's a combination of both. Luck has been off-target on several throws. A prime example of that came against Philadelphia, when he threw a pass to Wayne in the flat. Wayne went to the ground and didn't gain any yards because he had to stretch out to catch the pass. The Colts haven't been throwing the ball deep down the field. Luck's longest completion against the Eagles was a 19-yard pass to Wayne. Luck is only averaging 6.2 yards a completion, which is the lowest average of his young career.
@MikeWellsNFL Do you feel Luck's somewhat pedestrian numbers are more of an effect of his own performance, or the conservative play calling?— Joey Sommers (@JoeyTweeted) September 19, 2014
Wells: Richardson's biggest issue right now is protecting the ball. He went from being one of the positives in the Philly game to being questioned because of his two fumbles, one of which was recovered by the Eagles. Richardson has fumbled three times in the past four regular season and playoff games he's appeared in. He's running better this season and will likely remain the starter as long as he can hold on to the ball.
@MikeWellsNFL how long are grigson and co willing to give Richardson?— Aaronę (@Aaronnnnnnn_) September 19, 2014
Wells: Yes. I still think the Colts will win the AFC South. Part of it is because they play in a weak division and they'll limit their offensive mistakes. The defense may remain a mystery most of the season because they lack a pass rush.
@MikeWellsNFL Can the Colts get back on track and still make the playoffs?— Aaron Andrew Hankins (@AAHankins) September 19, 2014
Center Khaled Holmes, who has been out since Aug. 7 with a high ankle sprain, is healthy enough to play, but coach Chuck Pagano said A.Q. Shipley will start against Jacksonville on Sunday. Pagano didn’t even guarantee Holmes will be on the active roster against the Jaguars. Shipley has played well in the two games he has started in place of Holmes.
“Like anybody else coming off an injury, whatever it is, I’m not going to just throw a kid to the wolves if he’s not 100 percent and ready to play,” Pagano said about Holmes. “Mentally it’s not an issue. He’s knows exactly what to do, but physically he hasn’t played for a while. We’re going make sure that ankle is 100 percent before we throw him back out there.”
Here’s the rest of the Colts’ injury list for Sunday’s game:
Out: Freeman, DL Arthur Jones (ankle)
Questionable: DL Ricky Jean Francois (ankle), WR Hakeem Nicks (illness), OL Joe Reitz (ankle)
Probable: CB Darius Butler, WR T.Y. Hilton, CB Greg Toler, Holmes
My prediction: Colts 34, Jaguars 10
- Conrad Brunner of 1070thefan.com says “One year later, the Trent Richardson trade is a bust" for the Colts.
- Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star also wrote about Richardson’s first year in Indianapolis, which hasn’t gone as planned. "I finally got to see the downside of football," Richardson said. "I've never been on the bottom, never not been the guy who's having the most success. All my life I have been on top in football. Never had to struggle at all."
- Kevin Bowen of Colts.com answers questions in his weekly Twitter mailbag.
- Bob Kravitz of WTHR.com says all hope is lost on the Colts if they can’t put any pressure on Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne, who was sacked 10 times against Washington last weekend.
- Mike Chappell of rtv6.com talks about the Trent Richardson-Ahmad Bradshaw running back duo. Is it 1 and 1a? "A lot of people look at me and AB and say it's a one-two punch,"’ Richardson said. "I think it's a 'one-one.' A lot of people say I'm the starter, but I say we're beside each other. When he's in the game, he's doing what he does. When I'm in the game, I'm doing what I do. I think we've got a good thing going."’
No pain. No serious soreness. It was just how Bradshaw had hoped it would go.
"You never know how bad it's going to be or how good it's going to be," Bradshaw said. "After that I knew I'd be all right."
It was anybody's guess how Bradshaw would respond after he went underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck after his season ended in Week 3 against San Francisco last year. He spent the majority of training camp wearing a red non-contact jersey as a precaution.
But Bradshaw's right, everything has be all right even if there may be concern every time he collides with a defensive player while running the ball or pass protecting for quarterback Andrew Luck.
"We all know how Ahmad's wired and his mindset," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's a football player and he's a tough guy, and I think we all envisioned him coming back. You always wonder when you have a neck injury and surgery and those kind of things how a guy's going to play, but his game really hasn't changed, hasn't tapered off a bit."
Bradshaw is trying to run around or through any defender that gets in his way. Avoiding contact is the last thing on his mind. He's coming off a game in which he rushed for 70 yards to go with 26 yards receiving against the Philadelphia Eagles.
What made Bradshaw's performance against the Eagles even more impressive is that he played running back, fullback and even lined up as a receiver. His 10 targets on the season are third to only Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton.
"He's a different breed," said Colts receiver Hakeem Nicks, who was Bradshaw's teammate with the New York Giants. "When people ask me how long he can play, I keep telling them you can't put any years on it. I call him, '44 Bulldog' because he's going to bulldog you."
Bradshaw's play -- and reliability so far -- allows the Colts to have another option to go to with Trent Richardson, who rushed for 79 yards against the Eagles.
"He's a warrior," Luck said about Bradshaw. "He's tough as nails, and what he does is great. I think his passion for football is contagious. You can tell when he's in the game, when he's at practice, when he's at meetings. This is what he loves to do and that's contagious. I feel so grateful to get to play with him."
Sunday's Indianapolis Colts-Jacksonville Jaguars game at EverBank Field isn't exactly a Super Bowl rematch, but there's still something pretty significant at stake: the first victory of the season.
Both teams enter the game 0-2, though the Colts have at least kept things close. Indianapolis lost its first two games to Denver and Philadelphia by a combined 10 points. The Jaguars lost games to Philadelphia and Washington by a combined 48 points, including a 31-point loss to the Redskins last Sunday.
This is a must-win game for the Colts, who risk falling behind the surprisingly undefeated Houston Texans in the AFC South. The Jaguars could use a victory if only to get some good vibes going, which was something the franchise had plenty of during the offseason with the new video boards, pools in the stadium and the excitement over rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup.
DiRocco: The Colts' pass rush obviously isn't the same with Robert Mathis done for the season. How are they compensating and are they licking their chops because they are preparing to face a Jaguars team that just gave up 10 sacks?
Wells: They’re licking their chops, not because Chad Henne has been sacked 13 times in two games, but because they simply want to get some sacks. The Mathis-less Colts have only one sack this season. Remember Eagles quarterback Nick Foles from Week 1, the one the Jaguars sacked five times? The Colts didn’t sack him once on Monday night. In fact, they hit Foles only four times the entire game. I’m not sure who’s slower, Foles or Peyton Manning. I thought the Colts would be able to get to Foles. I was wrong. I’d like to think they’ll be able to get to Henne, especially with two new starters on the offensive line for Jacksonville this weekend.
The Jaguars looked like they were on their way to gaining some momentum. They scored the first 17 points against Philadelphia in Week 1, but they’ve been outscored 75-10 since. Was Jacksonville teasing everybody in the first 30 minutes against the Eagles?
DiRocco: That’s what it’s beginning to look like, because in the six quarters since those first 30 minutes the Jaguars have looked as bad as they did last season. Actually, they’ve looked worse in spots, especially the offensive line. The way the offense has played isn’t that surprising, though. With a rebuilt offensive line and three rookie receivers, plus the limitations that Henne brings to the table, it was clear before the season began that the offense wasn’t exactly going to be explosive. However, the way the defense has performed since the first half of the season opener is befuddling. The unit was supposed to be significantly better than 2013 after adding ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and tackle Ziggy Hood. Those three, along with a healthy Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks, were supposed to form a solid defensive front that would stop the run, rush the passer well and keep the team in games into the second half. They’ve played poorly the past six quarters, giving up 191 yards rushing to the Washington Redskins. Guys are getting out of position, not making plays when in position to make them and are missing tackles.
It looked like Trent Richardson was pairing with Ahmad Bradshaw to give the Colts a pretty good one-two punch. But after fumbling twice against Philadelphia, are we going to see less of Richardson this week and the rest of the season?
Wells: Not starting Richardson would be admitting that the trade with Cleveland was a complete bust. Richardson will continue to be the starter, but Bradshaw will get his fair amount of carries with his load continuing to increase if Richardson can’t hold onto the ball. Richardson was going to be one of the most talked-about players in the Philly game if the Colts had won because he had his best rushing game (79 yards) since coming to Indianapolis in September 2013. Richardson was talked about a lot after the game, but not in a good way. The Colts recovered his first fumble, but his second one led to an Eagles touchdown and played a significant factor in why they lost the game.
How long will the Jags stick with Henne before giving the ball to the player they hope will be the face of their franchise for years to come in Bortles?
DiRocco: At least one more week. Though coach Gus Bradley left a little wiggle room in his statement earlier in the week that Henne was still the starter, he reaffirmed it Wednesday morning. Henne is an average quarterback who holds onto the ball too long at times and doesn’t throw down the field as much as he should, but he’s not the reason the Jaguars are 4-16 since the start of 2013. He’s not losing games. The Jaguars aren’t going to play Bortles until they believe he’s completely ready, and nobody is sure when that will happen. Plus, the Jaguars' offensive line is a mess and has two new starters this week, including rookie center Luke Bowanko. The Jaguars also are without tight end Marcedes Lewis (high ankle sprain) and have had to rely on three rookie receivers. That's not exactly a great environment in which to drop a rookie quarterback. Henne will continue to take those lumps but if things don't improve, the Jaguars might turn to Bortles for a spark within the next few weeks.
How effective has Reggie Wayne been since coming back from the torn ACL? He's obviously not the same player he was two years ago when he caught 106 balls -- what can he still give the Colts?
Wells: You’re right, Wayne isn’t the same player he was two years ago. But what he’s shown through the first two games is that he’s still quarterback Andrew Luck’s security blanket. Luck will look to Wayne first when he needs to get a first down or when he’s under pressure and needs to get rid of the ball quickly. Wayne leads the Colts with 12 catches for 126 yards. He had no problem admitting that he wanted to prove the doubters wrong about his ability to come back from the torn ACL. He’s proven -- so far -- that he can still be an effective player.
By the look of things it appears the Jaguars don’t have an identity. They’ve given up 75 points, scored only 27 and given up 13 sacks in two games. Does this franchise have an identity as either an offensive- or defensive-dominant team?
DiRocco: It was supposed to have an identity as a physical, hard-nosed defensive team, and that’s exactly what it was in the first half against Philadelphia. After that, the Jaguars have been wandering aimlessly. Players have talked about getting punched in the mouth the last six quarters and not responding. That has to change against Indianapolis. It’s the perfect scenario, too: the home opener against a team coming off a Monday night game and a team against which they've traditionally played well.
Freeman, who missed Monday’s game against Philadelphia because of a hamstring injury, did not practice again Thursday, but defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is remaining optimistic that he will play.
"I don’t know the status of each guy, what it’s going to be on Sunday," Manusky said. "I’m expecting him and all the guys to be up who are banged up right now. I know Arthur (Jones) is down for a little bit, that’s a little bit different."
Josh McNary will likely start again if Freeman doesn’t play.
Here’s the rest of the practice report
Did not practice: CB Vontae Davis (rest), DL Jones (ankle), WR Hakeem Nicks (illness).
Limited practice: DL Ricky Jean Francois (ankle), OL Joe Reitz (ankle), CB Greg Toler (ribs).
Luck threw an interception on third-and-9 from the Eagles 22-yard line when the Colts had an opportunity to run the ball to kill some clock and kick a field goal to go up by 10 points with about five minutes left in the game. Then, after the Eagles tied the score at 27-27, the Colts ran on the first two downs before throwing an incompletion on third down, giving the Eagles plenty of time to get down the field and make the game-winning field goal.
Hamilton talked about those two series during his weekly media session Thursday.
Hamilton on the play when Luck threw the interception:
"I think it’s a matter of trust, the trust coach Pagano has in me to make a good decision in that situation, and the trust that we have in our quarterback to make good decisions. It was one of those situations where it didn’t work out. In hindsight I would have liked to call a play that would have scored a touchdown."
Hamilton would have been praised for his playing-calling had the Colts won, because they had put together the perfect game plan that focused on ball control to keep the up-tempo Eagles’ offense on the sideline. But those two series -- and a second-half fumble from Trent Richardson -- took that away.
"That is the nature of the beast, and I understand that and embrace that challenge of making sure that on a weekly basis we put our players in the best position to be successful," Hamilton said. "We played a really physically football game up front and Trent ran the ball well. Ahmad (Bradshaw) ran the ball well. We made some plays in the passing game, but at the end of the day in this league it all comes down to one, two, three or four plays that can make a difference in a game."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars' bad-luck receiving corps took another hit on Thursday when the team announced rookie Marqise Lee would miss Sunday's game against Indianapolis because of a hamstring injury.
Lee becomes the fourth receiver who is either definitely out or might miss the game against the Colts at EverBank Field. The status of rookie Allen Hurns (ankle) and veteran Cecil Shorts III (hamstring) will be determined closer to game time. Ace Sanders has two games to go on his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
Lee first experienced hamstring tightness during practice on Sept. 10 but played against Washington last Sunday. He aggravated the injury during Wednesday's practice. His availability beyond this Sunday's game is uncertain.
"My main focus is getting it right," said Lee, who is tied for the team lead with eight catches for 73 yards. "The hamstring can linger. If you try to continue to try to come back, come back, come back when you're feeling 85, 90 [percent], you're still going to have issues."
Hurns injured his ankle during the loss to the Redskins and he is listed as day to day. He did not practice Wednesday. Shorts has missed the first two games with tightness in his left hamstring. He was limited in practice Wednesday.
The lone healthy receivers on the active roster are second-round pick Allen Robinson
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints have a better chance of making playoffs at 0-3 than either the Chiefs or Colts at 1-2.
Week 3 is critical for an 0-2 team. Of the 288 teams to make the playoffs since the Wild Card was introduced in 1990, only three started 0-3 (the 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions and 1998 Bills). No team has made the playoffs after starting 0-3 in the last 15 years.
Three playoff teams from last season are a surprising 0-2, putting a repeat postseason trip in early jeopardy. The Chiefs, Colts and Saints are all winless this year, and simulations from numberFire.com show trouble for all three even with a Week 3 win.
But one team in the trio is given a much stronger chance to advance. Here’s the impact Week 3 has on playoff hopes, and one thing each team needs to do to get back to the playoffs.
Chiefs (make playoffs in 12.6 percent of simulations at 0-2)
Make playoffs at 1-2: 18.8 percent
Make playoffs at 0-3: 7.0 percent
What to do? Improve the pass coverage. A two-game sample that includes the Broncos will hurt any defensive measures, but Jake Locker went 22-of-33 for 266 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 1.
The Chiefs pass rush hasn’t had a chance to make an impact.
Kansas City has sacked and pressured quarterbacks on a higher percentage of dropbacks this year than last year, even though their opponents are getting rid of the ball at the second-fastest rate in the league.
Part of that is facing Peyton Manning, but Locker released the ball three-tenths of a second faster than what the Chiefs faced on average in 2013.
Colts (make playoffs in 14.4 percent of simulations at 0-2)
Make playoffs at 1-2: 17.0 percent
Make playoffs at 0-3: 8.4 percent
What to do? Reverse the turnover trend. The Colts have struggled with preventing and forcing turnovers this season, and Indianapolis’ minus three turnover margin is tied for the third worst in the league. The Colts’ defense forced 27 turnovers in 16 games last year, but has one this season.
Since the start of 2013, the Colts are 0-5 in games with a negative turnover margin, including both losses this year. Indianapolis is undefeated (13-0) when winning the turnover battle since drafting Andrew Luck in 2012. This season, Luck has thrown interceptions on 3.4 percent of passes, more than doubling his percentage from a year ago (1.6 percent).
Saints (make playoffs in 33.3 percent of simulations at 0-2)
Make playoffs at 1-2: 37.8 percent
Make playoffs at 0-3: 22.3 percent
What to do? Give the offense some help. The projections give New Orleans the best chance of the three to reach the playoffs.
In fact, numberFire.com has the Saints more likely to reach the playoffs at 0-3 than either the Chiefs or the Colts at 1-2.
The offense has been clicking, but there are problems everywhere else.
The Saints defense and special teams have combined for a league-worst -34.0 efficiency. Only the Jaguars (75) have allowed more points than the Saints (63) this season.
Commissioner Roger Goodell kept a low profile in what was yet another week of NFL distractions.
The week featured Vikings halfback Adrian Peterson and Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy going on the NFL's exempt list. Cardinals halfback Jonathan Dwyer went from possible fill-in starter to the reserve/non-football injury list because of a domestic violence charge.
Sponsors around the league sounded off about the off-field distractions. Goodell and the NFL need a good weekend of competitive football to pull the sport out of the negative headlines. Some of these matchups might help.
Here are the trends for Week 3.
1. Super Bowl rematch: Only seven times in NFL history have teams squared off during the season after meeting in the Super Bowl. Still, the Broncos and Seahawks are starting to feel as though they are division rivals. Because they met in the preseason, this will be the third time they have played each other in the past eight games.
Aside from playing at home, the Seahawks have an advantage seeing Peyton Manning this often. In most nondivision games dating to his Indianapolis days, Manning has a huge advantage against a defense. Three practices during a week aren't enough to get a feel for what he does with his cadence and throws. Not only did the Seahawks have two weeks to prepare for him at the Super Bowl, but the Seahawks' defense will have a feel for what types of throws he might make in certain parts of the game.
The Seahawks blew out the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, something that has been gnawing at the Broncos since February. Expect this one to be more competitive than the Super Bowl.
You figured the Colts were acquiring a running back after Vick Ballard was recently lost for the season with a torn ACL. But it was anybody’s guess who that player would be.
Then at 6:19 p.m. -- 57 minutes and three tweets after his initial one -- the Colts announced that they had acquired Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns for a first-round pick.
OMG...the Earth is SHAKING!!!!! Shock and AWE is coming VERY SOON!!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Colts Nation...are you sitting DOWN!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Announcement coming SOON!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
This day of MONSTER TRADE,The Tidal Wave Of Deal making...Shocks the system of "..Didn't see THIS ONE COMING!!!!!!" Grig's Rollin' Dice!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Building a MONSTER for the BEST fans in the WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 19, 2013
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had pulled off the biggest trade of the 2013 season.
You immediately thought that the Colts had just acquired their running back of the future to go with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
The No. 1 overall pick and the No. 3 overall pick of the 2012 draft teamed together for years to come. They'd go hand-in-hand. They were the perfect match.
That’s what you thought, at least.
The trade has been anything but perfect for the Colts. You can argue that the Browns are winning the trade so far. The Colts gave up a first-round pick that they could have used to try and fix a hole on their roster. The Browns used Indianapolis’ No. 26 pick and moved up to No. 22, where they selected quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel and LeBron James’ return to Cleveland have made that city a focal point in the NFL and NBA again, even if Johnny Football is on the sideline waiting his turn to be the team’s starting quarterback.
They got a running back who was uncomfortable his entire first season in Indianapolis. He was indecisive with his running and he eventually lost his starting job to Donald Brown. Richardson averaged only 2.9 yards a carry last season.
Grigson did not respond to a message seeking comment for the story, but he said several times during the offseason that he would do the trade again if the opportunity presented itself. He referred to Richardson as their 2014 first-round draft pick, while also not shying away from the expectations he has for Richardson this season.
"Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability," Grigson said in training camp. "We’re all accountable here. ... He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53."
Richardson has been a different player after having an offseason to learn the playbook. He’s running with more force and he has gotten better at picking which holes to run through. If not for a fumble that later cost the Colts seven points, Richardson would have been one of the positive storylines against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday -- he rushed for 79 yards, his highest total since joining the team, and he’s averaging 3.7 yards a carry through the first two games.
Richardson may never live up to the expectations of being the No. 3 overall pick. The Colts would simply be happy if he at least played like he was worth the No. 26 pick they gave up in this year’s draft.
The clock is ticking as they wait for that to happen.