Colts vs. Jaguars: A Thursday Night Football Preview
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All eyes are on Jacksonville.
Those words haven't been uttered often in relation to the NFL for the past year or so, but with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts coming to town, everyone will be watching the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night.
Here's everything you need to know about the Week 10 kickoff game.
What it Means
For the Colts, this game serves as an opportunity to dramatically raise their odds of making the playoffs.
Teams as uneven as Indianapolis can sneak into the postseason if they take advantage of every opportunity.
A sixth win would give the Colts enough wiggle-room moving forward to not have to win on the road against a more formidable opponent like the Detroit Lions.
For the Jaguars, the game is all about pride. They've been humiliated at home week after week, and with a national audience, they don't want to be embarrassed again.
Players and coaches are fighting for jobs, and another loss at home could mean the unemployment line for some members of the franchise.
The stakes don't get bigger than that.
Matchup to Watch
Cecil Shorts vs. Indianapolis Corners
The Jaguars' short-passing offense has proven incapable of putting up points consistently. Blaine Gabbert is simply not accurate enough with his passes to string together long drives.
The few bright spots on the 2012 season for the 1-7 Jaguars have come from deep balls, particularly to Shorts. After all, it was his 80-yard bomb that shocked the Colts in Week 3.
Indianapolis doesn't have a good secondary even when everyone is healthy, but injuries to Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers have drastically reduced their already limited effectiveness.
With guys like Cassius Vaughn and Josh Grody patrolling the backfield, the Jaguars are going to have to show they can stretch the field.
Gabbert thrived in the preseason when put up against the awful Saints defense, so he'll have to show he can do it again versus a similarly terrible Indianapolis crew.
Stat that Matters
Yards per attempt
YPA is the most important conventional stat in football. It also illustrates the difference between Luck and Gabbert.
Gabbert is last in the NFL at just 5.8 yards per attempt. Luck is 17th at 7.2.
Their passer ratings are almost identical. Gabbert has a better completion percentage, touchdown rate and interception rate, but none of those stats matter even a fraction as much as YPA.
When you add sack yardage on top of the YPA disparity, you see why the Jaguars struggle on offense. Gabbert has absorbed more sack yardage than Luck on 90 fewer throws.
Luck has all the same built-in excuses that Gabbert has. He has a weak receiving corps, a bad line, no defense and a soft running game.
He does the one thing good quarterbacks do, however. He gets the ball down field efficiently.
Biggest Advantage for Indianapolis
Indianapolis has Reggie Wayne and Luck, who will be the two best players on the field by a wide margin. The Colts are probably out-classed at every other spot on the field, but at least they know who the leaders are.
Indy is playing with passion and purpose. Those can be a big advantage, especially if it can score early in the game to further demoralize the Jaguars.
Biggest Advantage for Jacksonville
The Jaguars have the better overall team once the quarterback position is factored out.
Jacksonville has superior DVOA in both run and pass defense. They've forced three times as many turnovers as the Colts.
The team has been forced to absorb too many injuries this year, and the loss of Maurice Jones-Drew has stifled the running game.
The Jaguars also get the home-field advantage, and on a short week, that could make the difference between two evenly-matched teams.
Best Video Only Tangentially Related to the Game
The Colts Will Win If...
This is the first time Luck is playing a defense for the second time in a season. If he unlocks the Jaguars' coverage, he could have another huge performance and lift the Colts to a big road win.
Indy is going to have to generate a turnover or two at some point, but it's unlikely to happen against Jacksonville. The Jaguars protect the ball reasonably well.
Indy has won three straight games without forcing a turnover, and that is a nearly impossible feat. It's difficult to imagine they can do it for a fourth time in a row.
The Jaguars Will Win If...
If Gabbert has a good night, the Jaguars should win comfortably.
While I don't believe he'll be a viable NFL starter in this incarnation of his career, he's capable of decent play from time to time.
Indianapolis is not fielding an NFL-quality secondary this week, so if Gabbert can't pick them apart, it will be a clear indication of just how lost his career is.
Anyone thinking the Colts are going to march into Jacksonville and win easily has been drinking too much blue Kool-Aid.
Playing on the road on a Thursday night is a tough task for a young team.
The Colts are relying on smoke, mirrors and Andrew Luck to win every ball game, and that's going to lead to uneven results.
Jacksonville has superior talent at most every position except quarterback, and that will be enough to topple the Colts.
Jaguars 24 Colts 19
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