Jaguars defensive front will be 'toughest test' for improved Colts O-line

The Indianapolis Colts offense huddles up during a road win at Oakland two Sundays ago.Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports

Last time Jags came to Indy, they had 10 sacks, the same number Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has taken this season.

INDIANAPOLIS — A bye weekend off behind them, the Indianapolis Colts assure they’re refreshed and ready to focus on an important AFC South Division home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Because the Houston Texans (6-3) have reeled off six consecutive victories, neither the Colts (3-5) nor Jaguars (3-5) can afford a division loss and drop farther out of contention.

And the Colts haven’t forgotten the last time the Jaguars came to town, when the visitors had 10 sacks in a 30-10 rout last December. The Jaguars swept the season series for just the second time since the division’s inception in 2002.

Since then, the Colts have shored up their offensive line. Quarterback Andrew Luck hasn’t been sacked in three consecutive games as well as a stretch of 156 pass attempts, the longest “clean” streak of his seven-year career. Luck has taken just 10 sacks, the second-fewest total in the league. And the Colts boast the lowest sack rate per pass attempt (2.92 percent).

But this team doesn’t need to be reminded of how the Jaguars can pressure the pocket. Despite a four-game losing streak, the Jaguars are second in the NFL in fewest total yards allowed at 313.2 per game and No. 1 in pass defense at 190 yards allowed per game.

Colts first-year coach Frank Reich was asked on Monday if this will be the biggest challenge yet for an offensive line that can prove once again it is for real.

“Yeah, I think it is the toughest test and certainly there is an element of what you’re saying there that’s true, I mean for real,” Reich said. “On the other hand, I mean I don’t want to diminish the positive that’s happened because each week in this league in one sense is for real and every game that we play poorly or well – it all counts. But this is definitely going to be the toughest test of the year.”

Jaguars defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue each have five sacks.

“I mean this protection and this sack-less streak that we are on here is really going to be put to the test this week,” Reich said. “This team can get after the passer, so it will be a good challenge for us.”

The sack-less streak coincided with the return of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who missed the first five games and all of preseason with a hamstring injury. The eighth-year pro says his group of blockers aren’t thinking about what they’ve done. They’re looking ahead.

“I am aware of it as much as you guys bring it up, that’s about it,” Castonzo said with a chuckle about the sack-less streak. “It’s play by play, that’s legitimately how we play and we don’t really look at that kind of stuff. But we start our preparation, we started today so it’s all about this game coming up.

“That (streak is) the type of thing I think at the end of the year you kind of look back on and say, ‘What did we do?’ But in the moment, you can’t really take any time to look at stuff like that.”

Reich didn’t offer any injury updates, sticking to his weekly routine of relying on Wednesday’s report. But the Colts were banged up heading into the break. Safety Mike Mitchell exited the last game, a 42-28 win at Oakland, with a calf injury. He had just been named AFC Defensive Player of the Week before that game.

The Colts were also without safety Malik Hooker (hip), wide receiver Ryan Grant (ankle), tight end Erik Swoope (knee), running back Robert Turbin (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jihad Ward (ankle). Ward has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Hooker and Turbin returned to practice on Monday. Rookie Tyquan Lewis (toe) has also been practicing and the second-round pick could be brought back from injured reserve to make his season debut.

Rookie weakside linebacker Darius Leonard has been playing on a sore ankle that kept him out of the team’s last loss in Week 5 at New England. The NFL tackle leader with 88 total stops conceded his body needed the rest.

“Perfect timing,” Leonard said. “Going into the last week I was pretty sore, banged up a little bit. Having that week off kind of got my body enough time to rest.”

NOTES

— Sunday’s game is the first of three consecutive home dates as the Colts host Tennessee (3-4) and Miami (5-4) after the Jaguars.

— Luck is on pace to put up career numbers in pass completion percentage (65.8), completions (450), attempts (684) and TDs (46).

— Luck has thrown a TD pass in 31 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league and eighth overall on the career list.

— The Colts have scored 30 or more points in three consecutive games, the first time that’s happened since a four-game stretch in 2010.

— The Colts are No. 1 in converting third downs at 52 percent.

— Colts tight ends have caught 12 of Luck’s 23 TD passes. Eric Ebron still leads all NFL tight ends with seven TDs.

— Although the Colts defense is 25th in points allowed (25.5 per game) and 23rd in total yards allowed (371.4), the unit is second in the league with seven fumble recoveries and third in takeaways with 16.

— Three current Colts made the All-35 Season Team voted on by media and fans in honor of the franchise’s 35 seasons of football in Indianapolis. Kicker Adam Vinatieri was an obvious choice, coming off kicks that made him the NFL’s all-time leader in points and field goals. Castonzo and tight end Jack Doyle were also voted in. Current Colts on the second team were quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.

— Third-year center Ryan Kelly was named the NFL’s top player at his position on the 2018 Midseason All-Pro Team selected by Around the NFL writer Chris Wesseling. “With their top running back, wide receiver, tight end and offensive tackle in and out of the lineup due to injuries, the Colts have averaged nearly 35 points per game over the past five weeks,” Wesseling wrote. “For the first time in the Andrew Luck era, they can boast a back-to-back 100-yard rusher to go with three consecutive games allowing zero sacks. As bizarre as it may sound, the strength of this team is the offensive line, led by Kelly.”

— Rookie guard Quenton Nelson became the first player at his position to ever be named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month, an honor announced Thursday. Nelson, the sixth overall selection in the NFL Draft, is the only Colts player who hasn’t missed a snap (589) this season.

— Leonard was named NFL Rookie of the Week for a second time last week after he made nine tackles and forced a key Raiders fumble that enabled the Colts to capitalize and go ahead by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

— The awards kept coming last week as Vinatieri, fresh off becoming the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. It’s the 18th time in his 23 seasons that he’s been bestowed the honor. Vinatieri has 2,550 points and 573 field goals in his legendary career.

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