Jaguars' Punishing Ground Game Eclipsed By Colts' Pass Pressure in Loss
As Sunday's hard-fought contest between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars was digested by major news outlets for casual public consumption, several prominent members of the sports media reached a curious conclusion.
"The Colts surrendered 114 yards rushing," he noted, "but were stout at the point of attack as they committed eight men to the box on early downs."
"[Indianapolis'] bulkier defensive line also held up better against an old nemesis, Maurice Jones-Drew," ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky added.
True, the Colts didn't give up nearly 400 yards at almost nine yards a carry this time. In starting the 2009 season 1-0, Indianapolis' defense pressured Jaguars quarterback David Garrard into making hurried decisions at key moments in a 14-12 nail-biter.
But neither the game tape nor the numbers back up the widely-disseminated Monday morning assertion that the Colts' defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage between the tackles.
All praise for Indianapolis' performance has been rightly tempered with the footnote that the Jaguars gained over 100 yards on the ground. In fact, none of Jacksonville's 26 runs against the Colts went for negative yardage, and only two were for no gain.
Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster, Indianapolis' starting defensive tackles, combined for an impressive 10 total tackles, but the Colts wisely shied away from pitting their quick, undersized front four directly against Jacksonville's beefy offensive line.
Instead, they attempted to contain the Jaguars' ground game by peppering their man-gap rush defense with zone blitzes and packing eight in the box. With ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis taking precious seconds off Garrard's internal clock on passing plays, committing an eighth defender to the run carried little risk.
Still, their creativity amounted to little on a signature late-game drive by Jacksonville.
Down 14-6, the Jaguars asserted themselves against Indianapolis' defense on an 11-play, 58-yard series that bridged the third and fourth quarters, culminating in a seven-yard sweep by Jones-Drew for six.
Eight of Jacksonville's 11 plays on that drive were runs, and one of the three passes was a 19-yard completion set up by a play-action fake.
Available video of the Jaguars' runs—from the touchdown to the failed two-point conversion, and especially the 26-yarder in the second quarter—helps tell the real story from the trenches in Sunday's game.
On the touchdown, Freeney beat tight end Marcedes Lewis and had a shot at Jones-Drew. Meanwhile, tackle Eugene Monroe sealed the edge upfield as guard Maurice Williams pancaked a Colts defender in backside pursuit.
Jacksonville's failed attempt at a Wildcat run underscored the struggles of the Jaguars' rookie tackles against Freeney and Mathis. With a big-enough hole open up the middle, Jones-Drew was stopped short as the Colts' ends made inside rush moves and met on either side of him.
Jones-Drew's 26-yard run exposed Indianapolis' size disadvantage. Even with six down linemen and two linebackers in short zones, the Colts were overwhelmed at the point of attack by the Jaguars' strength and execution.
Guard Vince Manuwai bullied the two defenders in his path, knocking them both to the ground to make way for Jones-Drew.
With varying degrees of success from play to play, the Jaguars' linemen maintained that physical upper hand on runs throughout the game. But when offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter attempted to capitalize through the air against a defense that had sold out against the run, Freeney and Mathis punished Jacksonville's rookie pass protectors and Garrard.
Credit is due to Indianapolis' veteran pass rushers for taking over Sunday's game. Monroe and Eben Britton won't see the like of them until the Colts come to Jacksonville for a rematch in December. By then, they'll have more experience under their belts.
But the Colts' so-called "stout" defensive front has received undue acclaim for a pedestrian showing against the Jaguars' interior linemen. Time and again, second-level defenders were called on to corral Jones-Drew, and pressure from the edges collapsed several pockets that were sealed in front of Garrard.
Manuwai, Williams, and center Brad Meester gelled impressively for Jacksonville in their first game together since the 2008 opener at Tennessee, resuming their role as the engine of a formidable ground game.
Maybe in the December rematch, instead of switching gears to try passes, Koetter might just keep his foot on the gas.
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