The Indianapolis Colts got a gritty win over the Jaguars, despite losing the turnover battle two to zero. There was a lot more good in this game than bad or ugly from the Colts' perspective, even though the score was a lot closer than the team would have preferred. Division games are never easy, but with this victory the team gets a head start and begin the year on top of the AFC South.
The team defense looked vastly improved from last season, even though the Colts were without their best defensive tackle, Ed Johnson, and arguably their best overall defensive player, Bob Sanders.
The team gave up 228 yards of total offense to the Jaguars, and held bowling-ball running back Maurice Jones-Drew under 100 yards rushing for what seems like the first time in franchise history.
David Garrard was under heavy pressure from both the Colts' front four and Larry Coyer's aggressive blitzes. The Jaguars' QB completed only half of his passes for a meager 114 yards.
The Colts proved very capable of getting the opposing offense off the field on third downs, as the Jaguars converted only six of 15 attempts.
Marlin Jackson, who played exclusively as the nickle corner, might just have to stay there all year as Jerraud Powers turned in a spectacular rookie performance with two passes defensed that helped get the ball back in Peyton Manning's hands.
Team tackling was much better than it was during the preseason, and gap integretiy was nearly flawless as the team only allowed one running play, a 26-yard off-tackle scamper by Jones-Drew, to break into the secondary. The most notable missed tackles were both on the same play, when Garrard eluded both Dwight Freeney and Daniel Muir, but at least those two missed tackles were in the backfield.
Obviously, the team would like to force more turnovers. They forced none against Jacksonville. It is promising, though, that the Colts' linebackers and defensive linemen led the team in tackles rather than the team's safeties.
In addition to the excellent play on defense, the Colts' special teams played well, specifically containing returns and pinning the Jaguars deep on punts. Rookie punter Pat McAfee had two punts for 88 yards, both of which put the Jaguars behind their own 20 yard line and one of which was downed on the one yard line.
When the Colts failed to convert a key third down late in the fourth quarter, the team had to count on their running game to make a yard on fourth down to seal the win, and the running game couldn't get it.
The Colts did a lot in the offseason to try and improve their rushing attack in order to have a more balanced offense, but in the first game of the season they were only able to muster up 71 yards on the ground.
The team did get a goal-line touchdown from Joseph Addai, utilizing defensive tackle Eric Foster as a fullback. Also, Donald Brown looked very dynamic rushing the ball, and he was able to convert a critical third down on a run play.
But the offensive line is not getting enough of a push to really be counted on in critical situations.
The team needs to find a way to convert short-yardage situations on the ground, and if they can't do that with their goal-line package, maybe they should try spreading out the defense with a thee-receiver set and running the ball.
The did use a shotgun package with both Donald Brown and Joseph Addai in the backfield, and they gained good yardage on a short pass over the middle to Brown. This formation might be useful for draw plays as well, and could help the Colts in critical short-yardage situations.
Anthony Gonzalez suffered an inexplicable injury all alone on the right side of the formation without any contact from a player. It appeared that he took a misstep in the turf and hyper-extended his knee. He was unable walk off the field under his own power.
We don't know his status yet, but if Gonzalez tore an ACL or suffered any season ending injury, it could really hamper the Colts' offense this year. The team was counting on his experience in the system to help them replace Marvin Harrison, but now they might have to rely on Pierre Garcon and rookie Austin Collie.