Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

November 29, 2018 at 2:10 am.


–Several Colts starters didn’t practice on Wednesday, although most are resting nagging injuries and expected to play. The players who fit that category are TE Eric Ebron (back), WR T.Y. Hilton (groin), LB Darius Leonard (shoulder/knee), safety Clayton Geathers (knee) and linebacker Anthony Walker (shoulder). All played last week. The DNP uncertainties are RB Marlon Mack (concussion), center Ryan Kelly (knee) and TE Mo Alie-Cox (calf). Mack suffered his concussion on Sunday. Kelly and Alie-Cox didn’t play, the latter missing the last two games.

–If Mack isn’t cleared in the concussion protocol, expect the Colts to rely upon rookie RBs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Hines likely gets the start. He started against the Jaguars the last time. Hines is second on the team with 69 rushing attempts and has gained 283 yards with one TD. He’s also the team’s third leading receiver with 40 catches for 248 yards and two TDs. But Wilkins could also get the start and would inevitably get his share of snaps. He’s the second-leading rusher with 318 yards on 57 carries with one TD.

–Health concerns about all of their tight ends necessitated Wednesday’s signing of free agent Clive Walford, a former third-round pick who started 10 of 44 games with Oakland the past three seasons. He has 70 career receptions for 768 yards and six TDs, but was among final preseason cuts with the Jets and hasn’t played this season.

–Aside from Ebron, who is nursing a back injury, the other three tight ends on the roster are injured. The Colts had just two tight ends last Sunday, then Doyle got hurt. Erik Swoope, who hasn’t played in four games since suffering a knee injury, was limited in practice on Wednesday. He had a streak of three consecutive games with a TD reception before getting hurt. Ryan Hewitt, who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, is utilized as a blocker. He doesn’t have a catch this season.

–The Colts haven’t made a decision on whether Kelly, the team’s O-line anchor, will be able to play this week with a sprained left medial collateral ligament. That he didn’t practice on Wednesday suggests the team could stick with Evan Boehm for another week. Boehm isn’t Kelly, but he was reliable in his first start on Sunday. Kelly has said trainers have worked on a knee brace that would enable him to return, hopefully sooner as opposed to later.

–WR Dontrelle Inman has been a solid free-agency addition as the No. 2 wide receiver with 17 catches for 167 yards and one TD. He’s started four of five games since his arrival. The Colts had signed Ryan Grant in the offseason to be the No. 2 wide receiver, but he missed two starts due to injury and has been a seldom-used reserve the past two games with three catches for 18 yards. It sure seems as if Inman has won that job.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TE Eric Ebron. The fifth-year pro enjoyed a career game against the Jaguars earlier this month in catching two touchdown passes, including a 53-yard score, as well as a 2-yard TD rush. Ebron’s 11 receiving TDs are tied for the league lead and most for a tight end. The loss of tight end Jack Doyle to a season-ending kidney injury means Ebron will be needed for more plays, especially as a blocker, considering the Colts’ other three tight ends are nursing injuries and their status is in doubt. The 25-year-old Ebron is a coverage mismatch when facing linebackers and his 53-yard TD was a missed assignment by Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey.

GAME PLAN: Perhaps the only time the Colts offense hasn’t been clicking of late was in a pointless second half against the Jaguars. Colts game-planners will undoubtedly zero in on those two quarters and compare that to when the team flourished in the first half. Luck is always the catalyst in the passing game, and expect the Colts to rely upon that even more if RB Marlon Mack (concussion) is unable to play. When the Colts have struggled to run, they’ve isolated running backs in space with short throws. Watch for that early on. The Jaguars concentrated before on taking away Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, so expect the scheme to split the emphasis on limiting Hilton but also trying to stick with tight end Eric Ebron, who had three TDs in the last meeting.

The Jaguars would like to make life easier on quarterback Cody Kessler, who hasn’t started a game since 2016, but he’s going to need to make throws if the run game isn’t producing. The Colts did a decent job of stopping the run in the previous meeting and the Jaguars not having suspended running back Leonard Fournette suggests they will look to throw the ball early and often. The throws might start out as high percentage to help Kessler settle in, but the Jaguars beat the Colts deep in the previous meeting as wide receiver Donte Moncrief victimized his old team with a career-best 80-yard TD reception. The Jaguars have nothing to lose, so Kessler will undoubtedly test the Colts on deeper routes depending upon the coverage. The Colts defense typically plays zone and drops linebackers back into coverage, but expect some early blitzes to try to rattle the quarterback and speed up his internal clock.

–Colts LT Anthony Castonzo vs. Jaguars RDE Calais Campbell. Although Campbell moves around along the defensive line, he’s often on the edge on the right side, which means the All-Pro pass rusher will run into the Colts’ best blocker in Castonzo. What the Colts must be mindful of is when Campbell stunts inside to test rookie LG Quenton Nelson. Castonzo and Nelson must be on the same page when this happens. Campbell is tied with DE Yannick Ngakoue for the team lead with six sacks and has 77 in his 11-year career. The Colts are tied for the league lead in fewest sacks with just 11 allowed. QB Andrew Luck took one in the last game which ended a “clean” streak of five games and 239 pass attempts.

–Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey. Hilton has shown in the last two games that leaving him alone against one-on-one coverage can be costly. Since being shadowed with double coverage in the previous meeting against the Jaguars, the four-time Pro Bowl pass catcher has caught 16 passes for 280 yards and two TDs in the past two games. That means Ramsey, a talented third-year cover guy, would draw the most important assignment, that is if he plays. Ramsey is nursing a knee injury and didn’t practice on Wednesday. He hasn’t missed a game this season, so the Colts will still prepare to see him. But if Ramsey doesn’t play, then the Jaguars’ Plan B will be to bracket Hilton as they did in the previous meeting with a cornerback underneath and safety over top.