The last time we saw the Colts play, the team fell to Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night, with Andrew Luck sidelined due to a concussion. Since then, Luck has returned to the field and the AFC South-leading Texans have dropped a pair of games—Week 12 vs. San Diego, Sunday at Green Bay. So, when the 5–6 Colts take the field Monday night against the Jets, they’ll do so with a chance to pull into a first-place tie with Houston and Tennessee atop the division.
The Jets only wish they were so lucky. After completing a winless, 0–3 month of November, they have guaranteed themselves no better than a 8–8 finish a season after going 10–6.
Their aims now: To maintain a little pride and maybe to play spoiler once or twice down the stretch. New York nearly pulled off the latter last week, ultimately falling to the Patriots (and a hobbled Tom Brady) by five.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns in that game, will draw the start again Monday. Why, exactly, remains a bit of a mystery for those looking in on the Jets’ situation from the outside. The 34-year-old QB will be a free agent again at the end of this season, so these final five weeks could provide an opportunity to see Bryce Petty or even Christian Hackenberg.
“We’re all fighters,” said Jets coach Todd Bowles of his quarterback call, via NJ.com. “We’re all trying to win every game, whether we’re trying to get to 8–8 or whether we’re trying to be 16–0. Right now, Fitz is our starter. He gives us a good chance to win.”
Fitzpatrick also has a decent shot at posting big numbers Monday. The Colts rank 31st in pass defense and have picked off just three passes all season, a positive omen for a QB who tends to be turnover-prone.
How much he’ll be forced to the air is contingent on what Luck can do against the Jets’ defense. And Luck needs a big showing from his offensive line to be successful Monday. The Jets have struggled to finish with sacks (they have just 19 on the year, third fewest in the league), but they’ve been disruptive up front nonetheless. While they failed to sack Brady last week, they were consistently in his face.
Indianapolis has allowed 38 sacks on the season, more than all but Cleveland. Center Ryan Kelly (shoulder) returned to practice this week for the Colts, which could be a potentially huge boost up front—the rookie has been a godsend in the middle of Indianapolis’s line. But with or without Kelly, the Colts are going to find it difficult to run the ball. Frank Gore is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry this season, while the Jets are allowing a mere 86 yards per game to the opposition. Luck will have to make up the difference through the air.
An element to watch when Luck drops to throw: What is Darrelle Revis doing? The former landlord of Revis Island has suffered a significant drop-off in his one-on-one coverage, to the point that Luck may target him if he winds up isolated against T.Y. Hilton. If the Colts do find that matchup, Hilton very well could tilt the field with a big play or two.
The Colts need Luck to be at his best, Monday and through the end of the season. They’re under .500, they’ve won back-to-back games just once and they sit in third place. But the entire outlook has shifted in the past 10 days, thanks to Houston’s struggles. Monday is a must-win for Indianapolis.
Between Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, the Jets have one of the most talented defensive fronts in the NFL (even if Richardson’s fit has been a bit awkward at times). The Jets also can run the football—prior to the loss to New England, they had averaged 151.3 yards rushing per game in Weeks 7-10.
In other words, the Colts are going to have to win in the trenches Monday. That’s not a great place for them to be.
However, Luck’s presence could combat any issues the Colts encounter when they have the ball. He is plenty capable of extending plays outside the pocket, both with his legs and arm. If it comes down to Luck and Fitzpatrick trading blows, certainly Luck has an edge.
The Jets will show up with a strong effort, on national TV. This is just too important a game for the Colts to let get away.
Key player: Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts. If Revis does not see much of Hilton, he will draw Moncrief quite a bit. If Revis is pinned to Hilton for the night, the rest of the Jets’ secondary will have to deal with Indianapolis’ secondary receiver option. Either way, Moncrief has to like his chances given that he’s now scored in four consecutive games since returning from injury.
Bold prediction: Robby Anderson scores his first NFL touchdown. The undrafted rookie out of Temple coughed up a key fumble last week, but he has grown into a rather significant role in the Jets’ passing attack. Anderson has at least two catches in each of his past six games, a stretch over which he has seen 27 targets.