Colts ride third-down success vs. Jaguars

The Indianapolis Colts are looking to make a playoff push as they begin the second half of the season in Jacksonville on “Thursday Night Football.” Andrew Luck will make his primetime debut, four days after his rookie-record 433 yards passing in a comeback win over the Miami Dolphins.

While the Colts’ passing proficiency has been remarkable, when you go inside the numbers the true key to their 5-3 start has been their ability to convert on third down. The Colts are a league-best 42.1 percent converting on third downs of six yards or more. Their talented group of receivers, led by veteran Reggie Wayne, has been able to shred zone coverages and Luck has made opposing defenses pay with his outstanding timing and anticipation. This spells bad news for a Jaguars defense that ranks 29th in the NFL on third down, allowing offenses to convert on 44 percent of their attempts. The “Playbook” crew breaks down Indy’s third-down offense to as it relates to Jacksonville’s zone schemes.

The Colts run a mesh concept with a dig coming behind it. The Jaguars are in Cover 2, which the mesh will influence to create a lane for Andrew Luck to hit Reggie Wayne on the dig.

Given the down and distance (third & 3), the Jaguars have to defend the drag routes underneath. The pursuit of the drags opens up a big window for the dig route behind them. Luck’s timing and anticipation are perfect, resulting in a completion to Wayne for a gain of 13 yards and a first down.

Jacksonville was able to sneak out of Indianapolis with a last-second 22-17 win in Week 3, but things will be much more difficult this time around for the banged-up Jaguars. Not only is Luck coming off of a spectacular performance against a good Dolphins defense, but the Jags are missing their best offensive weapon in RB Maurice Jones-Drew. In order to contend, the Jaguars have to have success on the ground with his backup Rashad Jennings — who faces a Colts defense that is one of the league’s worst against the run. Indianapolis surrenders an average of 130.8 yards per game on the ground and Jacksonville has a more than competent offensive line to exploit this as it did in its sole win of the 2012 season against these same Colts. In Week 3, the Jags had 185 yards rushing and kept the ball out of Luck’s hands for nearly 28 minutes. If Jennings can follow in Jones-Drew’s proverbial footsteps, the Jags will have a chance tonight to deliver a blow to the Colts’ playoff hopes.

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