Commentary

Expect Jags to follow formula against Colts

The Jaguars, who have won four straight games after an opening defeat, remain unfazed by the Colts, Len Pasquarelli writes.

Updated: October 21, 2007, 5:57 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

It's not surprising that the Indianapolis Colts are undefeated for their Monday night divisional showdown (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.) with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Maybe even less surprising, though, is that the Jaguars, who have won four straight games after an opening week defeat, remain unfazed by the Colts. And that's despite the four straight AFC South titles and the Super Bowl XLI rings Indianapolis owns.

Not unimpressed, mind you, just unfazed.

"Oh, I think we respect them, no doubt about that," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said. "But we're not in awe of them. Not by any means."

Since the 2002 realignment thrust the franchises into the same division, Jacksonville has won only three of 10 meetings against the Colts, yet that number represents half of Indianapolis' losses in the AFC South in the past five years. The average scoring differential in the 10 games is 1.3 points. That is skewed, of course, because of a 44-17 rout of the Colts in Jacksonville on Dec. 10, 2006, a game in which the Jags ran for 375 yards.

[+] EnlargeMike Peterson
AP Photo/Phil Coale"This is the kind of game we live for," Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson says of Monday night's game against the Colts.

Still, none of Jacksonville's seven losses in the divisional series has been by more than 10 points, and five have been by seven or fewer points. In the Jaguars' four home losses in the five-year divisional series, the average margin was just 5.3 points. And the Jacksonville fans, who recently have been ambivalent and failed to sell out two of the team's first three home games this season, typically are raucous when Indianapolis comes to town.

"It's a tough place to play and, obviously, they are a tough team for us to play," said Colts QB Peyton Manning, who is 8-0 with 22 TD passes in his "Monday Night Football" appearances. "And, believe me, we go into [this game] very aware of that. They play us hard, and they don't give us anything. And it's always really physical."

Indeed, there is a prevailing opinion among many Jacksonville veterans that they can bully the Colts, whom they view as more of a finesse team.

On offense, that means pounding the ball at the undersized Indianapolis defense, a script from which the Jaguars, who are No. 3 this season in rushing offense (154.8 yards per game), don't often deviate. In the 10 divisional meetings, Jacksonville has averaged 31.5 rushes, 159.1 yards and 5.1 yards per carry and has scored 11 rushing touchdowns. In five of those games, Jacksonville rushed for 150 or more yards, and in three of them, the Jags pounded out 174 or more yards on the ground.

Defensively, the Jaguars count on the mammoth tackle tandem of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud to collapse the pocket and try to get Manning moving his feet. Mike Smith, Jacksonville's underrated defensive coordinator, is uncanny at timing his blitzes against Manning, and the secondary -- which didn't allow Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne a touchdown catch in the two 2006 meetings -- is improved.

Said cornerback Rashean Mathis: "As a [unit], we've been together long enough now, and have seen those guys enough, to have a pretty good feel for them. I don't think they can surprise us very much."

The problem for Jacksonville is that the Jaguars don't quite know how to follow victories that should be building blocks. After the dismantling of the Colts in December 2006, Indianapolis responded by going on a run that took it all the way to a Super Bowl title. The Jags, on the other hand, got so caught up in the win that they lost their final three outings and finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

Coach Jack Del Rio has stopped short of calling Monday's game a must-win situation. But Del Rio has publicly acknowledged the importance of the matchup and privately prodded his players that this is a great opportunity to gain a divisional edge over Indianapolis.

It will be interesting to see whether Jacksonville -- which typically plays a close-to-the-vest style, especially on offense -- opens it up. Jags QB David Garrard has not had to play from behind much this season, and if the Jaguars can control the tempo, that makes him even more effective.

Mostly, though, Jacksonville counts on its collective toughness, a quality the Jags believe serves them well against Indianapolis.

"This is the kind of game we live for," said Peterson, who -- like many of his teammates -- has bought into the silly we-don't-get-enough respect gospel that pervades the Jacksonville locker room. "I love [this] position. Sneak up on everybody and bite them. Like a snake. Everybody hates the snake that sneaks up and bites you."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.