After the huge win at San Francisco, the Indianapolis Colts return to the road with a trip to 0-3 Jacksonville.
Playing a struggling team has its own issues, as the difference between teams in the NFL is never quite as large as fans often believe. Here are five keys to the Colts coming away with a win and improving to 3-1:
In life, it's not nice to kick someone when they're down. In the NFL, the sooner you can jump on a struggling team, the better. If the Colts can generate strong offense early, putting 10-14 points on the board in the first quarter, it will free the defense to be even more aggressive and allow the power-running game to wear down the Jaguars. On defense, the Colts need to show the same type of blanket coverage the secondary showed against San Francisco.
Mix up pressure on Blaine Gabbert
The Jaguars quarterback actually thrives under pressure. The less time he has to think, the more he can rely on his decent arm strength and delivery. So the Colts' defense needs to give him a few different looks. Indianapolis will be without injured defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois and safety LaRon Landry. But they'll still have Robert Mathis at rush linebacker, and he's been on top of his game so far. Gabbert returns after missing two games with a cut to his hand.
Utilize the mid-range passing game
Despite the emphasis on the run game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck kept drives alive with key mid-range passes to Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The deep ball has largely been absent, but that might just be the new reality under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's system. But the running game of Trent Richardson and (if healthy) Ahmad Bradshaw has the capability of forcing teams into honest run defense and opens up the field for Luck.
Dominate special teams
Colts punter Pat McAfee was able to keep the 49ers on their heels when the Colts were forced to punt last week and that could be even more effective against the Jaguars. Jacksonville does not have an offense built for continual long drives. It would be good to see T.Y. Hilton set up some nice field position on punt returns, too, although Hilton was in a boot for practice on Friday. He is expected to play.
Slow down MJD
No list of Colts keys can ever be without the mention of Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a thorn in Indianapolis' side since the team bypassed him in the draft in favor of Joseph Addai. Jones-Drew averages 106.8 yards per game in 13 games against the Colts. He has had 100 yards or more in five of the last six meetings. This is a different Colts defense, however, and it will take pride in showing Jones-Drew that things have changed. If they haven't changed, then a Jags upset isn't out of the question.
The pick: Colts 27, Jags 13