Looking for their first three-game winning streak of the new era, the Indianapolis Colts travel to Jacksonville for an 8:20 p.m. game today on NFL Network. Here are five factors that could sway the game in the Colts' favor:
New Luck on the road
After struggling during his first two games on the road, quarterback Andrew Luck delivered a strong 297-yard passing game at Tennessee, leading the team to an overtime win with strong game-tying and game-winning drives. This will be his second time facing the Jaguars – the first NFL team he has played a second time – and the Colts' hope is that film from his first outing will allow him to be better this time around. He threw for 313 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Sept. 23 game in Indianapolis.
Avoiding complacency without MJD
The Jaguars will be playing without injured running back Maurice Jones-Drew (sprained foot). Jones-Drew has built a career out of wrecking the Colts defense. That has to be consider a bonus for the Colts. The Colts defense can't be complacent. True, the Jags' backup back Rashad Jennings has not produced on the level of Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew averages 4.8 yards per carry, Jennings 3.1. But how many times have we seen running backs have their coming-out games against the Colts? Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner still need their A games.
After a season of so-so play, Colts rush end Dwight Freeney made his presence known in the win over the Dolphins. Freeney looked more active, more aggressive and generally healthier than he had since the season opener when he sprained his ankle. It helped that Robert Mathis was opposite Freeney – until he left the game with an injury – but Freeney's health is a big deal. With the Colts' secondary hampered, he needs to team with Cory Redding and Justin Hickman (if Mathis can't go) to assert some pressure on quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Both Colts starting cornerbacks, Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis, are out with injuries. While Cassius Vaughn has been adequate in place of Davis recently, this will be the first start for Darius Butler. The absence of Powers and Davis also means more time for Josh Gordy and Marshay Green, two young players still trying to establish their NFL worth. The Colts must deal with dynamic receiver Justin Blackmon. Also, they probably remember Cecil Shorts III, right?
Paging the real Vinatieri
Is it time for concern about the kicking consistency of Adam Vinatieri? He's been Mr. Clutch his whole career, but this season has been a little bit of a hit-and-miss. He doesn't seem quite as automatic as he once was, which is going to happen as a kicker ages. Now, this week he shaved his head in support of coach Chuck Pagano and, to be honest, it made Vinatieri look younger. Maybe that'll give him a little extra kick, too, pun intended.