JAGUARS // COLTS OVERVIEW
Following their 3-1 start (with a loss to the Titans, wins over the lowly Giants and Jets, and a surprisingly dominant 31-20 victory over the Patriots), the Jaguars have lost four games in a row. They will emerge from the bye week traveling to Indianapolis to take on a 3-5 Colts team that is coming off back-to-back wins (over the Bills and Raiders), and that recently played both the Eagles and Texans close. The Colts have had two weeks to prepare as well.
This is quietly a pace-up game for both sides, as the Colts have played at the fastest pace in the NFL this season, and the Jags have played at the fourth fastest pace. Each team also ranks bottom five in time of possession, which leaves some minutes/plays to be added to this spot.
The hand-wringing over the Jags’ defense is unwarranted, as they have allowed the second fewest yards per game in the NFL, and even with the Jags’ offense giving the ball away more than 27 other teams, the Jags’ defense has still managed to allow the eighth fewest points per game. Jacksonville has allowed the seventh lowest red zone touchdown rate. (Indy ranks a respectable 12th in red zone touchdown rate on offense.)
The red zone matchup on the other side tilts strongly in favor of Indy, as the Jags have produced the third lowest red zone touchdown rate on offense, while Indy ranks right behind the Jags on defense (eighth in the NFL in lowest red zone touchdown rate allowed). Indy also has an edge in the “takeaway” department, ranking fifth in the league in takeaways. The Colts essentially run the same defense that the Buccaneers run, but they have the speed to make it work, leading to the second-lowest aDOT allowed and the sixth lowest YAC/R rate allowed.
Each offense should have a difficult time moving the ball, and each team will be looking to capitalize on whatever mistakes they can force from the opposing side. With Blake Bortles under center for the visiting team and Andrew Luck under center for the home squad, this tilts the matchup in favor of the Colts, who Vegas has installed as early three-point favorites, in a game with a surprising Over/Under of 47.0. The Jags have had only one game all season (against the Patriots) that rose above 47.0 combined points.
JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE
It is notable that no team in the NFL has more dropped passes on the year than the Jaguars, and beleaguered Bortles actually ranks ninth in the NFL in expected completion percentage — an interesting setup against a team in Indianapolis that forces short throws and tackles well, but that has allowed the second highest catch rate in the NFL (behind only the Bucs). Part of the knock against Bortles this year is that he has thrown nearly everything short, but this actually sets up nicely in this spot, as he should be able to produce a high completion rate as long as his receivers are holding onto the passes that come their way. The Colts rank only 20th in drive success rate allowed (in spite of forcing the fourth most turnovers per drive), which should allow the Jags to put together some sustained drives. Naturally, things should fall apart close to the end zone. As noted above: Indy ranks eighth in opponent red zone touchdown rate, while the Jags’ offense ranks 30th in red zone touchdown rate.
It has once again become impossible to figure out the Jags’ wide receiver rotation, as Weeks 7 and 8 saw them running Donte Moncrief on the slants and shallow crossing routes that they were previously using Dede Westbrook on. In Week 8, the Jags also played Keelan Cole only 15 snaps while giving D.J. Chark 48 snaps. Recent target counts on these four (Weeks 6 through 8) look like this:
:: Moncrief — 3 // 10 // 7
:: Westbrook — 5 // 4 // 6
:: Chark — 1 // 7 // 5
:: Cole — 5 // 7 // 3
Westbrook has topped six targets only once, while Moncrief has topped six targets in four of eight games. This has amounted to only two touchdowns and only one game north of 76 receiving yards for Moncrief. For whatever it might be worth, it is also worth pointing out that Moncrief’s targets have shown a tendency to dip against zone-heavy coverage schemes (the category in which the Colts fall), while rising against man-heavy coverage schemes. The Jags surely did some self-scouting during the bye to figure out how to fix their passing attack, but none of these guys have played especially well. Chark is the most exciting play of the bunch, given his size and his 4.34 speed, but he has also played as poorly as any of the other three.
Behind these guys, David Grinnage and Blake Bell are splitting tight end reps. This offense has not produced usable TE stat lines all year, and either guy would need a multi-touchdown game to become worth a spot on a roster.
JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE
The Jags’ offense could get back some of its juice this week with Leonard Fournette tentatively expected to return (this appeared to be the game the Jags were targeting for the last few weeks, and Fournette has been practicing early in the week). Last year on their way to the AFC Championship game, the Jags ranked 32nd in the NFL in pass play rate; this year, at 3-5, they rank fourth in pass play rate, as they have been unable to get anything going on the ground all year.
With the Jags adding Carlos Hyde via trade as an insurance policy for Fournette, they will have plenty of incentive to ease their star starter back in, which will likely render both guys unusable options against a middling Colts run D (12th in fewest yards allowed per carry) — especially as T.J. Yeldon should soak up some work on passing downs. If you do want to take a risk on Fournette’s workload returning to what we were used to in 2017, realize that he averaged a very strong 23.4 touches per game last season. Again: this usage should not be “expected” to be there this week, but there is an outside chance the Jags throw him all the way into the fire.
If Fournette misses, Hyde will handle early-down work while Yeldon will handle passing situations — lowering the floor and ceiling on each, but giving Yeldon some price-considered upside if the Colts jump out to an early lead.
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
This remains one of the most challenging matchups a quarterback can have, as the Jags have allowed the lowest catch rate in the NFL, and only three teams have allowed a lower YAC/R rate. The Jags have allowed the fewest completions in the league, the fewest passing yards, and the fewest passing touchdowns. Only three teams have faced a lower opponent pass play rate.
While the Colts began the year with the highest pass play rate in the NFL, they actually have the fourth lowest pass play rate across their last three games, with this team showing an ability to shape-shift, and with the emergence of Marlon Mack giving them extra incentive to keep the ball on the ground.
Over their last two games, targets on the Colts have looked like this:
This spread-the-wealth offense is going to need an unexpected volume spike to provide floor for any pass catcher. It can obviously be pointed out that Hilton always carries upside at home, given the way his speed plays on the turf.
The Jags have allowed the second fewest receptions in the league to running backs, the third fewest to wide receivers, and the fourth fewest to tight ends.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
While teams have attacked the Jags on the ground, this has been done more to avoid the teeth of the Jags’ pass defense than to attack a clear weakness, as the Jags have allowed only 3.83 yards per carry to running backs (a number that drops to 3.48 if we take away the magical run Saquon Barkley had against them in Week 1 — a run only Barkley is capable of). The Jags rank middle of the pack in yards allowed to running backs, but only four teams have allowed fewer touchdowns to the position.
If you want to target this spot, recognize that Mack does possess unique upside, and it won’t be unexpected if he pops off for a long run or a touchdown — though a big game in this spot is obviously not the “likeliest scenario.”
I was hoping to find one or two things to like in this game, but the Jaguars’ defense is just way too stout for me to have interest in any Colts players from an “optimal play” perspective — and even the upside-hunting that can be done on Hilton and Mack comes with a low floor and without a major price discount. Hilton has been given a bigger bump down in price across all three sites, but it’s more difficult to see a big game coming from him against this Jacksonville secondary.
On the Jags’ side, the wide receiver rotation is too convoluted to be targeted with confidence (and even if you guess right on who will see the most targets, there is no guarantee that these targets will turn into box score production), while the backfield appears to carry messy timeshare potential in a non-notable matchup. There are plenty of games to like on this slate — and as such, this is a game I will likely find myself leaving alone altogether, outside of possibly the defenses. Indy’s defense is the more attractive to me, given Bortles’ tendency toward mistakes, though they’ll move down my list a bit if Fournette returns, as the Jags will likely lean on the run more often (taking away opportunities for Bortles mistakes). If Fournette misses, the Colts’ defense becomes a significantly more appealing play.