Colts have easier upcoming schedule

The Colts could set themselves up in the AFC South with a home win against the Jaguars Sunday.

Updated: September 17, 2005, 7:20 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "First and 10" column takes you around the league, with a look at the best game of the week, followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 2 of the 2005 season.

First … Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts | Scouting report
Cherish NFL weekends like this. They are rare.

Led by the key Jacksonville-Indianapolis showdown in the RCA Dome, the NFL has seven divisional games this weekend. On only two other weeks before December -- Nov. 6 and Nov. 20 -- does that happen. It makes this weekend special.

The Colts-Jaguars game is huge. Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio has been trying to build a defensive team, similar to Baltimore, to slow down Peyton Manning and his offensive machine. Knowing defense alone isn't enough to stop the Colts, the Jaguars have been drafting wide receivers to help Byron Leftwich develop more scoring threats.

Last week in beating the Ravens, the Colts showed a physical style of play. They took the hitting to the Ravens, who are one of the most physically intimidating teams in football. By not backing down, the Colts were able to hold up and control the game in the second half.

They will have to be equally physical against the Jaguars. In many ways, the Colts are still getting over their American Bowl trip to Japan. Going overseas for a fifth preseason game tends to wear down a team. The Colts struggled through an 0-5 preseason and had a camp filled with fatigue-related leg injuries. As of Wednesday evening, they had 15 players on their injury report, including six who are out for the Jaguars game.

With improved depth, coach Tony Dungy can handle the injury problems. But the Colts can't be a finesse team against the Jaguars. The Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans are struggling and the Colts sense the Jaguars are their main division target. Getting the early edge in the divisional race is important and will put more pressure on Jacksonville.

The Jaguars can't fall too far behind the Colts. Complicating matters is the Jaguars' tough opening schedule. They follow this game with a road trip to the Jets, home games against playoff contenders Denver and Cincinnati and then a trip to Pittsburgh. A tough schedule might make it tough for the Jaguars to be better than 3-2 heading into their Oct. 23 bye week.

The Colts don't have it too tough after this game. They host Cleveland next week. Next month, they have road trips to Tennessee, San Francisco and Houston. On Oct. 17, they host the Rams on Monday night. It's not out of the question for the Colts to get off to a 6-1 or 7-0 start if they get past the Jaguars and stay hot.

Sunday is an important game and there are many more.

And 10. San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos | Scouting report
Both franchises, playoff teams in 2004, believe they can make postseason runs this season. Yet, the scary aspect of this game is that one of these teams will leave the field 0-2. Of the two, the Chargers have more to lose. They lost their home opener to the Cowboys by four points without tight end Antonio Gates. Gates is back after his contract-related suspension. They have tough road games against the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts that will be hard to win. A loss to the Broncos could slash hopes of getting to 10 wins. The good news for the Chargers is they know the way to slow down the Broncos offense. Despite the run defense problems of the opener against the Cowboys, the Chargers' 3-4 is built to stop rushing attacks. The Broncos have some of the slickest running schemes in football, but the Chargers are physical enough and stout enough along the defensive line to cause problems. Plus, Broncos halfback Mike Anderson could miss the game because of a rib injury and Tatum Bell is a work in progress in the backfield. The big reason the Chargers feel good about this matchup is their 3-4 defense keeps Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer in the pocket. Plummer's strength is beating defenses while scrambling. His stats are ordinary when he's restricted to the pocket. However, if Plummer can find a way to stay in the pocket and pick apart the Chargers, it could lead to a big Denver win in an important AFC West game.

9. New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers | Scouting report
Against the Raiders, the Patriots showed their best defense is the 4-3. After giving up around 5 yards a carry in a 3-4, the Patriots went to a 4-3 and stuffed the Raiders' running offense. Vince Wilfork is an anchor and run-stopper at defensive tackle and Richard Seymour seems to be even more unblockable playing next to him at tackle. Ty Warren and Jarvis Green apply pressure from the ends. Plus, the 4-3 covers for the learning curve of linebackers Monty Beisel and Chad Brown, who are still learning Bill Belichick's 3-4. The Patriots will mix the two schemes, but they probably will be in more 3-4. The best matchup of the game will be Patriots cornerback Tyrone Poole, who's questionable with an ankle injury, against Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Smith believes Poole spit on him once. The two haven't made up, so that could be a feisty battle. The Panthers suffered the devastating loss of defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who blew out his knee in the opener and is out for the season. Now, the Panthers will be easier to run against. Defensive tackle Brentson Buckner is getting older and has a sore knee. Jordan Carstens is Jenkins' replacement, but he can't be confused with the Pro Bowler. The absence of Jenkins means middle linebacker Dan Morgan will likely have to confront more blockers.

8. Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks | Scouting report
On paper, this game should be all Falcons. Of course, paper victories don't count. The Seahawks made seven changes on defense, so they are still getting to know each other on the field. Falcons quarterback Michael Vick destroys defenses that have been together for years, so the Seahawks' task becomes that much more challenging. The Seahawks beat the Falcons in last season's finale, 28-26, but the Falcons had already clinched their playoff spot and didn't play some key starters. What makes it tough for the Falcons is they played a physical, emotionally draining opener on Monday night and they are flying cross-country on a short week. Their defense expended a lot of energy, so Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck must be aggressive early in the game and try to catch the Falcons defense flat-footed. This is the Seahawks home opener, so they will have a crowd behind them for energy.

7. St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals | Scouting report
The tough part for the Rams is that this now is a must-win game. If they lose, they are 0-2 in the division and will be trying to play catchup all year. Normally, the Cardinals' opener is a night game, but their lone prime-time contest this year is the 49ers game in Mexico City on Oct. 2. As the offensive line goes, so go the Rams, and the unit broke down last week in San Francisco. Rex Tucker was terrible in pass blocking at right tackle, and he's already been ruled out of this game because of a calf injury. Quarterback Marc Bulger was sacked seven times. The red-zone production was disappointing. They settled for too many field goals. On the other hand, the Cardinals are hurting from their 23-point loss to the Giants. Alex Stepanovich returns as the starting center after missing the opener with a broken hand. The middle of the line failed to provide adequate protection for Kurt Warner. The defense is down to the third-string middle linebacker after injuries to Gerald Hayes and James Darling. That's a problem Bulger and Mike Martz will try to exploit. But the biggest question is whether the Rams can hold up in the desert heat for four quarters.

6. Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders | Scouting report
The Chiefs showed great improvement in their run defense against the Jets. The defensive linemen engaged the Jets blockers and let the fast trio of Chiefs linebackers make the tackles. Expect the same type of strategy against the Raiders and halfback LaMont Jordan. The Chiefs corners don't have the speed to match up with Randy Moss, but Patrick Surtain is a smart player who knows how to play the deep ball. He knows how to angle for interceptions. The big problem for the Raiders is how to stop the short-passing game of the Chiefs. The Raiders have two former defensive linemen as outside linebackers -- Tyler Brayton and Grant Irons. About 13 minutes into the Patriots opener, the Raiders had to go to more nickel defenses because Tom Brady was killing Brayton and Irons in pass coverage. This could be the perfect type of game for Priest Holmes to get more than 200 yards of total offense. Holmes should kill them on the screen passes. He's off to a great start running the football. The only concern is the health of left tackle Willie Roaf, who caused a big drop off in offensive production after he left the Jets opener with a hamstring injury.

5. Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys | Scouting report
The Cowboys looked good against the Chargers in their opener. Drew Bledsoe showed great leadership at quarterback and came up with enough big plays to beat a good Chargers defense. Dallas' new 3-4 defense made some mistakes but it's going to be solid. Trying to stop the Redskins running offense will be a big challenge. The Redskins' offensive line looks great, although there has to be concern about right tackle Jon Jansen's thumbs. Both of his hands are in casts because of two broken thumbs. At least he won't be called for holding -- that's impossible with two casts. The switch to Mark Brunell at quarterback should also help. Brunell looks more in command running around the pocket than a year ago. He had hamstring problems a year ago and just looked old. Patrick Ramsey made too many mistakes. With a good defense and a good running game, the Redskins don't want the quarterback to make mistakes. If Brunell can stay away from interceptions, he and the Redskins have a chance.

4. New York Giants at New Orleans Saints | Scouting report
The Saints' challenge is carrying the emotion of the opening win against the Panthers to this game in the Meadowlands. It's a joke to call this a Saints home game. But the league needed a quick alternative and Baton Rouge wasn't ready to take on a game this early. The Saints are mad the league didn't let them play this one in their new home in San Antonio. The Saints offense looks more focused and efficient now that it is scaled down and relies more on Deuce McAllister running the ball. Jim Haslett did a magnificent coaching job in getting his players to battle through a tough game and come up with the victory. The Giants won a nice opener by 23 points, but Tom Coughlin wasn't pleased. He didn't think the offense was efficient enough, and Eli Manning knows he must do better than 10-for-23. Still, he's coming off an elbow injury. It's going to take him a few weeks to be completely accurate.

3. Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears | Scouting report
The Lions' victory over the Packers was a big one because it shows they are rising in the NFC North. A loss to the Bears would be a big setback. Quarterback Joey Harrington knows the only way to keep his teammates believing in him is to keep winning games. A 2-0 division start would help, but the Lions jumped to a 4-2 start last year and faded. The Bears aren't going to be a scoring machine with rookie quarterback Kyle Orton. That was evident before their 9-7 opening loss to the Redskins. But the Bears defense is good and will make it tough for the Lions to move the football. Charles Tillman can match up against Roy Williams and won't have to hold him like Packers cornerback Ahmad Carroll did a week ago. Tillman is becoming the top matchup cornerback in the NFC North. The Lions can't allow this to be a low-scoring game. A mistake late in the game could cost them and give an emotional victory to the Bears. Maybe there is too much pressure on Harrington, who doesn't get a break from critics, but that's the job in Detroit.

2. Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Scouting report
Figure this one to be a low-scoring game. The Bills have a great defense and a young quarterback, J.P. Losman. The Bucs frustrated Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper last week. Losman is years way from being in Culpepper's league, even though he has the talent to do it. The Bucs will cause different problems for the Bills than they did the Vikings. The Bucs pressured Culpepper with rushes and stunts in the middle of the line. This will be the first big test for Bills left tackle Mike Gandy. He draws Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice. If Gandy isn't up to the challenge, this could be a three sack game for Rice and cause serious problems for Losman. Bills coach Mike Mularky will try to protect Losman by running the ball with Willis McGahee, but it's important the Bills have the lead in the second half. If Losman has to drop back and bring the team from behind, he could be in trouble.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans | Scouting report
All signs point to this being a Steelers victory, but this is the type of game Dom Capers usually shines in as a coach. He's a great motivator. On the road last week in Buffalo, the defense struggled stopping the run and the offense made too many mistakes. Quarterback David Carr is in a slump that runs deep into the preseason, and the Steelers will try to read his eyes and jump in front of some passes for interceptions. The danger for the Steelers is that the Texans are physical and will try to stop the run. Willie Parker ran so well last week that Ben Roethlisberger was asked to throw only 11 passes in beating the Titans in the opener. The Steelers' offensive line was exceptional. Blockers were flying and knocking down Titans defenders. The Texans have a sturdy 3-4 defense but it needs to play better and not miss as many tackles. If the defense can do that, the Texans will have a chance.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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