Colts search for 11th straight division win

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Jacksonville Jaguars are certainly not the same team that the Indianapolis Colts saw - and beat by 27 points - on the road in Week 3.

That doesn't mean they're any more likely to win a Week 12 rematch, of course, but they've at least got a fair chance to be a bit more competitive.

Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles made his NFL debut off the bench and threw two late touchdown passes in the 44-17 debacle back in September, but the youngster who was selected third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft has shown intermittent signs of progress in a handful of appearances since.

The University of Central Florida product took over the starting role from Chad Henne a week after the loss to the Colts and has thrown for at least one touchdown in five of seven games as the No. 1 option.

He also was under center for the Jaguars' lone win of the season, a 24-6 defeat of Cleveland in Week 7.

In his most recent start - a 31-17 loss to Dallas in London before a Week 11 bye - Bortles was 22-of-37 for 290 yards and was intercepted once, leaving his passer rating for the season at 72.2. His highest single-game rating of the season, 96.4, had come a week earlier in a 33-22 loss at Cincinnati.

"These final six weeks are really a great opportunity for Blake to really say, 'How do I step up my preparation, how do I step up my practice habits and how do I step up my communication?'" offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said.

Helping his cause against the Colts will be the presumed return of tight end Marcedes Lewis for the first time since an ankle injury in Week 2. To make room for Lewis, however, rookie receiver Allen Robinson was jettisoned to the injured reserve list with a broken right foot. He'd led the team with 48 catches and 458 yards and had scored twice.

Another youngster, Allen Hurns, remains questionable after suffering a concussion in the Dallas loss. He caught a 63-yard touchdown pass in the first game with Indianapolis.

On the ground, former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has averaged 5.4 yards per carry while going for 389 yards and scoring four times in his last four games.

"It's nice to see the running game getting better," Jaguars guard Brandon Linder said. "He's a talented athlete and a great team player. He brings it on every play and is very confident in the way he runs. That's Denard. He makes things happen. He's a very talented player. It's nice to be able to block for him and see the outcome he gets on a play and the success that he's had the past couple of games. Hopefully we can keep those types of results going the rest of the season."

Meanwhile, even though they lead the AFC South by a game, the Colts could use a little good news.

Indianapolis has lost two of its last three games and will be without running back Ahmad Bradshaw for the rest of the season after he broke his right leg against New England, in a 42-20 defeat, last week.

The loss to the Patriots saw the Colts gashed for 246 yards on the ground and was the second time in three games that an opponent went for 40 or more points. Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdowns in a 51-34 Pittsburgh win in Week 8 and Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four TDs for New England.

Still, they have won 10 straight games in the division and are the only team among its quartet with a better-than-.500 record. And, they haven't lost to Jacksonville since September 2012.

"It's up to us to execute," defensive end Cory Redding said. "It's a tough pill to swallow, but let's make it clear - we've got to go out and play winning football."

In a five-game win streak that stretched from Weeks 3 through 7, Indianapolis allowed 75 total points and registered a shutout of Cincinnati. In three games since, it's allowed 39 points per game.

"It's definitely frustrating because we're a good defense," defensive tackle Arthur Jones said. "We just have to be consistent."

It may not be a problem against the Jaguars, who are second from last in the league in scoring (15.8 points per game), 27th of 32 teams in total yards (315.1 per game) and have been on the short end of a 138-40 composite score against the Colts since their last win in the series.

Indianapolis held a comfortable 30-3 lead before Bortles' late uprising in the September game.

Jacksonville has given up 91 points in losing three straight since its lone win in 2014, and Colts QB Andrew Luck leads an offense that's still averaging a league-best 438.3 yards per game even after being held to its low for the season - 322 yards - against New England.

Luck has thrown for at least 300 yards in eight straight games, a franchise- record streak that began with the initial defeat of the Jaguars. Elsewhere, Bradshaw's absence means more responsibility for Trent Richardson, who has 594 total yards for the season. Indianapolis also signed Josh Cribbs to fill Bradshaw's slot on the roster.

"We are going to miss his energy, his passion, everything he brings to the table," coach Chuck Pagano said.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

A Two-Man Advantage

Now that veteran cornerback Alan Ball has been lost for the season due to injury, the Jaguars' defensive backfield will be headlined by starting corners Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz, both of whom were drafted in 2013. They'll face the prodigious receiving tandem of T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne, who, incidentally, have 106 catches, 1,556 yards and five touchdowns between them.

Stopping the Plummet

The Colts had maintained a respectable place among the NFL's rush defenses before the 244-yard debacle against the Patriots dropped them just past the midway point to 17th overall. Their front seven faces an interesting challenge this week in Robinson, who'd averaged more than 100 yards per game before being held to 60 yards on 15 attempts in the London game before the bye.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

For all the strides the inconsistent Jaguars may have made since the early- season meeting between the teams, they're still the Jaguars and the Colts are still the Colts. Indianapolis plays respectable defense and Jacksonville doesn't score. Indianapolis has a prodigious offense and Jacksonville allows a lot of points. Regardless of burgeoning optimism, it's not a good recipe for the visiting cats.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 27, Jaguars 10