Colts aim to counter Jags’ ‘D’
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts spent their offseason cramming for Sunday’s test.
They understood that to ascend in the AFC South, they needed a bigger, stronger offensive line, better coaching and different study habits. So far, they’ve aced it.
Now they face their biggest challenge: Jacksonville’s daunting defense.
“We don’t need any incentive. It’s the NFL, we go out there, it’s our job to protect the quarterback,” longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “The past is the past, we’re going to try the best we can.”
Just about anything would be an upgrade over what’s happened lately against the Jaguars.
When these teams met late last season, the Jaguars finished with four sacks — a significant improvement over the 10 sacks Indy allowed six weeks earlier last season.
Those 14 sacks accounted for more than one-fourth of Indy’s season total, showing general manager Chris Ballard where the Colts needed to focus their attention to get back into the division race.
Ballard found two starters in the draft, left guard Quenton Nelson in the first round and right tackle Braden Smith in the second. He added right guard Matt Slauson in free agency. Center Ryan Kelly returned to form following an injury-filled 2017 season, and even after Slauson went down with a back injury the Colts have managed to find solid replacements.
As a result, Andrew Luck has been sacked just 10 times, none in his past 154 attempts — the longest stretch of his pro career.
The improvement can’t be measured by pass protection alone. USF alum Marlon Mack rushed for career highs each of the past two weeks and has given Indy (3-5) its first back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since 2007.
But this Jacksonville team doesn’t resemble the one that reached last year’s AFC championship game, either.
Despite being ranked No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 in total defense, only seven teams have fewer sacks (19) and only three teams have produced fewer turnovers (seven).
It explains why the Jags (3-5) have lost four straight and, like the Colts, are 2½ games behind division leader Houston.