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5 Questions with Stampede Blue: Why can’t the Colts beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville?

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday for the team’s home opener of the 2022 season at TIAA Bank Field, with the Jags as 4-point underdogs according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m Eastern Time kickoff and will be broadcast on CBS in local markets.

The Jaguars come into the game at 0-1 after a close loss to the Washington Commanders. Meanwhile, the Colts come into the contest with a record of 0-0-1 after tying the Houston Texans.

In an effort to learn more about the AFC South rivals in Indianapolis, we chatted with Chris Shepherd of Stampede Blue — SB Nation’s website for all things Colts.

Why can’t the Colts win in Jacksonville? Is Matt Ryan the right guy in Indianapolis? How can Jacksonville possibly stop Jonathan Taylor? Chris explains below:

1. The Colts struggled against the Texans and were down 20-3 at one point before the game eventually ended in a tie. Houston was considered by many pundits as one of the worst teams in the league entering the season. How surprising was it to see Indianapolis struggle against this team? Do you think this was more about the Texans being better than expected, the Colts not playing as well as expected, just opening game jitters or something else?

Chris: All offseason we’ve heard from the Colts’ brass about how important it is to get off to a better start than in past years. If you watched the game, most of the first two quarters didn’t feel like the game should have been going the Texans’ way. The Colts were moving the ball well on offense and the defense was fine (not having Darius Leonard was noticeable). The third quarter was an unmitigated disaster caused by mistakes that just seemed to compound one after the other — and they were all dumb mistakes: fumbled snaps, unnecessary pass interference penalties, a really stupid roughing penalty that kept the defense on the field. In my opinion the team was tight, they were focused on not losing an opener and when they made a mistake, guys started pressing, trying to make plays instead of doing their jobs. Finally the Colts got it together, down 17 points in the fourth quarter. They went out and played loose, because well, 99 percent of the time down 17 in the fourth, there’s not much to lose. Once that happened, they finally converted long drives into points and what happened, happened.

While it was pretty obvious when watching the game that the Colts were the better team, the Texans deserve massive credit. What they lack in talent they went pretty far in making up for with coaching. Their game plan was good, they executed well and played a really clean game. If I were a Texans fan I would be upset about Lovie Smith’s decision to play for the tie, but until that point, the Houston coaching staff had a fantastic day. The Texans deserved to win the game in regulation, but they just couldn’t fend off Indy once the lights came on offensively for the Colts.

2. One game in, how do you evaluate the play of quarterback Matt Ryan? Do you think he is the right person to lead the Colts?

Chris: Matt Ryan looked good. He threw an interception that was more of a great play by a defensive end than a huge mistake from the quarterback. It depends on what you mean by “the answer.” He was a better answer than Carson Wentz and the best option available this past offseason. I feel confident in him leading the Colts in 2022.

3. Jonathan Taylor did Jonathan Taylor things against the Texans with 161 rushing yards and a touchdown. Do you expect the offense to run through him once again versus the Jaguars? What does Jacksonville need to do to slow Taylor down?

Chris: Another thing head coach Frank Reich talked about leading up to the season was limiting Jonathan Taylor’s touches. But given the fact that for the fifth year in a row the Colts have another new starting quarterback, no one should expect the passing attack to be at midseason form. So un-shockingly, the Colts leaned on Taylor. I honestly believe they would love to not give him 30 carries in Week Two, but if they do, what can be done to slow him down? Maintain gap assignments, take good angles, defenders need to make sure they’re taking him on low and, more than anything else, the Jaguars need to pray to whatever they believe in that their offense gets up by multiple scores and the Colts never get in a rhythm running the ball.

I realize that sounds homerish. I get it. But I’m old enough to remember watching Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Curtis Martin, Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew, LaDainian Tomlinson and every great running back for the past 20 years, and objectively, Jonathan Taylor is a special back. There’s plenty of evidence pointing to the fact that elite running backs don’t often result in championships and that might be true, but guys like JT are rare, if nothing else he’s a lot of fun to watch.

4. What players on defense stuck out to you in Indianapolis’ game against Houston? Are there any under-the-radar players on that side of the ball who Jaguars fans should watch out for on Sunday?

Chris: Cornerback Kenny Moore stuck out in a bad way. With Matt Eberflus, Moore was used in a unique role. Sure he was a nickel back, but he had some unique hybrid responsibilities that really played to his strengths. While we don’t know exactly how he’ll be used under defensive coordinator (and former head coach for the Jaguars) Gus Bradley, he struggled a lot playing in man coverage on the outside.

The guy that Jags fans probably don’t know about but should watch out for is third-round rookie safety, Nick Cross. When the Colts traded up in the third round to take Cross, it was assumed he would sit and learn behind the veteran players the Colts had signed in free agency. After all, Cross is the youngest player in the NFL, turning 21 last week. Instead Cross consistently impressed in training camp and the preseason and won the starting job. While it might take him some time to get up to speed and he’s bound to make rookie mistakes, it seems like Cross is on a collision course with becoming a playmaker in the back end of Indianapolis’ defense.

5. The Jaguars have not lost to the Colts at home since 2014. Why do you think Indianapolis struggles so much at TIAA Bank Field? What does the team need to do to break that streak in 2022?

Chris: Maintain gap assignments, take good angles, defenders need to make sure they’re taking the Jags’ ball carriers on low and, more than anything else, the Colts need to pray to whatever they believe in that they shake off whatever curse is on them. The thing is, I couldn’t explain it until you asked me this question and I actually took a look at both the Jags’ and Colts’ records since that fateful day back in 2014. The Colts are 68-59-1, the Jags are 36-92.

It feels like the Colts have been a lot better than the Jaguars (save for 2017) since 2014 because each and every year they’ve been in the hunt late in the season, but when I ran the numbers it’s painfully obvious how mediocre the Colts have been. Mediocre NFL teams have a way of doing crazy things like when the Colts beat the juggernaut Chiefs on Sunday Night Football only to go 4-7 in the 11 games that followed in 2019. As a Colts fan, those crazy wins against good teams have a way of making you overlook everything else. So yeah, losing to a historically not great divisional opponent on the road, consistently, is something that mediocre teams just do and as much as I hate to admit it, Peyton Manning isn’t walking through that door, that’s just who the Colts have been.

If the Colts win on Sunday, it doesn’t mean they’ve broken the string of mediocrity, and frankly, I think the Colts would be happy to continue to drop a game every year in Jacksonville if it meant the Jags would spend the next eight years going 36-92 again.

Bonus: What is your final score prediction?

Chris: Final Score: Colts 34, Jags 31

I can’t pick against the Colts. They’re the better team...probably. But also I’m very concerned that Trevor Lawrence is going to be legit with a real NFL head coach in Doug Pederson and given that these two head coaches know each other so well, I think this one could end up being a shootout.

I truly appreciate Chris taking some time to provide thoughtful responses to my questions. To keep up with what the Colts are up to this season, please follow Chris on Twitter, and make sure to follow Stampede Blue as well.

You can check out the odds for this week’s games courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.