The Jags are scoring the ninth fewest points per game.
The Colts are scoring the 15th fewest.
The Colts are allowing the 10th fewest yards per game.
The Jags are allowing the 16th fewest.
The Jags are allowing the 13th fewest points per game.
The Colts are allowing the 17th fewest.
The Colts are allowing the 12th fewest yards per pass attempt.
The Jags are allowing the 17th fewest.
It’s that kind of game — a couple mid-level teams that win games more because they know how to win games than because they are capable of dominating an opponent. And with this game adding a layer of being a division rivalry between two teams that know one another fairly well, it’s likeliest that this game plays out about the way Vegas expects (an Over/Under of 43.5 — with the Colts implied at 23.0 and the Jags at 20.5).
We’ll start on the Jags’ side of the ball, where this team prefers to win with a slow-paced, “run game and defense” strategy — ranking 13th in rush play rate (a mark they’d love to see crack the top 10) and 29th in situation neutral pace of play.
With this run-focused approach, of course, has come a heavy workload for Leonard Fournette, who has played 83.7% of the Jags’ snaps across his last three games, while seeing recent touch counts of 27 // 26 // 31 // 26 // 16. Fournette (incredibly) has only one touchdown all season, but he has the third most red zone carries and the seventh most carries inside the 10. The matchup isn’t great against a Colts team allowing 4.07 yards per carry, with only three rushing touchdowns and five total touchdowns allowed to enemy backs (fourth best and seventh best, respectively), but the locked-in volume Fournette sees whenever Jags games remain close still gives him opportunities to hit. (Note: his 16-touch game came in a 26-3 loss.)
While Fournette has been “all engine and no gloss” this year, the passing attack for the Jags has had its share of spiked weeks — with D.J. Chark picking up six touchdowns and a pair of games north of 140 receiving yards, and with Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley combining for three additional games of 100+ yards. This week, the Jags offense will return Nick Foles under center — though they will also be running into a matchup against a disciplined Colts secondary that is shaving 13.5% off the league-average aDOT and 10% off the league-average YAC/r. Only one team has faced fewer wide receiver targets than the Colts (after they faced the fewest in the league in this same Tampa 2 scheme a year ago), and while four wideouts have topped 100 yards and scored a touchdown in this matchup, all of them required volume to get there.
On defense, the Jaguars have had a few breakdowns this year that have led to big YAC plays (they’re boosting the league-average YAC/r by 14%), but they have otherwise been difficult to deal with, shaving 5% off the league-average aDOT and 4% off the league-average catch rate, and allowing only two pass catchers all season to post a DFS score you would have noticed you didn’t have (Alex Erickson’s ultra-cheap 8-137-0 day, and Sammy Watkins’ fluky 9-198-3 Week 1). Outside of these games, the most notable stat line against the Jags was 5-104-0 from Emmanuel Sanders — with Kelce // Humphries // DJ Moore // Michael Thomas all topping 80 yards in this spot, but with none of them scoring a touchdown. Jacoby Brissett is expected to be back under center, but T.Y. Hilton is still not ready to return — leaving this run-leaning offense to spread the ball around amongst Zach Pascal (recent target counts of 7 // 2 // 6 // 7), Chester Rogers (2 // 2 // 5 // 4), Marcus Johnson (three targets last week), Jack Doyle (5 // 5 // 4 // 4), and Eric Ebron (5 // 4 // 2 // 12 — this last one driven by “squeaky wheel” syndrome after Ebron initiated a meeting last week with Frank Reich about his role).
Perhaps the biggest impediment to some sort of notable stat line emerging from the Colts this week is not even the matchup they have against the Jaguars’ secondary, however, but is instead the matchup the Colts’ offense has on the ground. The Colts have played to the fourth highest rush play rate in the NFL this season, and the Jaguars (24th in DVOA on the ground; 4.99 yards allowed per carry to enemy backs) should have a difficult time stopping this rushing attack. Last week, the Dolphins sold out to stop the run in order to force Hoyer to beat them; but with Brissett back on the field this week, Marlon Mack will have some opportunities to break off chunk gains on moderate-to-heavy volume. Mack has 20 or more touches in five consecutive games — and while his red zone role (as explored last week) is not what it was a year ago, he still has paths to upside.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m not in the habit of rostering wideouts against the Colts (three of the four players who have gone for 100 yards and a touchdown in this matchup were Keenan, Julio, and Hopkins — while Byron Pringle attached to Mahomes was the other), but Chark has recent target counts of 7 // 5 // 12 // 9 and is talented enough to pile up production if he lands on the higher end of his target range. Westbrook is also set to return this week, and he quietly has recent target counts of 6 // 11 // 8 // 9, with 50+ yards in all four of those games. Neither player has a big game as their “likeliest scenario,” but I am a bit intrigued by a tourney scenario in which Foles comes out and plays really well off the bye, and one of these guys hits. Conley is less attractive against a team that has allowed the eighth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards (again: volume is typically required in order to hit against the Colts’ disciplined defense), but it does take only one play for him to pay off.
I love Fournette’s workload, but given his price and the good fortune he would need in this spot in order to post a score you’d regret missing out on, I’ll likely be off him myself.
I’ll also likely be off the Colts’ passing attack, as most of the game flow setups in this spot have this being a lower-volume game for Indy through the air, as a spread-the-ball-around offense that focuses on hammering the short areas of the field. There are plays that could hit, but slate-breakers would be rare in this spot if we played out this slate a hundred times.
The most interesting piece on this side of the ball is Mack, who always comes with risk as a near-zero in the pass game (five games this year with one or zero receptions), but who certainly has paths to hitting in this matchup. I doubt that Mack is a player who will end up on one of my tighter builds, but I can certainly see him making appearances on some larger-field rosters — and he’s a risk-embrace away from becoming tighter-build material.