GAME OVERVIEW ::
By Hilow >>
- Doug Pederson has a recent track record of aggression tailored to the game environment in which he finds himself, which is important to keep in mind when attacking this spot.
- The Colts run defense is far better than their top-level metrics show from a season ago.
- The Indianapolis backfield should be led by Deon Jackson in the absence of Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss, but rookie fifth-round back Evan Hull is likely to mix in, to some extent.
- The Colts offense is highly likely to go as Anthony Richardson goes, and he carries an extremely wide range of outcomes on any given week, albeit with an elevated rushing-induced floor.
- Clear avenues of attack if looking to target this game environment.
- Shane Steichen coaches his first game as the head coach for the Colts after spending the previous two seasons designing an offense for dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia.
- Deon Jackson represents an interesting decision point on this slate as a lead back priced near the minimum at $4,100.
HOW JACKSONVILLE WILL TRY TO WIN ::
Head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive tendencies proved to be subject to game environment in 2022 as passing volume ebbed and flowed relative to their situation. That said, they still held the 12th highest pass rate over expectation on the season. To highlight that assertion, let’s take a look at quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s pass volume in varying game environments from last season. The Jaguars played in 10 games with a game total over 47 points last season. In those 10 games, Lawrence averaged 39.5 pass attempts per game. In the seven games that had a game total under 47 points, Lawrence averaged 34.7 pass attempts per game. Furthermore, in games where the Jaguars were favored by three or more points with a game total under 47 points, Lawrence averaged just 27.33 pass attempts per game. That last split is important as it is exactly the situation the Jaguars find themselves in for Week 1 against the Colts (Jaguars -4.5, 45.0 game total). Jacksonville also invested their first three picks in the 2023 NFL Draft into a first-round right tackle, a second-round blocking tight end, and a third-round running back by selecting Anton Harrison, Brenton Strange, and Tank Bigsby, respectively. The old adage of “actions speak louder than words” is ever present with this team heading into the new season.
The above discussion begins to make more sense when digging into this team’s performance in the run game last year. The Jaguars managed a poor -1.44 expected points added (EPA) per rush from non-quarterback players in 2022, ranking just 21st in the league, while their EPA per dropback ranked fifth in the league. A more balanced offense as far as efficiency goes would do wonders for situational play calling, which is an area they largely struggled with a season ago. Regardless of the offseason hype surrounding rookie running back Tank Bigsby, Travis Etienne proved that he should still be viewed as the leader of this backfield based on preseason utilization with the starters. That said, Bigsby should be involved in all situations, with there being a legitimate chance that he has already usurped the incumbent starter for work near the goal line. I expect closer to a 60/40 split in utilization between the two particularly considering Etienne somewhat quietly held a lower-than-perception 60.1 percent opportunity share in this offense a season ago, before the addition of Bigsby. The saving grace for Etienne last season was his 16 breakaway runs, which ranked fifth in the league. He’ll likely need to maintain that high per-touch efficiency considering a weak 7.8 percent target share in 2022 (31st in the league). By most metrics, the Colts rush defense was a top 10 unit in 2022 (sixth in defensive rush EPA, fifth in yards allowed per carry to non-quarterbacks, 13th in yards allowed before contact, fourth in yards allowed post contact), but an uncharacteristic performance in the red zone (25th-ranked 25.55 carries per rushing touchdown allowed) led to poor top-level numbers. As in, if you dig beyond the top-level numbers, this is not exactly a defense we’ll be looking to attack on the ground this year. That should make sense considering Gus Bradley as the defensive coordinator and the extreme talent they have in the front seven, but is worth emphasizing early in the season due to their poor performance in rushing metrics to the untrained eye.
We mentioned the extreme efficiency of this pass offense last season, which should invoke a feeling of instant intrigue after the offseason addition of wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who looked every bit the player that averaged 8.7 touchdowns per season during his first three years in the league and broke out in 2020 to the tune of 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine scores. Basically, the team replaced the declining veteran Marvin Jones Jr. with a pass-catcher in his prime with a proven record as an alpha. All of that while retaining spry slot man Christian Kirk, established X-type wide receiver Zay Jones, and athletic tight end Evan Engram. There’s a lot to be excited about from this pass offense this season, the only problem for Week 1 is how much we trust Pederson to keep his foot on the gas if we see “rookie Richardson.”