It is finally time for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2023 season to begin. Duval is as excited as ever, and it’s for good reason. For the first time in a while, the Jaguars have expectations.
However, a long season awaits, and Jacksonville cannot overlook the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Before the Jaguars take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, here are some storylines to watch… brought to you by the numbers:
When the Jaguar’s newest offensive weapon — Calvin Ridley — suits up on Sunday, it will have been 686 days since his last regular season NFL game.
In that contest on Oct. 24, 2021, Ridley caught four passes for 26 yards and a touchdown. The Atlanta Falcons, his former team, defeated the Miami Dolphins 30-28. No one knew it would be his final game in Atlanta.
A lot has happened since then. Just days after that game he announced he’d be stepping away from football to focus on his mental wellbeing. In March 2022, Ridley was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for gambling. There was an uncertainty whether he would return to an NFL field ever again.
Then, the Jaguars stepped in.
He’s been the talk of the town ever since his acquisition at the trade deadline last year. Now, Ridley still looks like the elite wideout that everyone remembers. Agent Zero gets his first taste of regular-season football in approximately 1.88 years this weekend, and he will have all eyes on him.
The Colts took a shot with the fourth overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Quarterback Anthony Richardson has been handed the keys in Indianapolis. The former Florida Gator is synonymous with his freak athleticism and big-play ability.
The Jaguars can expect Richardson to be a thorn in their side for seasons to come, but should look to take advantage of his rookie mistakes on Sunday. Jacksonville’s linebackers and safeties will be put to the test to contain his electric running ability.
Richardson will have to make the most of an imperfect situation in Indianapolis. The Colts’ running back room is dwindling fast with the absence of Jonathan Taylor and potential loss of Zack Moss, who was downgraded to doubtful for Sunday’s game.
Colts downgraded RB Zack Moss (forearm) to doubtful for Sunday’s opener vs. the Jaguars.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 9, 2023
The rushing workload will likely be split between Deon Jackson, Evan Hull, and — of course — Richardson.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis’ wide receivers are led by Michael Pittman Jr. He’s appeared to have WR1 potential during his first three seasons — most notably during a 1,000-yard season in 2021. Beyond Pittman, the corps is thin and young, with rookie Josh Downs and second-year Alec Pierce slotting in as the second and third option.
The lack of established alpha playmakers on this offense will give Richardson the chance to take full control of this system. If Colts head coach Shane Steichen gives it to him, the young gunslinger can be very, very dangerous.
The Jaguars had 35 sacks last season. That’s tied them for seventh worst in the NFL. It’s also half as many as the Philadelphia Eagles, who lead the NFL with 70.
The defensive line from 2022 remains only partially intact. Arden Key flipped his successful season (4.5 sacks and 27 tackles) into a new contract with the Tennessee Titans this offseason. Dawuane Smoot is still in Jacksonville, but he is on the PUP list while recovering from an injury that will hold him out until at least week six.
This turns nearly all focus to Josh Allen and Travon Walker, both of whom are former first-round picks. The duo combined for just 10.5 sacks last season, but there is optimism about their potential production this year.
Additionally, rookie Yasir Abdullah has shown plenty of flashes throughout camp and the preseason. With players like K’Lavon Chaisson continuing to underperform — despite the team’s insistence that he is doing well — Abdullah could see a significant role in the pass-rush rotation from the jump this season.
Facing a rookie signal caller with a depleted backfield is an ideal opportunity for the Jaguars to start getting pressure consistently in 2023.
Colts cornerbacks Dallis Flowers and Darrell Baker Jr. have one career NFL start between them.
The two are listed as the outside corner duo on the Colts' most up-to-date depth chart. They are also both former undrafted free agents. Considering the Jaguars are certainly expected to be a pass-first offense, this lack of experience could mean big trouble for Indianapolis.
Nickel corner Kenny Moore II gives a veteran presence to the secondary, entering his seventh NFL season with the Colts. Regardless, there will be plenty of inexperience for Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence to try and exploit through the air.
Should the Colts try and hone in on one specific Jaguars receiver, like Ridley, depth could become a huge advantage. It’s evident that Jacksonville has confidence in all of its wideouts, and while that will be an advantage each week, it will be even more impactful against a young secondary.