It's quite the turnaround for Indianapolis, who struggled in the first two weeks, but played their game plan perfectly against San Francisco. The Colts ran the ball, stifled the 49ers offense and controlled the clock on their way to a 27-7 victory. Whether that model will work going forward remains to be seen, but against a 49er offense that lacked playmakers and employed a struggling quarterback, it was gold.
The key going forward will be the defense, if Indianapolis wants to use this strategy throughout the year.
Against Jacksonville, it would appear that the Colts shouldn't have to worry, as the team has looked awful and currently has the league's worst point differential at negative-64. But Jacksonville has been bad for years, and yet somehow always give the Colts difficulties.
Stay Focused, Indianapolis Cannot Afford a Letdown
This may seem like an obvious one, but it bears repeating: The Colts simply have to stay focused in preparation and throughout the game on Sunday.
Coming off of an upset win like this, the Colts have a chance to use that momentum and focus to their advantage. Last season, after the upset win against Green Bay, the Colts came out flat the next week, leading to an embarrassing 35-9 loss.
The Colts can't afford to do that this season. Last year, the Colts faced the Browns, Titans, Dolphins and Jaguars after their loss to New York, easier opponents that allowed the Colts to recover from their loss and boost their record.
After this game against Jacksonville, however, the Colts face a much stronger four-game slate, playing Seattle, San Diego, Denver and Houston. The Colts have to get wins when they can, and allowing Jacksonville to hang in the game and potentially repeat what happened in Week 3 of 2012 would be devastating.
The team has already admitted struggles staying focused, specifically offensive issues in the second half. They can't afford to come into this game with those same issues.
Offense: Start Methodically, End in Control
The Colts need to get out to a strong start against the Jaguars, jumping out to a lead and allowing their defense to focus on attacking the quarterback.
Ideally, the Colts could open up with a downfield passing attack, designed to score quickly and put Jacksonville in a hole quickly. While the Colts certainly should aim for this, it's more important that they don't get killed by turnovers early, allowing the Jaguars to hang around this one.
So, yes, it's noticeable when your offensive unit doesn't score during the first few series. But it's even more noticeable when they turn the ball over and get behind quickly.
Jacksonville's defense is firmly at the bottom of the league, so a balanced, methodical approach should get the Colts the points they need eventually in the quarter. Again, it's more important to take care of the ball than it is to score quickly against Jacksonville.
Once the Colts have the lead against the Jaguars, it's key that they stay in control throughout the game, but especially directly out of halftime, where they've struggled in the past. It's here where the Colts need to stay aggressive, trying desperately to build upon their marginal lead.
The Colts couldn't build on their lead against either Oakland or Miami, and it nearly cost them both games (it did cost them the Dolphins loss).
Defense: Let Gabbert be Gabbert
Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Tannehill had to be discombobulated, confused and pressed into playing poorly. The Colts were successful in doing this against Kaepernick, but struggled to make Tannehill uncomfortable.
Blaine Gabbert doesn't need the Colts to push him. The best way to defend Gabbert is actually just to sit back and wait for him to screw up. Make him beat you.
Gabbert's passer rating was actually over 20 points lower when he wasn't blitzed in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and things have started out similarly in 2013.
If you blitz Gabbert, you risk one of Jacksonville's young playmakers (Marcedes Lewis, Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon or Maurice Jones-Drew) squirting open for a touchdown. It's not all that difficult to pressure Gabbert with just four pass-rushers, either. Gabbert tends to spook easily, and getting the slightest pressure on him can interrupt his reads.
If the Colts play the run first and force Gabbert to beat them, you have to like their chances. The Colts were in a position to lose last season in Week 3 because of a long touchdown run by Maurice Jones-Drew in the second half. They'll need to shut down the run like they did against San Francisco to be successful in this one.
It's not a particularly complicated game plan against Jacksonville, who is, by all measures, a historically bad team. It should come down to a matter of execution, and you have to like Indianapolis' ability to execute if they stay focused.