JACKSONVILLE – Here’s this week’s Setting the Table: Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) prepare to play the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday.
The first season is nearly in the books.
And while there’s no question the first season of the Gus Bradley/Dave Caldwell went by quickly, it’s just as certain that Year One of the new Jaguars era has been a success.
It has been a success because the Jaguars have established a foundation and a culture in Bradley’s first season as head coach, and they have begun to establish the core of the roster they want to build under Caldwell, the franchise’s first-year general manager.
And beyond all of that, they began to learn how to win.
That happened in the second half of the season. The Jaguars, after starting the season 0-8 with double-digit losses in each of the first eight games, won four of the first five games after the bye. They also had their first three-game winning streak since 2010.
Injuries have hit the last two games, with the defense allowing 198 yards rushing to the Buffalo Bills and 182 to the Tennessee Titans this past week. The Jaguars lost both games, with defensive tackle Roy Miller and outside linebackers Russell Allen and Geno Hayes all missing their first game of the season in the loss to the Titans.
The Jaguars also have been playing through injuries offensively, with the wide receiver corps now without suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon as well as four players on injured reserve: Cecil Shorts III, Stephen Burton, Jeremy Ebert and Stephen Williams.
Chad Henne, the Jaguars’ starting quarterback since replacing a healthy Blaine Gabbert entering a Week Eight loss to San Francisco, has thrown eight touchdowns and four interceptions in the last four games. He has thrown two touchdown passes in each of the last four games, the first player in franchise history to do so.
The Colts (10-5) won their first AFC South title since 2010 this season – and their first of the Chuck Pagano/Andrew Luck era. They won it during a season in which they have at times looked as good as any team in the NFL and in which at other times they have sustained some puzzling losses. The Colts have victories over San Francisco, Denver and Seattle, but also lost to the Chargers and the Rams. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has continued to develop into one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks, while running back Donald Brown has rushed for 506 yards and five touchdowns on 90 carries this season and has emerged as the team’s starter over Trent Richardson, who was acquired in an early-season trade for a first-round selection from Cleveland.
The game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday at 1 p.m. will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WTEV-TV CBS-47. Bill Macatee will be on play by play with Steve Tasker handling analysis.
Early matchup to watch
Jaguars left tackle Cameron Bradfield versus Colts linebacker Robert Mathis. Mathis is not only in his 11th season, he may be having his best season. In his second season playing linebacker in a 3-4 scheme after nine seasons playing end in a 4-3, Mathis has registered a career-high 16.5 sacks this season, breaking Dwight Freeney’s franchise record. Mathis lines up on both sides of the line, but is best coming off the right side, where he will go against Bradfield, a third-year veteran who has allowed a team-high five sacks and 22 hurries this season.
Player to watch
Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl running back, is finishing his eighth season with the Jaguars. During that span, he often has been the Jaguars’ best player, winning the NFL rushing title in 2011. But Jones-Drew will become a free agent following this season, so it’s possible Sunday could be his last game with the Jaguars – although both Jones-Drew and Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell have said publicly there is a good chance Jones-Drew could return. The Jaguars need to run well on Sunday. They rushed for more than 100 yards as a team in four consecutive games but struggled to run on Sunday in a 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
What to watch
*The Jaguars’ defensive tackle position will have a dramatically different look Sunday, with Roy Miller and Brandon Deaderick having been placed on injured reserve Monday. Miller started the first 14 games of the season, playing through a shoulder injury much of that time. Deaderick started in Miller’s place and sustained a dislocated elbow after 13 plays….
*Jordan Miller, signed off the Jaguars’ practice squad, likely will start alongside Sen’Derrick Marks at defensive tackle Sunday. The Jaguars also signed veteran defensive tackles Kyle Love and Drake Nevis on Monday. Nevis, a third-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft by Indianapolis, played 14 games with the Colts in two seasons and spent time with San Diego and Dallas this season. Love, a rookie free-agent signing by New England in 2010, played in 41 games with New England. He spent training camp in Jacksonville this season before being released shortly before the season and he played one game for the Kansas City Chiefs this season….
*The Jaguars also likely will be without cornerback Dwayne Gratz this week. He sustained a high-ankle sprain against Tennessee last week. Will Blackmon, who played 56 plays Sunday, likely will start for Gratz, with Mike Harris playing the nickel….
*Outside linebacker Geno Hayes likely will try to play Sunday after missing the Buffalo game with a knee injury. The Jaguars’ other starting linebacker, Russell Allen, was placed on injured reserve with a concussion last week. Look for J.T. Thomas and John Lotulelei to start outside, with rookie LaRoy Reynolds to share repetitions with Lotulelei….