Scouting the Jaguars: Defense

LB Daryl Smith (J. Daniel/Getty)

With the injuries finally beginning to subside, will the Colts catch fire on offense against the Jaguars? Brad Keller takes a look.

Defensive Line:

Jacksonville drafted a pair of tackles the past two years in Terrance Knighton (third round, 2009) and Tyson Alualu (first round, 2010).  Knighton started all 16 games last season and has started all three thus far this season, recording two sacks early on.  The name of Knighton's game is penetration and he has been responsible for disrupting the pocket from the inside out a number of times this season, though it has resulted in only four sacks.

The Jaguars generate most of their pressure up the middle, with Alualu accounting for another 3.5 sacks, which is bad news for a Colts team that has struggled along the interior all season.  A number of guards have rotated in and out of the lineup all year and none of them seems to be a match for a strong inside player that gets low and gets a good push on the line.

Even Jeff Saturday has been rag-dolled this season.  Kyle DeVan — with Jamey Richard held out of practice this week, DeVan would be the most likely starter — and Mike Pollak need to be assertive and aggressive at the snap, both in the passing game and the running game, and get their hands on these talented youngsters in an attempt to slow them down.

The good news is that, even if Charlie Johnson — who was held out of practice all week with a chest injury — is unable to play, Jeff Linkenbach will face off against Austen Lane, who has zero sacks in six starts this season and is more of a run defender than a pass rushing specialist.  The Jaguars may move left end Jeremy Mincey to the right side in an attempt to generate some pressure, as Mincey leads the team with five sacks in five starts.  Jacksonville does not sack, hurry, or hit the quarterback very often, so that might be the silver lining for Peyton Manning.  They have only 24 sacks on the season, which means that Manning may be able to survive 45 attempts without getting too beat up.

The bad news is that the Colts will particularly miss Mike Hart for this game — held out of practice this week with an ankle injury — if he is unable to go.  Hart is the team's best inside runner and the Jaguars are allowing an average of 5.15 yards per carry up the middle this season, which ranks 30th in the league.  It could be that even Javarris James will have success against the gap shooting, soft middle of this defense.  Regardless, there is an opportunity here for Indianapolis to run the ball up the gut out of a three receiver formation, gain some serious yards, and allow Manning to operate off of play action. 

The Colts have certainly tried to run the ball up the middle this season, ranking tenth in the league in total rushing attempts up the middle, but they have not been successful, ranking 30th in the league with 3.08 yards per attempt.  It could be that Sunday's game is the perfect confluence of ineptitude versus ineptitude.  Hopefully the Indianapolis running game wins.

Linebackers:

Outside linebacker Justin Durant missed the Week 4 contest against the Colts and has been held out of practice thus far this week.  If he is unable to play, the Jaguars are extremely thin at linebacker and would most likely start second year man Slade Norris, who has five career tackles in six appearances or rookie converted defensive end Larry Hart, who has six tackles in ten appearances.  The other option would be to go to a nickel defense, with Daryl Smith and Kirk Morrison in at linebacker.  That is the more likely scenario, which would also give Indianapolis an advantage in the running game. 

Smith is an accomplished two-way player, with 2.5 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, three passes defended, and 66 tackles.  He has been a thorn in the side of the Indianapolis Colts since he started with the team in 2004 and they will look to avoid him.  They will avoid him by isolating on Morrison in the running game and the passing game, as Morrison is only an adequate run defender who tends to run around blocks and chase plays and is an insufficient pass defender. 

Part of the reason that teams have been effective running up the middle against the Jaguars is Morrison, who played an atrocious game against the Raiders — particularly Darren McFadden — in Week 13.  In the remote chance that Joseph Addai would be available, the Colts coaches would be chomping at the bit to get Morrison one-on-one with Addai.

As it stands, Donald Brown may have a great deal of success on wheel routes and flare routes in the flat.  What little success Brown has had in Addai's offense, he has had as a receiver.  If Manning is able to isolate Brown on Morrison during the course of the game, the two should combine for some big plays.

Secondary:

Reggie Wayne torched Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox — really whoever was covering him — in the last matchup to the tune of 15 receptions for 196 yards.  Wayne also lost a fumble towards the end of the game in the red zone, possibly due to exhaustion.

The primary reason that Wayne was so productive in Week 4, though, was that the Indianapolis offense was short two receivers and Wayne needed to pick up the slack.  Jacob Tamme, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon should all be available for this game, which relieves some of the burden from Wayne and gives the Jaguars defense something to worry about.

Although the passing game has not been the same since Dallas Clark got hurt, Sunday's game will represent the first time in a long time that the Colts have had a full complement of weapons at their disposal.  Timing will probably be an issue, but Manning will be able to lean on Garcon — who has finally worked his way out of the dog house — and Wayne if that becomes a real problem.

With rookie free safety Don Carey and ailing strong safety Courtney Greene patrolling the deep middle and Morrison patrolling the short and intermediate routes to that area, Manning should be able to pick this secondary apart now that he has enough healthy bodies to field a proper offense.

Establishing the run up the middle is a key component, but it is not necessarily vital to the success of the Indianapolis passing game.  It's entirely possible that they will be able to throw the ball over the middle at will, regardless of whether or not it's off of play action.  The addition of play action will obviously make those throws more effective, but Manning may be successful enough that he's actually able to use the pass to set up the run, depending on what he sees when he comes to the line.

Jacksonville is 25th in points allowed, 26th in total yards allowed, 28th in passing defense, and 18th in rushing defense.  This is not the intimidating, physical unit of years past.  They can be scored upon and have been scored upon frequently throughout the season.

If the Colts can jump on them early and stifle Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars offense early, then the matchups and opportunities are there for Indianapolis to get out to a big lead, keep their foot on the gas pedal, and put this game away.


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