The Jacksonville Jaguars are back at EverBank Field on Sunday for their home opener against the Indianapolis Colts. By all accounts, they should lose -- their lackluster offense has the worst third-down conversion efficiency in the league and their defense, which looked incredibly promising in the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles, has only gotten worse over the past two weeks.
So, how can the Jaguars win? With a spread offense that's heavy on the pass.
Unfortunately, the Jaguars are on their last leg when it comes to receivers and tight ends. Marqise Lee has been ruled out, Allen Hurns is nursing an ankle injury, and Cecil Shorts III looks like he'll miss a third straight game with a hamstring injury. Marcedes Lewis has been placed on the team's injured reserve/designated to return list and Clay Harbor's best-case scenario is to start practicing next week.
Which means the best chance for the Jaguars lies in the hands of Chad Henne, Allen Robinson, Cecil Shorts III, Allen Hurns, Mike Brown, and Marcel Jensen.
Can they exploit the Colts secondary? Yes.
Take the space they'll give you
In their matchups against both the Broncos and Eagles, the Colts defenders continually gave receivers, tight ends, and running backs space at the line, and both teams responded by taking what was given to them.
This quick pass from Peyton Manning to Emmanuel Sanders in the first quarter of Week 1 was used several times throughout the course of the game.
And Nick Foles employed it often as well. This pass to Darren Sproles is a perfect example. The Eagles purposely load the right side of the line overloaded so as to allow for an easy eight-yard completion on second down.
Henne might not have as much time to throw the ball as Manning or Foles, but these quick passes can be a way to spread the defense and open up the middle of the field.
Attack the middle
Now that the defense is spread out, the middle of the field is vulnerable. Colts linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Josh McNary have been horrendous in pass coverage so far this season and safety LaRon Landry was caught out of position at several key moments in both of the last two weeks.
In this touchdown by Manning, look at Landry (No. 30) rush up to cover the running back, stutter because he thinks he's out of position, and then take another step away from where the ball was thrown.
Foles had similar success against the linebackers, especially late in the game. Watch McNary struggle against this 51-yard screen pass to Sproles that set up the game-tying touchdown.
And hopefully, these struggles will be there for Henne on Sunday. Hopefully.
The no-huddle opens up the sidelines
In their Week 1 matchup, the Colts defense faced Manning's no-huddle offense in 38 of 48 applicable plays. In Week 2, Foles employed the no-huddle offense in 48 of 54 applicable plays. (I didn't count punts, plays after a penalty, plays after an injury, the first down of a possession, or when teams were purposely running down the clock.) The first standard play for the Eagles offense didn't even come until the end of the third quarter.
This pass to Demaryius Thomas was one of several sideline throws Manning made on this drive alone on the no-huddle. The space that cornerback Greg Toler gives him is astounding.
Foles had similar success, opting for running backs more often than Manning did receivers, but the result of an open sideline is still the same.
But whatever you do, don't throw it to Vontae Davis
Because he's silly good.
Finally, the line needs to open holes
The above tactics will get the Jaguars nowhere if they can't open holes in the running game. Both the Broncos and Eagles were able to get space for their receivers and truly spread the defense out because their running game didn't look like this.
Do I think the Jaguars will exploit the Colts pass defense? Yes. Granted, it won't be enough to win, but I think this is a game where offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is handcuffed by the players he has left who are healthy. He'll be forced to spread out the offense, and in doing so will be able to have some consistent success on Sunday.