COLTS // JAGUARS OVERVIEW
This Sunday, the 6-5 Colts will carry their five game win streak to Jacksonville, where they will take on a reeling, 3-8 Jaguars team that is riding seven consecutive losses and is fresh off firing offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who was handcuffed all year by the irresponsible play of Blake Bortles. Bortles is also on the outs in Jacksonville, as he has been benched for Cody Kessler, who is better equipped than Bortles to do the one thing the Jags have been asking him to do all year: not make mistakes. While the Colts have been on fire this year on offense — racking up the fourth most points per game in the league (behind only the Saints, Chiefs, and Rams) — the Jaguars have tumbled to 28th in points per game. The Colts play at the fastest pace in the NFL and rank sixth in plays per game, while the Jags have been playing at the eighth fastest pace and come into this game ranked seventh in plays per game.
This will not be the easiest game for scoring, as the Vikings are the only team in football that has allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Jags, and the Jags’ offense has shown an inability all season to produce big point totals when they have the ball. Vegas opened this game with an aggressive Over/Under of 48.5, with Indy installed as slim three point favorites. The Over/Under was quickly bet down to 47.5, and the Colts were quickly bet up to -4.5.
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
In spite of the colossal disappointment that their season has been, the Jaguars have continued to hang tight against the pass — allowing the second lowest catch rate in the NFL, while shaving almost 4% off the league-average YAC/R rate. Only one team has allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers. No team has allowed fewer touchdowns to wide receivers. Only five teams have allowed fewer yards.
When these teams met a few weeks ago, Andrew Luck was called on to throw only 29 times (even with an incredible streak of eight consecutive games with three or more touchdown passes — the best streak since Tom Brady’s historic 2007 season — Luck has recent pass attempt numbers of 23 // 31 // 29 // 29 // 37; three of these games were blowout wins, and another came against the Jags with the Colts running only 55 plays, so these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt), and seven of these targets went to T.Y. Hilton — a solid 24.1% target rate that falls right in line with the 24.6% rate that Hilton has across his last four games. If the Colts run more plays in this spot than they did last time around, Luck could fire off 35 or more pass attempts and Hilton could be in line for eight to 10 looks. He went 3-77-0 on his seven looks in Week 10. The matchup lowers the floor here, but Hilton still carries week-winning upside for his ability to score from anywhere on the field. Optimally, the Colts would move Hilton into the slot a bit more in this matchup to get him away from Jalen Ramsey, but he played only 12 snaps from the slot last time around (28.6% — right in line with his 31% rate on the season).
Behind Hilton, Dontrelle Inman has surprisingly notched recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 6 // 4, going for 34 to 52 yards in each of these games. He continues to play only a portion of this team’s snaps, but he is being fed respectable target counts regardless. Upside, of course, is a long shot in this spot.
The man who stands out the most, of course, is our old pal Eric Ebron, who will step into the number one tight end role with Jack Doyle headed to I.R. When Doyle missed time earlier in the year, Ebron’s target counts looked like this:
11 // 10 // 15 // 7 // 7
Only eight teams have allowed fewer catches to tight ends than the Jags this year, and only 11 teams have allowed fewer yards, but this is the most attackable position against the elite Jacksonville defense. Ebron projects to be a big part of whatever passing the Colts do, so volume is not a concern. The matchup introduces some opportunity for Ebron to fail, if you want to bet against the field in this spot; but the likeliest scenario in this offense, at his volume, has him posting an average game at worst, with obvious upside for difference-making production.
If you want to dig deep in this spot, Mo Alie-Cox should step into two to five targets with Doyle out. When these teams last played, 10 of Luck’s 29 passes went to tight ends, with Alie-Cox seeing a season-high four looks. Ebron will soak up the bulk of the tight end work, but the number two on this team will see at least a couple looks, creating thin opportunity for upside.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
The Jaguars continue to play top-end run defense, allowing only 3.54 yards per carry to running backs on the season when we take away the “only Saquon could do it” run that Saquon Barkley had against them in Week 1. The Jaguars have also allowed only five touchdowns to running backs (the fewest in the NFL), and only two teams have allowed fewer running back receptions than the 44 the Jaguars have given up.
When these teams met in Week 10, Marlon Mack carried the ball 12 times for 29 yards — mixing in two receptions for nine yards. If he is cleared from his concussion in time to play this week, a fair projection for him is 16 to 18 touches, giving him a low floor to go with the thin upside his talent and workload will provide a shot for. If Mack misses, it will likely be Jordan Wilkins handling work on early downs with Nyheim Hines continuing to mix in on passing downs. Either player would need a busted play or a multi-touchdown game too achieve relevance.
JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE
No team in the NFL has forced a shallower average depth of target than the Colts this year, though they have allowed the second highest catch rate in the league, which has led to them ranked a middling 21st in yards allowed per pass attempt. The matchup is not much of a concern for a Jaguars team that is turning the offense over to Cody Kessler — who, in all honesty, is likely an upgrade at the moment. In his career, Kessler has a comfortable 64.5% completion rate, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions — leaning on short passes on the way to an ultra-low YPA mark of 6.54. When he played in Week 7 against the Texans, he completed 21 of his 30 pass attempts in a difficult matchup (a 70% completion rate), at a YPA of only 4.37. The best bet for upside in this offense will be a high-volume pass game, as the Colts’ ability to force short passes combined with Kessler’s tendency to look short will otherwise make it tough for a big yardage game to pile up.
The Jags have become completely uninterested in involving Keelan Cole lately, playing D.J. Chark over him over the last few weeks and then giving Cole only two targets last week with Chark on the sidelines. With Chark (quad) looking likely to miss another game, the Jags are likely to focus primarily on Donte Moncrief and Dede Westbrook through the air, with each guy carrying a low-floor, moderate-upside profile in this matchup. Both players can be used on the short-area throws that are likeliest to give Kessler a chance to produce. Either guy will need a broken play or a touchdown (or two) in order to become an actual difference-maker.
After seeing target counts of 6 // 4 // 6 in his previous three games, James O’Shaughnessy has seen only two targets apiece in his last two games (with only one catch for four yards in that stretch). This entire passing attack has struggled in these games, with Bortles completing only 21 passes for 231 yards across his last two starts (with nine of these catches and 85 of these yards going to running backs). Ultimately, something more like 200 to 250 passing yards for this attack is a fair expectation in this game, creating opportunity for one or two players on this squad to be viable in a good matchup, at depressed price tags. Though with a conservative, backup quarterback under center, there are no guarantees, and raw ceiling will be tough to come by.
JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE
The Colts have quietly been one of the more difficult teams to run on this year, allowing the seventh fewest yards per carry in the league, shaving over 14% off the league-average rate. The Colts have also allowed only five touchdowns on the ground to running backs (only four teams have allowed fewer). The best way to capture upside from backfields against the Colts is with pass-catching backs, as this team has given up the second most catches and the fourth most yards to the position.
With Leonard Fournette having his suspension upheld, he will miss this game and open room for Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon to split the backfield work once again. In the game these two played without Fournette earlier this year, Hyde played 28 snaps and Yeldon played 37, with Hyde seeing six carries and running 13 pass routes, while Yeldon handled only two carries but ran 25 pass routes. Yeldon saw nine targets in that game, and he saw six targets in the Jags’ last game against the Colts (a game in which Fournette touched the ball 29 times). Another six to nine targets is a fair bet for Yeldon, though he is unlikely to see a big chunk of work on the ground, where Hyde will likely see most of the touches. The Jags will likely lean more pass-heavy in this spot, making it tough for Hyde to pop as a yardage-and-touchdown back.
I probably will not bet on Luck this week — in a difficult matchup on the road — but as we have noted ad nauseum lately: Luck is currently in the “always worth considering in tourneys” conversation. The installation of Cody Kessler at quarterback for the Jags should, honestly, give the Jags a better shot at hanging tough in this spot, so there should be enough volume for Luck to have a shot at upside.
Regardless of whether Luck posts a big game or not, Ebron is in line for a strong workload and deserves to be one of the more popular plays on the slate. T.Y. Hilton will carry floor concerns into this spot, but his ceiling remains intact. (Note: Ramsey is now looking iffy for this week’s game. If he misses, Hilton will have an elevated chance of avoiding a dud, while his chances of reaching his ceiling will go up a bit as well.)
It won’t be surprising if one of Moncrief, Dede, or even O’Shaug posts a strong price-considered score, but there are risks involved in targeting this offense at the moment — with Kessler under center, and with Fournette on the sidelines again — and the chances of one of these guys posting a big raw score are slim. I’m not against the pass catchers on this team, but I’m unlikely to go out of my way to roster any of them myself.
Nothing in the Jags’ backfield jumps off the page with Hyde likely to handle most of the work on the ground and Yeldon likely to handle most of the work through the air — though something like a 5-40-0 line through the air is a fair median projection for Yeldon, giving him a shot at price-considered upside if he breaks off a long play or finds the end zone this week. Yeldon has five targets in the red zone this year — which is not great, but is not awful either.