New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Indianapolis Colts

The New York Jets’ lone scheduled prime time game for the 2021 season comes in Thursday night fashion against Indianapolis.

The Opponent: Indianapolis Colts
The Date:
Week 8, November 4, 8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network (@ IND)
The Series: 
Colts lead 43-32 (last meeting: 2020, 36-7 IND)

Much like the original cast of another metropolitan staple, Saturday Night Live, the modern New York Jets could well be described as “Not Ready for Prime Time Players”.

The Jets’ only prime time game of the 2021 season (discounting a morning game against Atlanta in London) is a Thursday night contest against the Indianapolis Colts. Former division rivals will square off for the second straight season: the Jets will be seeking revenge for a 36-7 shellacking they endured at Lucas Oil Stadium, one that showed how far they had fallen since the 2018 trade that put Sam Darnold on a green path.

Both the Jets and Colts have made changes at quarterback since last season’s showdown: no trade was necessary for the Jets to choose Sam Wilson second overall in April while the Colts have opted for another veteran in Carson Wentz after Phillip Rivers’ retirement.

The Skinny On the Colts

The Colts have managed to make the most out of meandering in franchise quarterback purgatory after Andrew Luck’s infamous abrupt retirement. That’s been made possible by a reliable offensive line anchored by Quinton Nelson, one that has protected its stopgap throwers like Rivers and Jacoby Brissett. Running back Jonathan Taylor has likewise flourished, as the rookie broke through for 1,169 yards last season. A fearsome defense is headline by three-time All-Pro Darius Leonard.

Indianapolis has built its consistency through the draft, an endeavor that partly started through its fateful deal with the Jets. The picks sent to the Colts eventually yielded horseshoes for several vital contributors, including primary blockers Nelson and Braden Smith, defenders Kemoko Turay and Rock Ya-Sin. Rusher Jordan Wilkins, the final portion, has also proven to be a reliable depth option, working with Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack (who missed nearly all of last season with a torn Achilles).

Eight Indianapolis starters have been acquired over the last three drafts prior to 2021. At least one more should be added to that tally with Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye arriving at 21st overall last spring. NFL agents recently named Colts general manager Chris Ballard the best talent evaluator and in a poll conducted by Ben Standig of The Athletic. Both Ballard and head coach Frank Reich were recently granted contract extensions that will keep them in Indianapolis through the 2026 season, high honors for the first-time GM and lead headset man.

Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay was proud to keep continuity in Indianapolis in addition to the sense of consistent stability that could’ve been lost in the wake of Luck’s franchise-altering departure.

“When you bring in two people like Frank and Chris who had never been general manager-head coach before, you invest in their growth,” Irsay said, per team reporter JJ Stankevitz. “You invest in the fact they’re going to mature and become better than they were when they started…that’s what continuity does, it brings the day where you can read the growth of a person’s professional track as they grow.”

“They’re outstanding men in our community, they’re the type of men that our players can look up to and truly see as mentors where they know their feet go where their words go. That means a lot to me.”

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New In Indianapolis?

The new hope for the Colts is Wentz, who’s seeking to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career after the good times in Philadelphia fizzled out. Indianapolis was perhaps the best place for him to land: the Colts have let up only 52 sacks over the last two seasons…in comparison, Wentz was sacked 50 times alone in 2020, and he missed four games after he was benched for Jalen Hurts.

Indianapolis lost of one of its blocking staples this offseason through Anthony Costanzo. The Colts made up for the loss through the signing of Eric Fisher, Kansas City’s top overall pick from 2013, but he’ll be out for the team’s Sunday opener against Seattle (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Paulsboro, NJ native and recent signee from Houston Julien Davenport is scheduled to take over. The rest of the group is otherwise the same. Both Nelson had late foot issues that were addressed, but each is scheduled to be a full-go for Week 1.

Right guard Mark Glowinski once against spoke about how important Colts chemistry and continuity was in another report from Stankevitz. It’s exactly what Wentz needs to gain some long-sought protection and for Taylor to keep up the momentum from his freshman campaign.

“We still find ways to learn from one another and make it interesting,” Glowinski said. “We’re still able to use the same jokes and still laugh and stuff like that. It’s kind of funny being able to be together for this long but we’re just working. Like I would say every year, you’re working on the same blocks and everything. You just find another way to get better at those and you can keep developing new ways to do your job. It’s pretty cool to be able to be with all those guys for that long though.”

While Reich was made a staple on the Colts’ staff, several assistants departed, some joining former offensive coordinator and new Philadelphia boss Nick Sirianni. Quarterbacks coach and three-time CFL champion Marcus Brady takes over in Sirianni’s wake, while the Colts were able to keep defensive boss and popular head coach interviewee Matt Eberflus. The arrival of Paye partly settles pass-rushing quandary: the departures of Denico Autry and Justin Houston cost the Colts 15.5 sacks from last season.

How To Beat Them

-Corral the Pass Rush

Indianapolis’ pass rush was hit or miss even with Autry and Houston in tow. DeForest Buckner fulfilled expectations in his first season in blue while inside man Grover Stewart played his way into an expensive extension. Mekhi Becton will likely get first dibs at the legendary Leonard. The group will have to step it up in the early going, as Rutgers alum Kemoko Turay will miss Sunday’s opener.

But even with the Costanzo-sized on the offensive line, the Colts felt that needed to address the area through the selection of Paye out of Michigan. Thus, it’ll be up to the Jets’ blockers to keep sowing doubt when they meet up for their nationally televised matchup.

“Kwity pops off the tape, one, with his athleticism and his speed, but also with his effort,” Ballard said of the choice to draft Paye over a lineman, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. “This kid, he already plays the way we want to play. He’s going to fit in pretty quickly.”

-Wentz Turnovers Cometh

Part of the reason why Philadelphia moved on from Wentz was his increasingly troubling turnover issues: his 15 interceptions were a league-worst in 2020 and he fumbled 10 times…the latter mark was an improvement after putting 16 on the grass last season.

As with so many other areas of their horrid 2020 season, the Jets struggled to force turnovers, picking up only 19. Upping the pressure on Wentz could lead to those struggles resurfacing and the Jets have the front seven to do so, even with the oft-cited red flag of Carl Lawson forced out for the year.

This time around, Wentz’s turnover issues could be partially cast aside by the idea that the Colts have the additional weaponry to get by, namely the multi-pronged run game. The Colts were 1-3 when Taylor, Hines, and Wilkins were held to under 100 yards rushing

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills to face Indianapolis Colts in AFC Wild Card playoffs

The Buffalo Bills (13-3) will face their former AFC East brethren in the first round of the 2021 NFL postseason.

It’s only appropriate that this Buffalo Bills season, one that conjured the ghosts of AFC East past, it’s only appropriate that the potential postseason trek opens with a meeting against a former member of the divisional brotherhood.

The end of the American Football Conference’s regular season action has solidified its portion of the playoff bracket. Seeded in the second-slot, the BIlls will battle the seventh-ranked Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round of the postseason. It will be held next weekend on January 9 or 10.

Buffalo and Indianapolis are former AFC East rivals, with the Colts (then based in Baltimore) joining the division upon the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. They were shifted to the newly formed AFC South when the Houston Texans became the NFL’s 32nd franchise in 2002. There have been 70 prior meetings in the postseason between the Bills and Colts, with the former leading the series by a 37-32-1 tally. This Wild Card meeting will be their first postseason showdown.

Ironically, the Bills (13-3) partially allowed the Colts (11-5) to clinch a playoff spot, as their 56-26 destruction of the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s early window put Indianapolis in a “win-and-in” situation against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 253 yards and two scores en route to a 28-14 victory.

The second-round pick out of Wisconsin (41st overall) has been one of the biggest reasons behind the Colts’ resurgence, having scored seven touchdowns over the last four games. His 1,169 rushing yards are the most amongst first-year players. Other talented in the Indianapolis roster include quarterback Phillip Rivers, receiver T.Y. Hilton, and linebacker Darius Leonard. The Colts have won five of their last seven games entering the playoffs.

Buffalo last faced Indianapolis in 2018, when the Colts took a 37-5 final at Lucas Oil Stadium. The last visit to Orchard Park was in December 2017, when the Bills earned a 13-7 overtime win in a blizzard.

Elsewhere on the AFC bracket, the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Cleveland Browns while the Tennessee Titans host the Baltimore Ravens.

Time and television information will be announced in the near future, likely during the final overall regular season game of 2020, Sunday’s night NFC East deciding event between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). Washington will win that division if they take the tilt, while an Eagles victory secures the title and the playoff spot that comes with it to the New York Giants.

[UPDATE: 9:25 p.m. ET]]: The NFL has released times and dates for the first round of the playoffs, with the Bills-Colts showdown opening things up on Saturday, January 9. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on CBS.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NFL: Draft Top Five Running Back Rankings

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley

With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, over the next few days I plan on breaking down the best and brightest talents in this years class. The RB position has a few big names, mostly, the draft has some very unique late round guys. Of all those guys who are the top ones?

1. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Pro Comparison: Melvin Gordon Jr.

Jonathan Taylor is the top back in this class. He was the best running back in college football last year. Taylor is THE do it all back in the class. He’s got everything you want in a running back and then some. He’s got high IQ, good elusiveness, good leadership. He’s an excellent back and could really be one of the safest playmakers in the draft overall. Taylor would have an expected value of being at a level similar to Gordon. If he lives up to his potential and then some, he can outplay this comp. Taylor is a can’t miss pick at running back.

2. JK Dobbins, Ohio State

Pro Comparison: Le’Veon Bell

Dobbins is far and away my favorite back in this class. He’s a fierce runner, patient, elusive and has phenomenal vision. Dobbins is a do it all back. He’s got potential to be a lead back very shortly. Dobbins has such a patient and violent running tactic that Bell is a great comparison for him. Dobbins would be very high on my board if I was a GM based on tape, which leads me to wonder why he’s not as highly rated by the general media.

3. D’Andre Swift, Georgia

Pro Comparison: Alvin Kamara

Swift is well, swift. He’s a really elusive back who excels in open space. He’s got a game breaking ability with the ball in his hands. He’s good catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s also very good in open space. Swift would be a great back in a lot of offenses immediately. There’s not a lot of questions with him. How his game will translate to the next level shouldn’t be a question because Georgia is a running back factory. Swift reminds me of Kamara because of his success in open space.

4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

Pro Comparison: Ray Rice

Helaire is maybe my 2nd favorite back in this class. Helaire flashed signs of his full potential last year in an offense where Joe Burrow stole the headlines. Helaire is a really good back and he can be a lead back in an offense at some point soon. Every LSU staffer and teammate has given him rave reviews, they’ve even said he’s still capable of much more. Helaire and his running style reminds me heavily of vintage Ray Rice. Helaire has a lot of potential and I’m excited to see him at the next level. The only question marks revolve around whether or not he can truly fulfill that potential or if he just succeeded because of the talent of his quarterback.

5. LaMical Perine, Florida

Pro Comparison: Tj Yeldon

Perine is a very strong running back. He dominated the bench press and flashed strength. He does lack that incredible burst. Perine is more of a do it all back capable of grinding out yardage. Perine is very similar to Tj Yeldon in the sense of being able to pick up 1st downs as a grind out yardage back. Perine can be a very productive back out of a committee. Perine has a lot of questions, the biggest being if he can develop into a more elusive back. If not than he’ll be an above around ground and pound back at best. 

New York Jets: 3 Potential Replacements for Le’veon Bell

New York Jets, LeVeon Bell

Le’veon Bell and the New York Jets are expected to part ways at some point in the offseason which will leave the Jets with another massive hole to fill on offense. Le’veon Bell is the only running back on the Jets that is under contract for the 2020 regular season. Bell was misused the entire season and set career lows in yards per game and yards per attempt. Here are the three best options for the Jets to fill their need at running back this season.

Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor would be the perfect fit for the New York Jets assuming they resign Bilal Powell. Taylor’s downhill running style would be a perfect complement to Powell’s receiving ability and would open up the playbook for the Jets. Taylor comes from the University of Wisconsin which relies heavily on their run game, so he is no stranger to zone and gap blocking schemes which essentially makes him scheme proof. Taylor style is very reminiscent of Chris Ivory and he could provide an identity to an offense that has none.

Melvin Gordon

This one is kind of a long shot but if Melvin Gordon is available, he is worth looking at. Melvin Gordon is a proven running back and is only 26 years old. Gordon is a versatile back that can do everything you ask him to do. Although it wouldn’t make sense to replace Le’veon Bell with a running back like Bell it is the Jets and they’re not really known to make the smartest moves. The chances of Gordon landing in New York are even slimmer with the fact that he wants to be among the highest paid backs in the league. If somehow Gordon’s market isn’t high enough expect the Jets to be players.

Travis Etienne

Heading into the 2019 college football season Travis Etienne was regarded as the top running back of the class, as the season drifted on focus shifted more towards D’andre Swift. Travis Etienne is a game changing back who is extremely explosive and elusive his ability to accelerate quickly makes him such a dangerous weapon in the backfield. Etienne is an underrated pass blocker as well and can do it all he is comparable to Bilal Powell.

Heisman Watch: Make Or Break Game For Jonathan Taylor

This will be a big weekend for some of the best players in the Big Ten. Penn State’s quarterback Trace McSorley stayed alive in the Heisman running by putting in a good performance in the loss against Ohio State, and will return to action this week. OSU’s Dwayne Haskins Jr. will have a chance to continue racking up touchdowns, against a Minnesota team that has already lost both conference games.

But Jonathan Taylor, the prolific running back from Wisconsin? He might have the most to gain or lose this Saturday, when his Badgers play Michigan in a Saturday night clash. Wisconsin’s loss to BYU hit them hard and sent them out of the top ten, and since then, they’ve been recovering their old rank slowly. If they want to get back to where they were, they’ll have to win tonight.

Their opponent is a fellow top fifteen team that’s a couple of spots above them in the rankings, and this is their chance to continue their climb. Michigan is also one of only two ranked teams on the remaining part of the schedule. Lose here, and their only other ranked game will be the one against Penn State.

It’s important for the team as a whole but especially for Taylor, who needs big performances against big names to win the Heisman. He’s coming off of his second straight game of 200 or more yards, but when talking about the top players in the country, that number is devalued a bit because of the level of competition. After all, Nebraska’s defense is awful this year, and the team as a whole is 0-5 at the moment.

Michigan, though, has enough names on their defense to make a big rushing performance against them notable. Defensive end Rashan Gary is expected to be a high pick in the NFL Draft, and defensive lineman Chase Winovich already has 29 tackles at this point in the season. That includes 9.5 tackles for a loss, and three sacks. Michigan has considerably more quality than Nebraska, and this game will also be watched by many more people.

It’s the kind of game that can give someone momentum in the race for the Heisman. If Taylor falls flat, the narrative could be that he can’t play against ranked teams. None of Wisconsin’s opponents until this point have been ranked, after all. Another strong game, though? That would bring national attention back to Wisconsin and back to Taylor, and it would look great to the Heisman voters.

It’s a make or break game for both teams. But let’s not forget that, while this is a team sport, there’s some implications for the top individual trophy in the nation too. It’s time to see if Jonathan Taylor can keep doing it against not just another top fifteen team, but one of the top defenses in the conference and the country.

Big Ten: Updated Heisman Trophy Race After Week Two

Two Saturdays into the season, and we have a good idea of who the superstars are. It’s still early in the season, so the battle for the Heisman Trophy is still in its opening phases. But let’s face it, everyone is going to talk about it anyway. Because of that, we might as well go over some of the players from the Big Ten conference that could win the award.

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin RB

Wisconsin’s coaches are certainly doing their part in helping Jonathan Taylor win the Heisman. He was given 33 carries in the blowout of New Mexico, and he made the most of them to reach an average of 7.7 yards per rush. Not only that, but Taylor helped his team on the scoreboard by punching in three touchdowns.

They weren’t all goalline touchdowns either, with one of them coming from a 16 yard run around the edge. Overall, he had 253 yards and looked pretty good with the exception of the fumble. That’s going to be a problem if it happens in bigger games, but not many will care about early season fumbles like this. If a running back wins the Heisman this year, it looks like Taylor is the one that’s on pace to do it.

Like many of the other players that are putting up big numbers in the early season, we still have to see him against better competition. The Badgers, after all, have only played against New Mexico and Western Kentucky at this point in the season. In their next game, we’ll see Taylor against a BYU team that already has a win against power five opponent Arizona.

Dwayne Haskins Jr., Ohio State QB

Haskins already has five touchdowns through two games, despite this being his first year in the starting role. And boy, has he taken to that starting role well. You could have called the quarterback position a question mark for Ohio State going into the season, but after the first games, it doesn’t seem like there will be an actual competition mid-season.

After throwing for four touchdowns against Rutgers, Haskins should have secured the job. You could make an argument, however, that this game only has a limited value for telling how Haskins will play later in the season. Rutgers didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback and Haskins made some of his best plays while standing in a large and well protected pocket, one that gave him enough time to put the ball where he wanted.

Still, you can’t discount the throws themselves, or the staggering 87% completion percentage from 23 passing attempts. Haskins only threw three passes that weren’t caught, which is pretty impressive. Next week, we’ll get to see what Haskins and the rest of the Ohio State offense looks like against an opponent that has more quality. The Buckeyes have to go to Arlington to face TCU, who won both of their opening games in convincing fashion and currently hold the number sixteen spot in the national rankings.

Trace McSorley, Penn State QB

There might be some doubts about McSorley as a Heisman contender after this week, but he’s on this list of players because he entered the season as one of the biggest favorites. Where does McSorley rank right now? That depends on just how much emphasis you put on pure statistics. Because McSorley didn’t look good statistically against Pitt, but he did his job and helped lead the Nittany Lions to a dominant win.

He had a pair of touchdowns in the blowout, but after only completing 14 out of 30 attempted passes, his stat line isn’t as impressive as the team’s overall performance. Still, it wasn’t a bad game from McSorley, who made plays when they were needed and did his part to push the result from a close game to a much stronger win. His 4.8 yards per pass average, however, definitely doesn’t look good.

To be fair to McSorley, the weather during the game wasn’t good for passing. It just won’t be a game that wins over Heisman voters, and if McSorley wants to stay near the top of the race for the award, he’ll have to start taking over games in conference play. Furthermore, McSorley should likely have three touchdown passes in this game, as one surefire touchdown was dropped by the receiver in the end zone after a good pass.