The nightmare is finally over for the Indianapolis Colts. They no longer have to suffer through the 2-14 season that was 2011, and can finally turn their attention toward rebuilding the franchise. Of course all of the talk centers around that quarterback prospect from Stanford, but many of the Colts’ key players will be free agents and they clearly lack depth throughout the roster. They have a lot more work to do to get the organization back on track. Sunday’s game was rather typical for the Colts as they turned the ball over and got gashed on the ground on their way to the 19-13 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jacksonville has earned a Top 10 draft pick of its own with a 5-11 record despite a much-improved defense. Their offseason will revolve around revamping a horrible passing game, most likely by finding some playmakers for QB Blaine Gabbert who struggled terribly in his rookie season. Like the Colts, organizational changes are ahead as they break in a new owner and search for the third head coach in franchise history.
Before both teams head to the offseason, let’s take a look at some key players in the AFC’s only Week 17 game with no postseason implications.
Indianapolis - Three Performances of Note
When tight end Brody Eldridge was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, he seemed like a solid value pick, and a perfect complement to current TE Dallas Clark. Eldridge was a blocker extraordinaire at the University of Oklahoma, bouncing around between tight end and numerous offensive line positions. With Clark more of a receiving threat, Eldridge was drafted to add a “sixth” lineman who could catch the occasional pass. Unfortunately, he has struggled at his one supposed strength and it was on full display Sunday. Despite playing only 18 snaps, Eldridge graded at -3.7 for the day, including -3.2 pass blocking. He had issues in the run game as defensive end Leger Douzable knocked him into the backfield on 4th-and-1 with 8:50 to go in the second quarter, but it was the three second-half pressures he gave up which really stood out. At the 6:44 mark in the third quarter, Eldridge barely gets a hand on DE Jeremy Mincey who beats him to the inside, forcing quarterback Dan Orlovsky to rush a throw for an interception. Mincey got him again with 14:24 to go in the fourth quarter as Eldridge looked to be stuck in cement on another inside move. Eldridge seemed like he could be a good role player in a well rounded offense, but he has been disappointing in his first two season.
Stick to Nickel
After playing in mostly nickel situations most of the season, linebacker Ernie Sims has seen his workload increase in recent weeks. He is now playing in the Colts’ base 4-3 set and it’s easy to see why he was left off the field on running downs. He’s grading at -4.9 against the run since making the move, including -2.6 on Sunday. Left tackle Eugene Monroe knocked him back almost 5 yards with his second-level block at the 10:49 mark in the first quarter and he got sealed easily by RT Guy Whimper with 2:51 to go in the second. Sims is known for his speed and his lack of size makes it very difficult for him to hold up in the running game against much bigger linemen.
Going Out on Top?
The Colts are expected to go through a large overhaul in personnel, and they will have a big decision to make on pending free agent wide receiver Reggie Wayne (+2.5). The model of consistency over the years, Wayne proved he can still produce despite subpar quarterback play this season. On Sunday, Wayne did what he does best, and that’s move the chains. Seven of his eight receptions went for first downs and whether he was running slants, comebacks, ins, or outs, Wayne consistently created separation against rookie cornerback Kevin Rutland. If the Colts do not bring Wayne back for next season, he’ll be a top target for a team looking to bring in a dependable possession receiver.
Jacksonville – Three Performances of Note
Despite a miserable offensive season happening around him, running back Maurice Jones-Drew (+15.2 rushing for the season) had the best year of his career. He topped it off on Sunday by cruising to the league’s rushing title, finishing with 1,606 yards. Perhaps most impressive was his being the focal point of defensive game plans while still producing at a high level. The Jacksonville passing game was non-existent for the majority of the season, but Jones-Drew was still able to carry the offense. He saved his best for last as he ran for 169 yards on 25 carries Sunday, including a season-long 56-yarder. It was a beautiful cutback that led to the big gain with 9:01 to go in the third quarter and the run also gave Jones-Drew the Jaguars single season rushing record. On the day, 92 of Jones-Drew’s 169 yards came after contact as he continued to run hard despite Jacksonville being eliminated from playoff contention for weeks.
One player who stands out during nearly every Jaguars game is DE Jeremy Mincey. I’ve discussed him a few times already this season and he capped-off a strong 2011 with a monster game Sunday. Playing all 65 snaps, Mincey picked up three sacks along with five pressures to grade out at +6.0 on the day. I already mentioned his domination of TE Brody Eldridge but he had his way with RT Jeff Linkenbach as well. With 3:36 to go in the third quarter, Mincey shoves Linkenbach into Dan Orlovsky’s lap before sliding past him for the strip-sack. Mincey’s sack at the 10:44 mark in the fourth quarter was even more impressive as he exploded past Linkenbach to force another Orlovsky fumble, this time recovered by the Jaguars. 2011 proved to be a breakout season for Mincey who became one of the most dependable three-down defensive linemen in the league. His 973 snaps played were second among 4-3 defensive ends and he was on the field for 93.5% of the Jaguars’ defensive snaps. Mincey was a key cog in one of the most improved defenses in the league.
Something to Build Upon
Normally it’d be time for the one negative for the Jaguars, but I already mentioned CB Kevin Rutland’s struggles in allowing 10-of-13 passes to be completed his way. Instead, I’d like to focus on DT Tyson Alualu playing his best game of the season (+3.7). 2011 has been difficult as he’s battled injuries and his play has suffered. Even with so many other defensive linemen playing well around him, Alualu has been handled fairly easily all year. Like Mincey, Alualu picked up pressures on both Eldridge and Linkenbach, but it was Alualu’s explosion off the ball with 8:50 to go in the second quarter that showed his potential. He knocked Linkenbach into RB Delone Carter to blow up the running play and make the tackle for loss. It was a good finish to a disappointing season.
- QB Dan Orlovsky graded +3.7 with no pressure but he was a -5.2 when facing pressure.
- Neither team completed a pass that travelled beyond 20 yards … in either meeting this year.
- Colts 2010 first round pick, DE Jerry Hughes, saw his most extensive action of the season with 22 snaps. He now has one sack and four pressures in 105 career pass rushes.
PFF Game Ball
Jeremy Mincey’s pass rush forced two turnovers: an interception and a strip-sack.