Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 29, 2018 at 2:10 am.

Shakeup rattles on way to rematch with Colts

A new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator, a new left guard and no Leonard Fournette for this week and maybe no Jalen Ramsey. Not exactly the recipe the Jacksonville Jaguars need to try and end a seven-game losing streak, especially when facing one of the league’s hottest teams in the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts come to TIAA Bank Field on Sunday riding the crest of a five-game winning streak, including a 29-26 win over the Jaguars in Week 10 when both teams were coming off their bye week.

Since that game, the Jaguars found additional ways in which to lose two more games, both of which were lost in the closing minutes. Meanwhile the Colts continued to ride the hot arm of quarterback Andrew Luck who has now thrown for three or more touchdown passes in eight consecutive games. A ninth such game this week against the Jaguars will break a tie that Luck has with Peyton Manning for second place all-time, and leave him just one behind the NFL mark of 10 consecutive games with a trio or more of TD passes set by New England’s Tom Brady.

Four weeks ago, it wouldn’t have seemed likely that Luck would be able to keep his streak intact. The Jaguars secondary had allowed an average of 195.4 passing yards per game, best mark in the NFL, and had given up just 13 TDs through the air in seven games. But in the last four weeks, teams have gained an average of 261.3 passing yards per game and have scored 11 TDs via the pass against a secondary that a year ago ranked No. 1 at the end of the season in fewest pass yards allowed. What makes the figure harder to comprehend is that it’s the same four starters as a year ago and who have started every game together this season other than A.J. Bouye’s two missed games with a calf injury.

The offense is a different story as far as regulars missing games due to injuries. It’s easier to cite who hasn’t missed time. The list currently numbers four – four players who have started every game on offense this year. But that total gets cut in half this week as left guard Andrew Norwell has been placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury and quarterback Blake Bortles has been placed on the bench, the result of erratic and inconsistent play.

That leaves third-year pro Cody Kessler to make his first start of the season, the ninth of his career and still looking for his first win as a starter. Kessler has played in 13 NFL games thus far and has walked off the field as a winner just once. While Kessler may lack success in winning games, he has plenty of experience in adversity. The Browns were a combined 1-31 in his two seasons there and the Jaguars are among six NFL teams who have won less than four games this year.

“In Cleveland, that was a while back, it wasn’t the greatest situation there,” Kessler said in a vast understatement. “There was a lot of adversity, a lot of tough things. It is kind of the same thing here right now, 3-8 and a lot of frustration.

“At the same time, I have always believed it is a new week, a new opportunity. Getting these guys to really play for me is something that I really want to prove this week and show them I am ready to go. I don’t really care about the record. I am just going out there (with this) as an opportunity. I want to go out there and ball and just have some fun.”

Fun is something that has not occurred in Jacksonville for the past two months. After winning three of four games in September, the Jaguars were winless in October and November. They have five games remaining in the month of December, but there has been little indication that this team is ready to reverse its course and return to the winning ways it enjoyed in September.

The change at the offensive coordinator position isn’t likely to create an abundance of new looks or schemes. Quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich takes over the play-calling duties for the fired Nathaniel Hackett, someone that Bortles had profoundly praised the last couple of seasons. Whether the Milanovic-Kessler combination will spark the Jaguars offense enough to improve on a lagging effort remains to be seen. The offense has fallen on hard times, dropping to 28th in the league in scoring (17.9 points per game), 26th in yards per play (5.2) and 22nd in total offense (346.5). There is no hiding the fact that the Jaguars have been decimated on offense with injuries.

And now comes the latest setback, a self-inflicted one, with running back Leonard Fournette suspended by the NFL office for one game after leaving the bench and engaging in fisticuffs with Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson. Fournette filed an appeal to the suspension but that was turned down on Wednesday, leaving the Jaguars rushing game of T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde to run behind a patched-up offensive line. Losing Fournette just as he was turning the Jaguars into a solid run-oriented ground attack, is especially hurtful. Jacksonville has rushed for 496 yards (165.3 per game) and six touchdowns the last three games after averaging 95.0 yards on the ground the previous eight games.

Fournette may not be the only Jaguars standout that will miss Sunday’s game against the Colts. Ramsey has an injured knee and did not practice on Wednesday. Listening to head coach Doug Marrone talk about Ramsey, there is definitely a concern as to his availability for this week.

“I have a high level of concern (about Ramsey’s injury). I have to say questionable so I don’t get fined? Not yet. Whatever it says on that thing (the injury report), that’s what I’m going to say,” Marrone said. “I do have a high level of concern. We have two games in eight days, and he has a legitimate thing that he’s dealing with. I think it’ll be tough. I think we’ll have a better idea later in the week, but I do have a high level of concern.”

SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular-season game. Colts lead series, 23-12. Jacksonville had won four of the last five games until Indianapolis posted a 29-26 win three weeks ago at Lucas Oil Stadium. Jaguars have only managed seven wins in 17 games on their home field against the Colts. A year ago, Jacksonville won both games by big scores, a 20-point win at home and a 27-0 shutout at Indy. But the Colts did not have Andrew Luck for either of those two games. Indianapolis is the only team in which Jacksonville has posted multiple 40-plus-point wins (2006 and 2015). The Jaguars won a Dec. 23, 2015 contest by a 51-16 score, snapping the Colts’ 16 consecutive wins against division opponents which was an NFL record.