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Previewing the Jets’ Opposition: Indianapolis Colts

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets last faced the Colts in 2018, where they prevailed 42-34 behind a solid performance by Sam Darnold, an Antonio Cromartie pick-six and six Jason Myers field goals. However the chances of the struggling Jets repeating the feat on Sunday seem remote.

The Colts bounced back from a surprising week one defeat to Jacksonville to even their record at 1-1 with an impressive win over the Vikings on Sunday and will be expected to drop the Jets to 0-3 in tomorrow’s game.

Quarterbacks

The Colts brought in Philip Rivers in the offseason to be their new starting quarterback coming off a year where he threw 20 interceptions for just the third time in his career and threw the fewest amount of touchdown passes (23) since his rookie year.

Rivers racked up 363 yards in the Jaguars game, but also threw two costly interceptions. However, he was more solid in week two, albeit with less gaudy numbers. Rivers has completed 78 percent of his passes, placing him 3rd in the NFL.

The backup and last year’s starter, Jacoby Brissett, is one of the league’s most expensive backups with a cap number of over $21 million. Rookie Jacob Eason will serve as the number three and presumably be inactive.

Offensive Line

The Colts have some of the best offensive line continuity in the NFL right now as all five starters played over 1,000 snaps last season and have played every snap so far in 2020.

They’ve invested big money in center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Anthony Castonzo, plus a top-10 pick in outstanding left guard Quenton Nelson.

These players are key to the Colts’ running game but will also be tasked with protecting Rivers, who led the league in sack percentage in 2017.

Right tackle Braden Smith, acquired along with Nelson with the picks from the Sam Darnold trade, got beaten for seven sacks last year, while right guard Mark Glowinski led the team with 10 penalties.

On the bench LeRaven Clark and Chaz Green each have some starting experience and rookie Danny Pinter rounds out the rotation.

Running Backs

The Colts were dealt a blow when Marlon Mack, a thousand-yard back last season, tore his Achilles in the season-opener. This moves rookie Jonathan Taylor into the feature back role sooner than anticipated but he responded well with 101 yards and a touchdown in his first start against the Vikings.

Nyheim Hines is the third down back, having racked up 44 catches last season. He scored both Colts touchdowns in the season opener. He and Taylor have already caught 17 passes between them this year.

Jordan Wilkins, who averaged six yards per carry last season, provides some additional depth off the bench.

One pattern from last season that seems to have spilled over into this year is that their running backs grade out poorly in terms of picking up the blitz, so that might be one way for Gregg Williams to attack this offense.

Pass catchers

The Colts’ offense took another hit last week when Parris Campbell - who led them in receiving yards in week one - suffered a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve.

Their starters right now are TY Hilton and Zach Pascal. Hilton only had 45 catches in 10 games last year having been a thousand-yard receiver in five of the previous six seasons. He dropped a potential long touchdown pass last week, though so he’s still a threat. Pascal, who ultimately led the team in receiving yards in 2019, is the only Colts wideout with a touchdown catch so far in 2020.

With Campbell down, Michael Pittman Jr. is another rookie they’ll be relying on to step up. He has six catches so far, albeit for just 47 yards.

The rest of the rotation lacks experience. Ashton Dulin has just three career catches and Daurice Fountain and rookie Dezmon Patmon have yet to even be targeted in an NFL game.

At tight end, Mo Alie-Cox is coming off a breakout game as he caught five passes for 111 yards on Sunday, eclipsing his entire yardage total for 2019, so the Colts won’t be too worried if pro bowler Jack Doyle continues to be hobbled by knee and ankle injuries.

An undrafted rookie, Noah Togiai, is the third tight end with Trey Burton having been placed on injured reserve.

Defensive Line

The Colts traded a first round pick to San Francisco for DeForest Buckner and also gave him a contract worth $84 million over four years to make him their highest paid defender. That should add a disruptive presence to a defense that was already the fifth best in the NFL against the run in 2019.

330+ pounder Grover Stewart will start alongside Buckner as the nose tackle with Tyquan Lewis, Taylor Stallworth and Eli Ankou proving interior depth.

On the edge, the Colts are led by Justin Houston, who led the team with 11 sacks last year and also led the team in quarterback hits and tackles for loss.

The other starter is Denico Autry with Al-Quadin Muhammad and recent draft choice Ben Banoga in reserve. Young pass rusher Kemoko Turay is currently on the PUP list.

Linebackers

The Colts’ leader on defense is pro bowler Darius Leonard who led all NFL linebackers with five interceptions in 2019.

The team’s leading tackler was actually Anthony Walker Jr., though, as he totaled three more tackles than Leonard with 124. However, he also led the team with 21 missed tackles in 2019. The third starter is the athletic Bobby Okereke who typically plays a coverage-based role.

The Colts don’t have much experience on the bench and none of their reserve linebackers played any snaps in the first two games. Matthew Adams was their most experienced backup, having started four games last year. However, he was placed on injured reserve on Saturday. Zaire Franklin, who has two career starts, fills out the bench with EJ Speed and sixth round rookie Jordan Glasgow.

Defensive Backs

The Jets should be familiar with the Colts’ gameplan in the secondary, as Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston and Arthur Maulet were all picked up from the Colts along with several other players. They play a zone-based system that is similar to what the Jets have been running since the second half of last year so at least Sam Darnold should be used to seeing these looks in practice.

The Colts’ starting cornerbacks these days are veteran Xavier Rhodes and youngster Rock Ya-Sin, although Ya-Sin has been ruled out for Sunday due to illness.

Veteran TJ Carrie seems the most likely to fill in as a starter but rookie Isaiah Rodgers also saw some action last week. Kenny Moore does a solid job in the nickel role.

Another injury blow saw starting safety Malik Hooker suffer a season-ending Achilles tear on Sunday, so the Colts are once again relying on a rookie - third rounder Julian Blackmon - to step up.

Blackmon will start alongside Khari Willis, who intercepted a pass last week. George Odum and Tavon Wilson provide cover.

The Colts also recently promoted Ibraheim Campbell and Tremon Smith to provide additional depth in the secondary.

Special Teams

The Colts’ kicker is undrafted rookie Rodrigo Blankenship who has missed just one of his 11 kicks so far. Blankenship was regarded as a top draft prospect until he missed a series of clutch kicks last year.

The punter, Rigoberto Sanchez, also kicks off for the Colts. So far, he’s only had to punt twice this year.

In the return game, Hines is listed as the main returner on punts and kickoffs with Rodgers as his backup. However, Dulin has also been getting work on kickoffs. Hines returned two punts for touchdowns against the Panthers last year.

In kick coverage, Dulin and Franklin are key contributors. Okoreke and Carrie also contribute but may see less action on special teams if playing a full-time role on defense.