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NFL Preview - Jacksonville (2-6) at Indianapolis (0-9)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's true...really.
Not all that long ago, a midseason game between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars was a chance for one team to establish position for a late-stage rush toward the AFC South title.
And more often than not, Indianapolis was successful.
In fact, for four straight seasons between 2004 and 2007 and again in 2010, the Peyton Manning-led Colts finished first in the division, followed close behind in second by the dogged Jaguars.
But when the rivalry is again renewed Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Field, it won't be the same.
Rather than another battle for divisional supremacy, the first of two 2011 meetings between the teams is far more about prospect auditioning and draft-day positioning this time around.
While the 0-9 Colts own a one-game leg up on Miami and St. Louis in the chase for ultimate NFL futility, the still-reeling Jaguars are only one more game off the pace -- having won just twice in eight tries in 2011 after going a markedly more respectable 8-8 a season ago.
And while the Indianapolis' designs on the No. 1 overall pick seem to revolve around Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Jacksonville heads toward the war room with its own needs to address.
Rookie Blaine Gabbert, chosen 10th overall in last April's draft, has struggled thus far in his initial go-round as an NFL signal-caller, completing just 45.7 of his passes for 907 yards in six games.
He fell short of 100 yards for the second straight game in a 24-14 loss to Houston two weeks ago, connecting on 10-of-30 passes as the team headed into its annual bye week.
"We've struggled on offense this year in our passing game," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. "Everybody is aware of that. We're going to keep hearing about it until we do something about it to make it better. Right now it's not very threatening."
Jacksonville is last in the league in both scoring offense (12.3 points per game) and total yards (242.6 per game), but they still have one of the league's premier weapons in workhorse running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who's sixth in the NFL with 740 rushing yards.
He eclipsed 100 yards during a home victory over Indianapolis last October, and his 929 rushing yards in 10 career matchups with the Colts are Jones-Drew's most against any foe.
Jones-Drew gained just 63 yards in the Houston loss, but Indianapolis has the second-worst run defense in the league (146.1 yards per game) and has allowed the most rushing touchdowns (11).
On offense and without Manning, Indianapolis has averaged only 14.2 points and 282.8 yards per game. Stand-in quarterback Curtis Painter is averaging 193.5 yards passing through six starts, about 100 fewer a game than Manning put up in 2010.
"It's different than any other year obviously we've ever had," Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said. "Our task is to find a way out of it. I think our guys continue to fight, and I think you can see that they still give the effort. We've just got to give them some more help and making certain they're in position to win."
Painter was 13-of-27 for 98 yards in a 31-7 loss to Atlanta last Sunday, a game in which injuries claimed Colts tight ends Dallas Clark (leg) and Broody Eldridge (hand). Neither will play this week.
"Both guys have sustained some pretty significant injuries," Caldwell said. "What I mean by that is they're going to lose more than a week."
The Jaguars are 8-8 in their history after a bye week.
Indianapolis has prevailed in 15 of 20 all-time matchups with Jacksonville and won four of the past five meetings between the teams, with the Jaguars' lone victory over that stretch a narrow 31-28 home decision during Week 4 of last season. The Colts exacted revenge with a 34-24 triumph over Jacksonville at Lucas Oil Stadium last December and has bested the Jaguars in eight of the 10 bouts held in Indianapolis during the series. Jacksonville was also handed a 14-12 road defeat by the Colts in 2009 and last won at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008, a 23-21 decision.
Prior to the Colts' double-digit win in Week 15 of last season, six straight contests in this set had been decided by seven points or less, and five of those tilts had a margin of victory of four points or fewer.
Del Rio is 5-11 against the Colts during his career as a head coach, while Caldwell is 3-1 against both Del Rio and the Jaguars since taking over for Tony Dungy in 2009.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Rookie quarterback Gabbert has thrown for touchdowns in five of his six starts, but Jacksonville has won just one of those games. In 10 career games against the Colts, Jones-Drew has 929 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and he's averaged 93.8 rushing yards per game since 2010, second-best in the NFL to Houston's Arian Foster's 98.8. Jones-Drew needs just 12 rushing yards to join Fred Taylor as only backs in franchise history to reach 6,000. He ranks second in the AFC with 740 rushing yards, trailing only Buffalo's Fred Jackson (803). Wide receiver Mike Thomas averages 15.1 yards per catch against the Colts (10 receptions, 151 yards) for his career, while fellow wide receiver Jason Hill has three touchdown catches in his past four games. Tight end Marcedes Lewis needs four catches to join Kyle Brady as the only Jaguar tight ends with 200 career receptions.
For the Colts on defense, end Dwight Freeney needs 1 1/2 sacks to become the 26th player with 100 in a career since the stat became official in 1982. He has nine career sacks against Jacksonville. Safety Antoine Bethea had an interception in last December's win over the Jaguars and cornerback Jerraud Powers had a six-yard interception return for a touchdown last week. At linebacker, second-year man Pat Angerer has 98 tackles and a forced fumble on the season.
Statistically speaking, Jacksonville is dead last in the league in scoring offense (12.2 ppg), total yards (242.6 ypg) and passing yards (123.6 ypg), but jumps to 14th in rushing yards (119.0 ypg). The Colts are in the bottom tier in all defensive categories, including 32nd in scoring defense (31.4 ppg), 31st in total yardage (406.1 ypg), 24th in pass defense (260.0 ypg) and 31st against the run (146.1 ypg).
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
In two career starts at home, Painter has completed 28-of-54 passes (51.9 percent) for 375 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Running back Joseph Addai, who is questionable for Sunday's test with a hamstring injury, has five rushing touchdowns in his past four games against the Jaguars, while backfield mate Donald Brown had a season-best 70 rush yards last week. Rookie running back Delone Carter ranks second in the AFC among first-year players with 313 rushing yards, trailing only Miami's Daniel Thomas (314). Wide receiver Reggie Wayne needs two catches to surpass Larry Centers (827) for 19th-most all-time and since 2006, Wayne averages 118.7 receiving yards per game (1,187 in 10 games) against the Jaguars. Wide receiver Austin Collie had eight catches for 87 yards and tied a career high with two touchdown receptions in the Colts' last meeting with Jacksonville. He has four touchdowns in his past three games against the Jaguars as well. In his past three games at home, wide receiver Pierre Garcon has 14 receptions for 229 yards (16.4 avg.) and two touchdown catches.
For Jacksonville on defense, linebacker Paul Posluszny leads the team with 66 tackles and fellow linebacker Clint Session posted his first sack with Jacksonville in the recent loss to Houston. Session spent four seasons with the Colts from 2007-10 before signing with the Jaguars over the summer. End Jeremy Mincey has two sacks in his past four games and cornerback Derek Cox registered his first career interception against the Colts in September of 2009.
By the numbers, the Colts' offense is 30th in scoring (14.2 ppg), 31st in total yards (282.8 ypg), 28th in passing yards (182.8 ypg) and 23rd in rushing (100.0 ypg). Jacksonville is in the top tier in all four categories on defense, placing eighth in points allowed (20.4 ppg), fifth in total defense (307.0 ypg), eighth versus the pass (197.0 ypg) and 12th against the run (110.0 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
How much it matters this year is a question mark, but the Jaguars have struggled historically in Indianapolis, winning just twice in 10 games there and only five times in 20 overall series meetings. They're also winless in four road contests this season.
He was held in check by Houston, but a matchup with the second-worst run defense in football ought to widen the eyes of a star like Jones-Drew, who's long been successful against the Colts. With Gabbert struggling, it's important that the Jaguars get another productive day out of their main running back.
Painter is still enduring the growing pains predictable of a long-term understudy thrown into the breach by injury. The Jaguars, who are eighth in the league against the pass, don't figure to make it easy.
Caldwell is singing the politically-correct song about continued high effort and workplace pride, but nearly all the matchups here seem to point towards the Jaguars. Unless the Colts can get to Gabbert and force some mistakes, look for Jones-Drew to be the deciding factor in an ugly but decisive Jacksonville win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 20, Colts 10
11/10 09:56:04 ET