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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts primer: Key matchups, storylines, predictions, and more for Week 13

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The Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) come back home to what I’m sure will be a full and enthusiastic TIAA Bank Field for an AFC South rematch against the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) at 1:00pm EST.

Tom McCarthy and Adam Archuleta will be on the call for those watching at home with Alex Kemp and his crew on the whistle.

UNIFORM WATCH: Black tops, white trousers.

Opponent

The Jaguars played the Colts just a few weeks ago in Week 10, so I will keep this opponents section short and sweet with what has changed in the last three weeks. The Colts will play their first road game in over 30 days, so we will see how much their home field advantage has factored into their recent winning streak.

Offensively, the Colts offensive line is still playing at an All-Pro level pass protecting for AFC Offensive Player of the Month Andrew Luck, but early indications are the center Ryan Kelly is probably still another week away from coming back from a sprained MCL injury. Kelly has been exceptional in pass protection and is PFF’s seventh-highest rated center in 2018, so this is good news for the Jaguars defensive tackles who will now line up across Evan Boehm.

As the Colts lose one starting offensive lineman, it looks like they could be gaining another, as they have chosen to activate former North Dakota State offensive tackle Joe Haeg from IR. Haeg is one of the most versatile linemen in the NFL, and while he may not start on Sunday, his ability to fill in as needed will be a major boost. The other major offensive change is at tight end, where Jack Doyle was placed on IR with a kidney injury and Clive Walford was signed on Wednesday to take his roster spot.

Eric Ebron, who single-handedly torched the Jaguars secondary to the tune of three touchdowns in week ten, missed practice on Wednesday along with running back Marlon Mack (concussion), but both are likely to be available on Sunday.

Defensively, the Colts’ heartbeat continues to be “the maniac” Darius Leonard, who is still leading the NFL in tackles with 114. Statistically, the Colts defense is extremely mediocre, ranked 13th against the pass (253 yards per game) and 12th against the run (106.4 yards per game). It sounds like Patrick Omameh is going to be getting the start at left guard, so at least the Jaguars will have a guy with experience in their system to fill in for Andrew Norwell against the Colts defensive line. The Colts major weakness is their lack of talent at the perimeter cornerback positions, although former Gator Quincy Wilson is starting to dial up his play lately, which he has attributed to the presence and mentorship of veteran safety Mike Mitchell. Speaking of Mitchell, the biggest missed opportunity of Fournette’s suspension? He won’t be able to go against his old buddy who missed the last game with injury.

For more information about the Colts, check out Round 2 of the all-time series history against the Colts.

Storylines

Firings. Benching. Suspensions.

This week had no shortage of news when it came to the Jaguars. The biggest storyline that Jaguars fans will be following is how a new quarterback is going to look under center. Since the Jaguars named Blake Bortles their full-time starter on September 21, 2014, he’s all Jaguars fans have seen take regular season snaps for this franchise outside of his second half benching for Cody Kessler a few weeks ago against the Texans.

The Jaguars are really doing Kessler no favors with the entire left side of the defensive line lost to injury, a suspended running back, and a new offensive play caller who has had less than a week to put together a strategy with this motley crew, but hey, it’s an opportunity.

If you think about it, the worst thing that could happen to the Jaguars is winning this game. If Cody Kessler can find a way to win against a divisional rival with all these circumstances stacked against him, imagine how poorly this will reflect on head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell for trotting out a battered Bortles for so long while they were still in playoff contention.

Not only would it be a bad look for the people that maintained Bortles “gave them the best chance of winning,” but it would also harm the Jaguars’ draft position for selecting a future franchise quarterback. There are so many questions that need to be answered over the remaining five games of the season, and whether Cody Kessler can prove he can be a suitable bridge quarterback at an attractive ~$900k salary in 2019 is definitely one of them.

Speaking of the running backs, Carlos Hyde publicly expressed his frustration for his lack of carries since being acquired by the Jaguars for a 2019 fifth round pick prior to the trade deadline. I certainly hope Hyde is as hungry as he claims to be, because he’s going to get a bulk of carries in the absence of Fournette this week.

Or will he?

We can’t and shouldn’t assume that. We don’t know what Scott Milanovich wants to do. He’s an unknown wild card. With the injuries to the offensive line and a less-mobile Cody Kessler behind center, T.J. Yeldon actually getting the majority of snaps really makes more sense. Not only is Yeldon a more reliable outlet in the passing game to neutralize the blitz, he is a much more adept pass blocker than Hyde and will likely need to help out Ereck Flowers on chips. If Hyde can’t even get Leo’s lion’s share of carries, imagine how much more incensed he will be through the last quarter of the season.

The final major storyline is how much playing time the young developmental players will get this week in a concession of the season by the coaching staff. With Jalen Ramsey likely not suiting up, that means Quenton Meeks can get some meaningful snaps on the outside, and hopefully Barry Church spends a lot of time watching Ronnie Harrison from the sideline. Taven Bryan should also see some more snaps, but the thing to watch about Bryan is where he gets those snaps. Will they continue the façade of trying to fit a round peg in a square hole and line him up at strong side defensive end, or will he get reps at three-technique where he finally started to show signs of life last week against the Bills? Another sneaky one to watch – undrafted rookie free safety C.J. Reavis. Promoted from the practice squad this week on his birthday, Reavis could see a few snaps if starter Tashaun Gipson can’t suit up with his ankle injury. Gipson did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and the Jaguars may want to see what they have in Reavis (even over Jarrad Wilson), especially if the game gets out of hand in the second half.

Key matchups

A.J. Bouye vs. T.Y. Hilton

This would normally be Jalen Ramsey following Hilton around and sadly, it’s a match up that is usually a lot of fun. With Ramsey in jeopardy of missing this game, Bouye will likely get to follow Hilton, unless the Jaguars keep Bouye on the right side and challenge young, promising Quenton Meeks. If the Jaguars choose to allow Meeks to match up against Hilton, this will show you what they think of Meeks and his potential.

Ronnie Harrison vs. Eric Ebron

This was a match up to watch last go around, but it’s in an entirely new context for this game. I forecast the Harrison would pick up Ebron as a big nickel last go around, and they chose to approach Ebron with shared zone responsibilities. It did not go well for them. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, so I would imagine Todd Wash gives Ronnie Harrison the start at strong safety over the underperforming Barry Church and give Harrison a lot of man responsibilities with Ebron.

Carlos Hyde/T.J. Yeldon vs. Darius Leonard

I referenced why I think Yeldon will get the bulk of carries this week above, but regardless of who is toting the rock, Darius Leonard is going to have something to say about it. With all of the injuries on the Jaguars offensive line, it’s going to be very difficult to move the ball and if Kessler can’t complete some quick, easy throws to open up the box, it will be a long day in the office for “Clyde” and “TT.”

Taven Bryan vs. Quenton Nelson

Nelson went viral last time these teams played thanks to a very fake video courtesy of the Colts media department that dubbed Nelson screaming as he nearly decapitated Barry Church on a pull block. Nelson won’t get the luxury of generating a full head of steam with Taven Bryan (hopefully) lined up directly across from him, but he might not need it. Bryan finally had his first tackle for a loss last week, but it was against a fifth round rookie left guard who was making his second NFL start in Wyatt Teller. Do it against a blue chip talent against Nelson and we’ll start talking.

Dede Westbrook vs. Kenny Moore II

If Scott Milanovich does plan on letting Kessler air it out a little bit and keep a lot of the west coast concepts Kessler is built for, that means a potentially busy day for Dede Westbrook out of the slot. The Colts cornerbacks on the perimeter aren’t spectacular and while Kenny Moore has had a solid season at nickel cornerback, his strength is really in run support over coverage, so Westbrook could have a high-volume catch day.

Cody Kessler vs. Malik Hooker

Kessler isn’t known for throwing interceptions and has done a good job of taking care of the football, even in Cleveland where he only had four interceptions in twelve games. Kessler’s interception against the Texans wasn’t his fault, but if they urge him to “let it rip” this week because they felt Blake was playing to conservative and not taking his shots, Hooker may be the beneficiary.

Final prediction

If the game is close in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars will likely lose. It’s business as usual. As bad as the Colts were in letting games slip away in the fourth quarter in 2017, they are second in the NFL under Frank Reich with a +36 point differential.

Anything could happen with a new quarterback under center, but not having the entire left side of the offensive line and offensive foundation piece Leonard Fournette this week makes this an almost impossible task for Cody Kessler and Scott Milanovich.

I think the Colts win 28-14.