Thursday night is a trap game for the Indianapolis Colts against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And although the Colts reside in the midst of one awesome turnaround from 2011, this game will challenge Indy quite a bit. For one, Jacksonville already upset the Colts earlier this season and it remains as the Jags' lone victory.
That said, Jacksonville has seen some tough losses despite playing well such as Week 1 at the Minnesota Vikings, Week 7 at the Oakland Raiders and Week 8 at the Green Bay Packers. From an all encompassed perspective this season, the Jags have played better on the road.
Although this game takes place in Jacksonville, Indianapolis hasn't been the most consistent team away from home. Something must give in this AFC South matchup, and the Jaguars possess better odds than at first glance.
Short Week Road Team Woes
So far, the road teams are 2-6 during the Thursday night short week. Only the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have pulled off the victory but also in dominating fashion.
Nonetheless, that also comes from the NFC. AFC road teams during the shortened week are 0-3 and two were divisional losses: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers.
As for the other AFC Thursday game, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers falling to the Tennessee Titans. Much like Pittsburgh, the Colts enter the short week rather banged up by comparison to the opposition.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew missed all but the first two plays of the Oakland game and the last two games against Green Bay and Detroit. [Mike] Mularkey ruled him out of the Thursday night game against the Colts.
Still, Rashad Jennings is a proven No. 2 back capable of stepping in and getting the job done. In addition, per the Colts' official website, running back Donald Brown hasn't practiced this week and is listed as questionable. According to Phillip Wilson of the Indianapolis Star, Brown is expected to play.
Regardless, both of these will play a key factor regarding the line of scrimmage.
Battle For the Line of Scrimmage
This will be the most intriguing aspect of the game because neither team on each side of the ball is dominant at controlling the line.
Jacksonville allows 4.2 yards per rush and Indy gives up 4.8. On the flip side, the Jags get only 3.7 per carry and the Colts average 3.9. Another aspect where something has got to give, Indianapolis cannot afford to rely on Andrew Luck's mobility.
No doubt can the rookie provide rushing yards when needed, but the pass protection can be suspect to breaking down. Luck has been sacked one more time than Blaine Gabbert, and Jacksonville's signal-caller sports a better completion percentage.
Along with the ground game, the pass rush is the next most vital area. The Colts certainly present a more consistently reliable pass rush and coverage, although Jacksonville can hurry the quarterback more than expected.
In the previous meeting, Gabbert was actually pressured less than Luck despite getting sacked one time. Factor this game's implications and anticipate Jacksonville to play with nothing to lose: After all, that is the case.
No Pressure on Jags, Colts' Expectations
Sitting at 1-7, what do the Jaguars have to lose? Nothing.
As for the Colts, they are 5-3, hold second place within the division and are only two games back of the Houston Texans, who they have yet to face and won't play until mid-December.
Winning right now is imperative for Indianapolis to remain in striking distance of Houston as well as the postseason hunt. The only thing a loss for Jacksonville does is put the Jags in a duel with Kansas City for the 2013 NFL draft's No. 1 selection next spring.
And even a win for Jacksonville won't totally ruin those chances either. We have to fully expect the Jags coming out and throwing everything at the Colts. Indianapolis can't afford to slip up now, because the AFC is still quite wide open for the wild card.
Indianapolis is also facing its first must/expected win situation. In short, we'll learn a lot about the 2012 Colts' true identity here. When a rising team lines up against an inferior opponent with January implications on the line—especially on the road in a short week—will it live up to standards or crumble under pressure?
Well, if we've been taught anything from games such as when the Colts upset Green Bay, the Vikings punching first against the 49ers and Seattle refusing to break against New England, it's that underdogs like Jacksonville aren't going down without a fight.
The longer the Colts allow the Jags hang around and if they miss January, this game will be looked at as the catalyst that cost Indy's chance for ultimate redemption. On the bright side, the Colts' immediate future is still extremely bright regardless of this game's outcome.
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