INDIANAPOLIS — Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Jaguars in Jacksonville’s Everbank Stadium.
*Kickoff: 1 p.m.
*Spread: Jaguars by 4.
*History lesson, Part I: We’re not going to beat this to death. But neither are we going to ignore the issue. The Colts have lost eight straight road meetings with the Jaguars, including seven in Jacksonville. That’s the second-longest regular-season road losing streak to one team in franchise history. The Colts lost nine straight to the Steelers in Pittsburgh from 1974-2002 — 13 straight including the playoffs.
Linebacker Zaire Franklin has been on hand for the last five losses at Jacksonville. In those matchups, the Colts have been outscored, 121-51.
“It’s a new week, new situation, new team,’’ Franklin said. “I don’t care about what it was. I only care about what it is.’’
Colts coach Shane Steichen hasn’t had a hand in the long dry spell and didn’t bring it up this week.
“No,’’ he insisted, “it’s a new year.’’
*History lesson, Part II: We’ll keep this brief but mention it because it’s so darned strange. The Indy-era Colts have been shut out 11 times in 630 regular-season games — we’re still trying to forget that 41-egg loss to the Jets in the 2002 postseason — and it’s just weird that the last three have been administered by the Jaguars. More weird: The past two occurred in that Black Hole which is Jacksonville. There was 24-0 last season and 6-0 in ’18 against an Andrew Luck-led offense that averaged 27 points per game.
*History lesson, Part III: We’re only in week 6, but someone will emerge with an early advantage in pursuit of the AFC South title. The Colts and Jaguars share the division lead at 3-2. It would be a good idea for Indy to gain a series split since a Jaguars sweep gives them the tiebreaker if it comes to that at the end of the season.
*It’s Minshew’s time: He downplayed it this week, but Gardner Minshew II’s gotta be pumped for his return to Jacksonville. The Jaguars selected him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft, and he was their guy until the franchise bottomed out in ’20 — an opening home win over the Colts, of course, but then 15 straight losses. That put them in position to reset by using the No. 1 overall pick in the ’21 draft on Trevor Lawrence.
Minshew was traded to Philadelphia prior to the regular season, spent two seasons with the Eagles and Steichen as Jalen Hurts’ backup, then signed a free-agent contract with the Colts in March.
A sprained AC joint in Anthony Richardson’s right shoulder will keep the rookie quarterback out for at least four games, probably much longer.
So, it’s Minshew’s offense for the foreseeable future. He makes his second start as a Colt and 26th of his career. Just to remind everyone, Sam Ehlinger moves into the No. 2 slot.
There’s no denying the dramatic difference in QBs. Richardson presents a unique threat with his big arm and lively legs. He’s capable of generating big plays at any moment. Minshew is more understated but also more efficient. He’s completing 68.7% of his passes, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt and 9.7 yards per completion.
If the offense can stay ahead of the chains — limited sacks, penalties and negative plays — Minshew should remain effective. A shorter, rhythmic passing game should bode well for Michael Pittman Jr. and rookie Josh Downs.
One of the overriding stats of Minshew’s 37-game career — 46 touchdowns, only 15 interceptions.
*More of JT: The Colts’ run game in the season-opener consisted of Richardson or no one. He picked up 40 yards and one TD on 10 carries. Deon Jackson started in place of the injured Zack Moss (forearm) and absent Jonathan Taylor (PUP) and was held to 14 yards on 13 carries. Jackson fumbled twice and shortly thereafter was released.
Now, the Jaguars must deal with Moss — the NFL’s third-leading rusher with 445 yards and a five-yards-per-carry average in four games — and Taylor, who heads into his second game since being activated from the IR and getting his $42 million extension.
The Colts limited Taylor to 10 touches against the Titans, including six rushes for 18 yards and one catch for 16 yards.
Steichen said he’ll “ramp him up’’ against the Jaguars. It’s anybody’s guess what that means, but it’s safe to assume Taylor should anticipate 20, maybe 30 snaps. And more is better with any top-tier running back.
The issue facing Steichen, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and position coach DeAndre Smith is how to divvy up the rushing attempts between Taylor and Moss.
Jacksonville counters with a run defense that ranks fifth in the league in fewest yards allowed per game (81.6) and 10th in yards per attempt (3.7). Despite those solid stats, it’s too early to gauge their veracity. It stymied the Colts and Buffalo (a combined 94 yards on 40 carries) and allowed averages of 104.6 yards per game and 4.5 per attempt to Kansas City, Houston and Atlanta.
*Contain Lawrence: This appears to be one of those strength vs. weakness scenarios. The Lawrence-led passing game ranks No. 10 and features stressing options in wideouts Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram and running back Travis Etienne. In the 31-21 season-opening win in Indy, Lawrence passed for 241 yards and two TDs, and Ridley had eight catches for 101 yards and one TD.
While Lawrence is off to a relatively quiet start — just five TDs and two interceptions — he’ll face a Colts’ secondary that’s dramatically different than last month. Kenny Moore II remains a fixture, but he’ll be joined in the rematch by rookies JuJu Brents and Jaylon Jones. Brents was a healthy scratch in week 1 while Jones was on the field for one defensive snap and 18 on special teams.
The outside corners Lawrence faced were Dallis Flowers and Darrell Baker Jr. Flowers suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in week 4 against the Rams, and Baker has been demoted on the depth chart twice.
The best ally for the secondary will be a steady pass rush. The Colts got to Lawrence twice in September, and the pressure must increase. The likely return of Kwity Paye, who was previously sidelined with a concussion, should help, but it’s got to be a group effort from Samson Ebukam, DeForest Buckner and Dayo Odeyingbo.
By the way, Lawrence is gettable despite his quick release. He’s been sacked 13 times.
*And the winner is: Jaguars 24, Colts 16. It would be a great story for Minshew to slap around the team that drafted him, then got rid of him. The offensive line is playing at a high level and must deal with another combo change — right tackle Braden Smith is out, left tackle Bernhard Raimann is back — and the Taylor-Moss tandem should be interesting to watch. But Lawrence going against an oh-so-young cornerback group worries us.
Worries us a lot.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter/X at @mchappell51.