Happy New Year!
We’ve reached the final week of the 2020 NFL regular season, and thus the last game of the year for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars have exactly one win this season, which came in the opening week against the Indianapolis Colts. Now in Week 17, Jacksonville has a chance to sweep the Colts and keep Indianapolis out of the playoffs.
Our final cross-blog Q&A of the season ends the way it began this year, with analysis from Chris Blystone of Stampede Blue, SB Nation’s Indianapolis Colts blog.
Here is what he had to say:
1. After losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, the Colts have fallen to the eighth spot in the AFC, just outside of the playoffs. Indianapolis will need some help, but do you think the Colts will still make it into the playoffs, why or why not?
Chris: The Colts still have a few ways to make the playoffs, but it will certainly require some help to do so. Given the year that 2020 has been, my feeling is that whatever the most gutting possibility is, that’s how things will go. As it stands, they would need a win over the Jaguars along with a loss from the Ravens, Browns, Dolphins, or Titans to get in. None of those losses are necessarily likely, and several of those games will feature opponents who are resting starters, making things even tougher for the Colts. This is what happens when you don’t take care of your business, and while it would be disappointing, with the loss of left tackle Anthony Castonzo to a season ending ankle injury, the Colts’ prospects of a deep playoff run are fairly slim even if they were to make it in. It was a far more enjoyable season than last year’s, and the hope is that the Colts continue to build through general manager Chris Ballard’s leadership, into a real contender.
2. The only team the Jaguars have defeated this season is the Colts. Do you think the opening week victory for the Jaguars was a fluke, or does it just seem like Jacksonville often has Indianapolis’ number?
Chris: I think it was a bit of both. The Jaguars have always played the Colts very tough, regardless of how the rest of their season goes, and I think that first game was partly a result of that. Additionally, the Colts defense had a very anomalous performance which may have been in part due to a lack of offseason. The team as a whole clearly struggled to integrate some of their new faces early in the season, and had by far their worst performance of the season in week one. The Jaguars played well in that contest, and capitalized on those struggles. I expect this game will be another tough one, despite how both teams have played this season.
3. What are your thoughts on how veteran quarterback Philip Rivers has played this season?
Chris: Despite some of the media takes surrounding Philip Rivers, he has been a huge upgrade at the quarterback position for the Colts, and largely responsible for their offensive successes in 2020. His ability command the offense and make changes at the line to get them in the right looks has been critical. Additionally, while Rivers is perhaps the slowest quarterback in the NFL, he gets the ball out quickly and still has enough left in his arm to make the throws he needs to. Given that he’s had good protection from the Colts’ offensive line this season, he has done well. This was a case of the Colts offense being the right fit. It would not be surprising to see the Colts bring him back for 2021 to buy some time to address the quarterback position.
4. What players on the Colts’ roster surprised you this season — give me one player who exceeded expectations and one player who may have disappointed.
Chris: Maybe the biggest surprise on the roster has been Xavier Rhodes. After having a couple of pretty down seasons with the Vikings, he was a bit of a wildcard when he joined the Colts roster. The hope was that he could fill in as a passable second cornerback, but there wasn’t a ton of confidence that would happen. Instead, he stepped in as the Colts clear top cornerback, and at $3M on the year, he was an absolute steal.
As far as disappointments go, there haven’t been all that many. Most of Indianapolis’ roster has played pretty much as expected. If we had to pick a player who has been disappointing, the closest guy that fits that bill has been Rock Ya-Sin. The Colts’ second-round pick in 2019, Ya-Sin hasn’t taken the second-year leap they needed him to. His lack of real progress at the position likely puts the Colts in a spot where they’ll need to use another higher pick on a cornerback sometime soon. He hasn’t been awful, but after two seasons, he continues to make the same mistakes he did early as a rookie. Hopefully with a full offseason in 2021, he will grow further, but he has probably been a weak link on the defense that was perhaps somewhat unexpected.
5. The Colts have a strong defense, ranking in the top-10 in total yards allowed per game, and second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. What makes the unit so stout?
Chris: There are several factors that have made this defense so good. First is their focus on speed and fundamentals. They swarm to the ball and make good open field tackles consistently. The style of defense requires offenses to find consistent ways to drive downfield and makes them work for everything they get. For most of the season, they have been solid at preventing big plays, and good at taking the ball away. This has been in large part due to the addition of DeForest Buckner to an already talented unit. If they can find a way to add a true threat as an edge rusher, they could go from a good to a great defense, because that’s the only area they are truly weak.
6. Score prediction for Sunday?
Chris: I don’t have a good feeling about this game. The Colts have struggled with consistency, and while there is no doubt in my mind that they are the more talented team, but as we’ve said, the Jaguars always play them very tough. I expect no different Sunday, and with the first pick locked up, they need not worry about damaging their draft choice with a win. With the playoffs on the line, the Colts have everything to play for, but I just have a bad feeling about the way things will go. I think the Jaguars end up with another win in a tough one.