Week 14 Matchup to Watch: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts


JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 03:  Running back Maurice Jones-Drew #32 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on October 3, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Marc Serota/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ improbable season continues this week with a road test against the Indianapolis Colts.  Since defeating Indy in stunning fashion back in week four, Jacksonville has managed to roll off a 7-3 record, thanks in part to key victories against Oakland and Dallas.

But it is the Colts they’re facing—led by none other than Peyton Manning.

A Jaguars victory on Sunday seals the AFC South title for Jacksonville—something that has been a long time coming for the Jaguars faithful.

For all you Jaguars fans out there, here are my three storylines to watch for in Sunday’s crucial matchup with the Colts.

 

Win or else. It’s come to this for one of the NFL’s premier franchises—handle the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium or accept the fact that you won’t be involved in the postseason for the first time since 2001. It’s that simple. Despite entering the game trailing Jacksonville by only one game, the Colts must win their final three games to take the AFC South. And that starts with the Jags.

Grabbing the baton. The last time Jacksonville won a division title was in 1999, and it was the AFC Central. They can end that drought and serve notice to the Colts and Tennessee Titans that they’ll be contending for the AFC South for the foreseeable future by completing the season sweep of the Colts. A victory clinches the division.

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Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Contrasting styles. The Colts and Jaguars have proven that there are two ways to succeed. Indy leans heavily on the right arm of QB Peyton Manning, who’s on pace to deliver an NFL single season record 700 passes. Jacksonville climbs on the back of RB Maurice Jones-Drew and lets his sturdy legs carry them. No one throws the ball more than the Colts. Only Kansas City runs it more often than the Jags.

 

3 Key Colts

 

LB Gary Brackett. Brackett is the brains and emotional leader of the defense. But he must measure up to Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew if the Colts are going to slow down the NFL’s second-leading rusher. Brackett is tenacious, but only 5’11”, 235 pounds. Jones-Drew is a dumptruck with a pulse at 5’7″, 209.

WR Pierre Garcon. He’s shrugged off a slow start that was caused by injuries and a lack of steady practice. Over the past five games, Garcon has 29 catches, 320 yards and three touchdowns. He’s emerged as the big play threat that served the team so well in 2009. When Garcon plays like this, the offense has quick-strike potential and WR Reggie Wayne is given more opportunities to excel.

RB Donald Brown. The Colts running game remains the NFL’s worst, but at least it was serviceable in the most recent win over the Titans. They averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, but offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and QB Peyton Manning stuck with it. Brown and backup RB Javarris James combined for 32 carries. The threat of a running game takes some of the load off of Manning. That’s Brown’s charge.

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Lewis has been an absolute force in opposing secondaries this season

Chris Chambers/Getty Images

 

3 key Jaguars

QB . Most of the attention will be focused on RB Maurice Jones-Drew, and for good reason. But Garrard quietly has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season. If the Colts sell out to stop the Jaguars’ running game, Garrard is more than capable of beating them with his arm (2,141 yards, 20 TDs, 12 INTs) or his legs (232 yards, 4 TDs). He’s especially dangerous on bootlegs that take advantage of DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis being too aggressive in getting up the field.

DTs Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu. Consider them the new John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Alualu was the surprise pick in the first round of the April draft while Knighton was a third-round pick in ’09. Together, they’re a force in the defensive interior. Knighton has four sacks, while Alualu has collected 3.5. QB Peyton Manning is at his best when he’s able to step up in the pocket to avoid the outside rush. He won’t be able to do that if Knighton and Alualu win the interior battles.

TE Marcedes Lewis. The 2006 first-round draft pick has emerged as one of the league’s premier players at his position. Although Lewis has a modest 45 receptions, he’s tied for third in the AFC with nine touchdowns. Garrard always knows where he is, and on Sunday, he likely will be using his 6’6″, 275-pound frame to fend off smaller Colts linebackers and safeties.

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Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Bottom line

Jacksonville appears on the verge of supplanting the Colts and Titans as the best team in the AFC South. But the Jaguars’ wait might be a bit longer. Look for QB Peyton Manning to generate more difference-making plays than RB Maurice Jones-Drew, and look for the Colts to keep their playoff aspirations alive.  It’ll be close—it always is—but the final score will be 

Colts 34

Jaguars 30.

QB Peyton Manning receives franchise tag from Indianapolis Colts



The have franchised quarterback and have given him the “exclusive” designation.

AFC South blog

Kuharsky
ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky writes about all things AFC South in his division .

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Of the players given franchise tags by their teams so far, only Manning and received the “exclusive” designation, barring them from talking with other teams.

Manning will be due a salary over $23 million under the present formula. The Colts say they will continue to work on a long-term contract with Manning.

Team owner Jim Irsay announced the decision Tuesday night on Twitter.

“We have placed the franchise tag on Peyton while we continue to negotiate a long term deal,” Irsay wrote.

Last year, Irsay promised to make Manning the NFL’s highest-paid player. He has reiterated that position many times since then with one caveat — if the Colts couldn’t reach a new deal with Manning before free agency started they would use the franchise tag.

The Colts did the same thing in 2004 before eventually agreeing to a seven-year, $98 million deal. The Colts then pulled the tag.

Irsay hasn’t backed down on either promise, and Manning, as he usually does, has remained silent about the contract.

Three weeks ago, the Colts put their first formal proposal on the table. It was an offer Irsay and team president Bill Polian wanted to make last October, but Manning informed the team then, through his agent, that he did not want to start negotiating until after the season.

The current offer is believed to be richer than the four-year, $72 million contract that New England quarterback signed in September. Brady’s contract also included $48.5 million in guaranteed money, and Irsay has called that deal the standard.

“It’s not a normal negotiation, his legacy and our relationship, it’s very unusual,” Irsay said last month.

On Tuesday, Indy decided not to wait any longer to make its decision.

By “tagging” Manning, no other team can negotiate with the Colts’ franchise quarterback.

How critical is Manning to the Colts’ success?

In 13 seasons, he has broken all the franchise’s career records for quarterbacks and has never missed a start. He’s taken Indy to the playoffs 11 times, captured seven AFC South titles in eight years, won two AFC championships, one Super Bowl title and a Super Bowl MVP Award.

And the Colts won more regular-season games in the past decade (115) than any team in NFL history.

The move does free up the Colts to work on other contracts before the collective bargaining agreement expires March 3.

The list of their potential free agents includes running back , kicker ; , Manning’s blind side protector; , a key backup at safety who is ready to start; starting linebacker and starting defensive tackle Dan Muir.

Irsay also has promised “significant” announcements in the coming weeks.

But, of course, none would be bigger than giving Manning the richest deal in league history in what could be his final NFL contract.

“It’s important,” Irsay said when asked about the importance of reaching a new deal with Manning.

“But it’s something that you don’t totally control, so I think you have to be prepared to work on your roster while you’re doing that. That’s a big part of the equation, but I think you have to be able and ready to shape your roster.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.