NFL Preview - Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - While it is just another typical MVP-type start for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Jacksonville Jaguars signal- caller David Garrard is finding the room for error getting more and more thin.
Garrard will try to strengthen the hold on his starting job and snap Jacksonville's two-game losing streak, while Indianapolis aims for a third straight victory in this Sunday's meeting at EverBank Field.
The 32-year-old Garrard entered the season on the hot seat after getting called out by his team's owner and head coach, but tried to silence critics with a solid Week 1 in which he threw three touchdown passes and posted a career-best 138.9 passer rating during a defeat of the Denver Broncos.
The quarterback has struggled in consecutive 25-point losses since, getting benched during Week 2's defeat to the San Diego Chargers after posting four interceptions before throwing for just 105 yards with a quarterback rating of 38.9 in last weekend's 28-3 setback to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jacksonville has now lost six of seven dating back to last year, and time could be running out for Garrard. The Jaguars were left without a solid backup option when Luke McCown suffered a season-ending knee injury against San Diego, but the club was able to pick up Trent Edwards from the Buffalo Bills through waivers on Tuesday.
Garrard said on Wednesday that he can't worry about the acquisition of Edwards, who had started 32 games with Buffalo since being selected in the third round of the 2007 draft, but that he knows he has critics out there.
"I'm definitely human. When you hear boos out there it doesn't make you feel good," he stated. "It definitely frustrates you, but that's nothing that I can control. I can control getting ready this week, getting myself ready and going out and perform this weekend. A win cures everything. A great performance cures a lot of things too, but a win definitely cures everything. That's what it's really all about and that's what I'm going to focus on."
Garrard will get a chance for that victory, as Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said Edwards will be the third quarterback for this game.
Second-string wide receiver Kassim Osgood's status for this game is also unknown after he reportedly sustained very minor injuries on Monday after jumping out of a second-floor window during an incident at a Jacksonville cheerleader's home.
Del Rio said he couldn't comment on the situation on Wednesday, but various media outlets said that Osgood was forced to flee the home when a gun-wielding man attacked both him and the 19-year-old cheerleader.
Jacksonville will look to make up some ground in the AFC South standings in its first divisional game of the season. The Jags will also be looking to avoid a fourth straight home loss to the Colts, who picked up their second straight victory with a 27-13 road victory at Denver on Sunday.
Despite missing regular receivers Anthony Gonzalez (ankle) and Pierre Garcon (hamstring), Manning threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Austin Collie stepped up for the short-handed receiving group and set career highs with 12 catches for 171 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Led by end Robert Mathis, September's AFC Defensive Player of the Month, the Colts held the Broncos without a touchdown in five red zone trips, yielding a pair of field goals and forcing three turnovers on downs.
"Anytime you can hold a team in this league to a non-scoring effort in the red zone is pretty hard to do," said Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. "Our guys I think did a great job. They might have bent a little bit along the way, but they certainly didn't break. They got real stingy down in the red zone and made a lot of big plays."
The Colts hold a 14-4 edge in the regular season series with Jacksonville, including a home-and-home sweep of the Jags last year. Indy took a 14-12 decision when the teams met at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 1, and completed the sweep with a 35-31 triumph in a Thursday night thriller in Week 15. The Jags last beat the Colts in 2008, when they upset the Colts in 23-21 fashion in Indianapolis. The Colts are 3-0 in Jacksonville since suffering a 44-17 loss there in 2006.
Del Rio is 4-10 against the Colts as a head coach, while Caldwell is 2-0 against both Del Rio and the Jaguars as a head coach.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning, a four-time MVP winner including each of the last two years, is off to another fast start, as he leads the league with nine touchdown passes without an interception. He is also third in the NFL with 1,013 passing yards and has thrown three touchdown passes in each of his first three games this year. It is then no surprise that the Colts rank third in both total offense (412.7 yards per game) and passing (331.3 ypg). Indianapolis is also second in points with 29.7 per game. With Gonzalez again out and Garcon's status in question, Collie (27 receptions, 4 TD) could get another chance at a big game and leads the NFL in both catches and receiving yards with 359. He'll likely see plenty of room with defenses usually trying to shut down wideout Reggie Wayne (18 receptions, 2 TD) and tight end Dallas Clark (21 receptions, 2 TD). Wide receiver Blair White caught Manning's other touchdown, thrown one day after being promoted from the practice squad for his NFL debut. Indy was able to run the ball two weeks ago versus the Giants, but managed just 40 yards on 22 carries versus Denver. Joseph Addai (165 rushing yards) led the way last week with 29 yards on 13 carries.
The Edwards waiver move wasn't the only shakeup to the Jaguars' roster. One day after allowing Philadelphia's Michael Vick to throw for 291 yards and three touchdowns, cornerback Michael Coe, who was beat for a 61-yard score in the loss, and tight end Ernest Wilford were released while safety Gerald Alexander was signed. Linebacker Eric Alexander was then signed on Tuesday. Coe's release should push Derek Cox (5 tackles) back into a starting role alongside Rashean Mathis (10 tackles) after being inactive for the last two games. Alexander, meanwhile, gives the Jags insurance in case Sean Considine (24 tackles, 1 sack) can't play due to a hamstring ailment. Jacksonville continues to give up too many big plays and ranks 29th in total defense (404.3 ypg), passing defense (289.0 ypg) and scoring defense (27.7 ppg). One bright spot versus the Eagles was the play of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (6 tackles, 2 sacks), who was credited with 1 1/2 sacks, three tackles and a pass defended. Considine led the team with six tackles overall.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Garrard's struggles have dropped the Jaguars to 30th in the league in both total offense (280.0 ypg) and scoring (13.3 ppg). Jacksonville couldn't find the end zone in last week's loss, notching just a 51-yard field goal by Josh Scobee in the second quarter, and Garrard (448 passing yards) threw his fifth interception against just four touchdown passes. The signal-caller didn't get much help from his offensive line, as he was sacked six times versus the Eagles to up his season total to 10. Jacksonville is still waiting for running back Maurice Jones-Drew (217 rushing yards) to break out, though a minimal passing game isn't going to help that happen. Jones-Drew has yet to reach 100 yards rushing in a single game or find the end zone. Wide receiver Mike-Sims Walker (12 receptions, 1 TD) was one of four Jacksonville receivers to catch at least two passes and led the club with 34 yards last week. Tight end Marcedes Lewis (10 receptions, 2 TD) grabbed a team-leading three catches for 15 yards to pace an ineffective passing game. Garrard and company will need a better effort in this one, as they don't have the firepower to keep pace with the Colts offense.
If last week's game by the Colts is any indication, Garrard might have some room to move the field. Indianapolis allowed over 500 yards of total offense versus Denver, including 476 through the air. Still, the club didn't break in the red zone and will likely still give Jacksonville some fits. Mathis (11 tackles) has sparked the Colts, notching at least one sack in each of the team's first three games while currently finding himself tied for the AFC lead with four sacks. Still, Indianapolis ranks just 24th in total defense (377.0 ypg) and 28th versus the run (141.3 ypg) and is averaging just over 20 points allowed per game. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (24 tackles) had a team-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble versus the Broncos, while cornerback Jacob Lacey (8 tackles, 1 INT) had seven stops and an interception. With linebacker Clint Session having missed the last two games due to a hamstring ailment and in doubt again for this game, the Colts re-signed linebacker Tyjuan Hagler on Wednesday. Hagler was with the club from 2005-09, making 17 starts over the last three years. He could work his way into the starting lineup by this weekend.
The Colts are of course a fantasy juggernaut, with Manning, Wayne, Clark and Collie all must-starts. Even if Garcon is able to play, he will likely be limited and should be avoided. Indianapolis claims it has not given up on the running game, but Addai and Donald Brown owners could say otherwise. Still, Addai could be in line for most of what carries are there with Brown battling a hamstring injury. The Colts defense has given up a lot of points and yards, but a game versus the Jags could cure its woes. Kicker Adam Vinatieri is always a good play based on opportunity alone.
The Jaguars are the exact opposite of the Colts in terms of fantasy value. Jones-Drew is always a must-start, but Garrard (who is not worth a roster spot at this point) is killing the value of Sims-Walker, wideout Mike Thomas and Lewis. Look towards those three with caution. The defense also offers little value and the offense's struggles hinder Scobee as well. Indy's recent struggles on defense offers hope, but there likely won't be many points to be found here.
Things are getting very hot for Garrard and Del Rio down in Jacksonville even with the fall weather approaching. The duo desperately need a win to turn things around, but don't draw a favorable matchup this weekend. The Jags' defense has been susceptible to the big play and Manning should be able to exploit that in a big way. The club's offensive line also had no answer last week for the Eagles' pass rush and now face two of the best defensive ends in football in Mathis and Dwight Freeney. What is an early must-win for the Jaguars will quickly turn into a laugher in favor of the Colts.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 35, Jaguars 16
09/30 19:07:59 ET