The Indianapolis Colts enter tonights critical AFC contest with the Jacksonville Jaguars extremely thin at cornerback. Both starters, Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers, are out tonight. Their replacements, along with the nickel backs in reserve, are going to have to step up to shut down Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert who is improving by the week.
In the first game against the Jags, the Colts corners did an excellent job keeping Gabbert in check, holding him under 50 per cent completions and allowing only 155 yards. Of course, 59 of that came on one play, when Gabbert found Cecil Shorts on a slant for the game-winning touchdown. Other than that, the entirety of the Jags offensive output was the running of Maurice Jones-Drew, who will not play for Jacksonville tonight.
The series before that fateful play, however, Vontae Davis went off the field with an injury. That forced S Sergio Brown into coverage in the Colts prevent package. It was Brown's first game action and the miscommunication between him and the safeties gave Shorts a lane that he exploited for the score.
Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler will get the start tonight in place of Davis and Powers. Vaughn has already seen a lot of action with Davis' injury and has held his own. Butler got some key game action last week against Miami after Powers left the game and also did a nice job. In base packages, the Colts shouldn't lose too much with these two in the game.
It's the nickel backs who are going to have to step up when the Jags go to three or four wide receiver sets. Josh Gordy has struggled all year in his role, especially defending drag routes across the middle. He's allowing way too much separation and yards after the catch. Recently signed Marshay Green should also see some action tonight.
Most likely, however, we'll see S Tom Zbikowski given some coverage duties in nickel situations. He's got to be able control his man as Gabbert has grown enough as an NFL quarterback to take advantage of such openings.
The Colts can't forget about TE Mercedes Lewis either. Whether using Zbikowski or one of the inside linebackers to cover him, Lewis can be a very dangerous target, especially in the red zone.
If the Colts' secondary can play like they did in the second half against Miami last week, that will give the Colts' pass rush time to get to Gabbert, who is not the most mobile of quarterbacks. Gabbert is also still prone to mistakes when he's facing pressure in his face.
It will also put pressure on the Jags to produce a running game without MJD, something they haven't been able to do so far.
I see the Colts secondary doing their job, with perhaps a lapse or two that allows the Jaguars scoring opportunities. The Colts win one that will probably be closer than it needs to be.
Colts 24, Jaguars 16
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