INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are hopeful they will have starting running back Marlon Mack in the lineup for Sunday’s visit to the Sunshine State against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Mack was a full-practice participant on Friday and has one more hurdle in getting clearance from an independent neurologist in the NFL’s concussion protocol. First-year Colts head coach Frank Reich sounded hopeful.
Asked if he’s optimistic about the Colts’ leading rusher, Reich said, “Yeah, (but) I mean those things, I have said yes before and been wrong. So I am going to hold any judgment on that.”
That’s more than can be said for the Jaguars, who will be without standout running back Leonard Fournette, who is suspended for this game after coming off the bench and getting ejected for fighting at Buffalo last Sunday.
The Colts (6-5) are riding a five-game win streak largely because of a stellar offense, and while quarterback Andrew Luck is the catalyst, it would help to have Mack in a balanced attack against a stingy Jaguars defense that is No. 3 in fewest passing yards allowed but 16th against the run. Luck is having a career year and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month on Wednesday.
The Jaguars (3-8) have lost seven in a row, including 29-26 at Indianapolis three weeks ago, and have reshuffled their offensive look for this game. Underperforming quarterback Blake Bortles has been benched in favor of backup Cody Kessler, who hasn’t started a game since losing all eight of his starts with Cleveland in 2016. The Jaguars have also switched offensive coordinators to try to breath life into a team that is averaging just 17.9 points per game, 28th in the NFL.
The Colts will again be without center Ryan Kelly (knee) and tight end Mo Alie-Cox (calf). Both were sidelined last week. But backup center Evan Boehm was solid in his first start and the Colts will have tight end Ryan Hewitt back from injury to shoulder blocking responsibilities while Eric Ebron looks to make more big plays in the passing game. Ebron has 11 receiving TDs, which is tied for the league lead.
The last time these teams met, Ebron caught two scoring passes and ran for another touchdown. The Jaguars will undoubtedly shift more defensive focus on him, which should mean Colts Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will see more man-to-man coverage. The past two weeks, Hilton has made defenders pay for this scheme, catching 16 passes for 280 yards and two TDs.
“Obviously, a road division game (and) looking forward to going down there and playing a good division team,” Reich said of the AFC South Division matchup. “We are both desperate for wins. We will expect the best from each team and are ready to go.”
The Colts are tied with Baltimore for the final AFC playoff spot. They can’t stumble against a struggling Jaguars team in disarray.
PREDICTION: Colts 31, Jaguars 16.