Jets at Colt: What to watch for Thursday

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Thursday night meeting with the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium:

  • Kickoff: 8:20 p.m.
  • Broadcast: FOX59

History lesson

Jim Irsay finally gets his wish – a home game on the primetime stage. It’s doubtful his angst with the NFL will be eased, but it’s a start. The fact remains Irsay’s Colts have endured eight straight road games in primetime.

The last time the Colts hosted a game in primetime: Dec. 14, 2017 against the Denver Broncos. It was that unforgettable Trevor Siemian vs. Jacoby Brissett duel. Only eight players on the active roster at that time remain: T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle, Ryan Kelly, Kenny Moore II, Grover Stewart, Rigoberto Sanchez, Marlon Mack and Luke Rhodes.

History lesson Part II

The Colts are 1-1 in primetime this season. They followed up their colossal collapse at Baltimore on Monday Night Football and with an impressive whipping of San Francisco on Sunday Night Football.

Prior to the Niners’ game, running back Jonathan Taylor broke down the team with a motivating message.

Primetime players make primetime plays.

Taylor and wideout Michael Pittman Jr. have emerged as two of the Colts’ undeniable primetime talents, and the 2020 second-round picks were on top of their games against the Ravens and Niners.

Taylor’s piled up 279 yards from scrimmage in the two games: 160 yards and two TDs on 33 rushes and 119 yards and one TD on six receptions. He took a Carson Wentz screen 76 yards for a TD on the Colts’ first drive at Baltimore en route to his first 100-yard receiving game (116 yards), and hit the Niners with 107 yards on 18 carries.

Pittman, meanwhile, pulled in a 42-yard TD from Wentz at Baltimore and had his third career 100-yard game (105 yards on just four receptions) against San Francisco.

For those keeping track at home, Taylor ranks 2nd in the league in rushing with 649 yards and is on pace for 1,379. Pittman is tied for 11th with 45 receptions and 9th with 594 yards. He’s on track for 96 receptions and 1,262 yards.

Must-win game?

We’ve decided we’re no longer placing upcoming games in the “must-win’’ category. The crippling losses to the Ravens and Titans have convinced us everything from here on out is a can’t-lose game, especially against teams that are considered inferior. You know, the 2-5 Jets and 1-6 Jacksonville, which is in town Nov. 14.

The Titans losing Derrick Henry for the remainder of the regular season leaves the AFC South door slightly ajar, but only slightly. Tennessee (6-2) still holds a four-game lead with nine to play.

We’re convinced the Colts need to get to 10-7 to have a realistic shot at a playoff berth, and that’s a tall order with road trips against Buffalo (5-2) and Arizona (7-1) and home dates with Tampa Bay (6-2) and Las Vegas (5-2).

White Out

It’s been “Blue Out Week’’ leading up the game, and fans have been encouraged to turn Lucas Oil Stadium into a sea of blue Thursday night.

It would behoove the Colts’ defense to stage a White Out. As in make certain to take quarterback Mike White out of the game as anything resembling a positive influence for the Jets. He’s coming off his 15-minutes-of-fame: 405 yards and three touchdowns in a stunning 34-31 upset of the Cincinnati Bengals. It was the first career start and just second career appearance for White, a 2018 fifth-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Colts cannot allow an encore performance. They’ll need to pay special attention to White’s short/intermediate targets. Even though he piled up 405 yards, only three of his 27 completions went for more than 20 yards, and none longer than 24. Two of White’s three longest hookups were with rookie running back Michael Carter (23 and 20 yards). In fact, 20 of White’s targets and 14 of his completions went to running backs Carter and Ty Johnson.

That should put Colts’ linebackers on alert.

Even if White goes with a short-drop, quick-throw attack, the pass rush must make him uncomfortable. White’s only been sacked three times in two games, but the Jets have allowed 22, 8th-most in the league.

Also, there should be opportunities for the defense to make an impactful play or two. The Colts are tied for 1st in the league with 18 takeaways and have had nine in their last three games. The Jets are a minus-10 in the giveaway-takeaway department. They have suffered a league-high 13 interceptions, rank 2nd with 15 total turnovers and have had at least two in four of seven games.

Blend aggression with better decision-making

This is directed at you, Carson Wentz. For as much criticism as was directed at Frank Reich in the aftermath of the overtime loss to the Titans, Wentz’s two interceptions were the crippling moments.

We understand he brings a gunslinger’s mentality to the offense, but he must make better decisions when it’s OK to take risks down the field – or in his own end zone, from crying out loud – or when the better option is the check-down throw.

The Jets are 10½-point underdogs for a reason. Don’t give them a helping hand.

He wears No. 28

We’re not going to spend much time on this one. Jonathan Taylor is arguably the Colts’ best player. Make better use of your best player. It’s not as if Reich and coordinator Marcus Brady are ignoring Taylor. He ranks 2nd in the league in rushing (649) and 3rd in yards from scrimmage (917).

Taylor is averaging nearly 18 touches per game, but that needs to be in the 23-25 per-game range. He’s yet to carry the ball more than 18 times in game, and Reich’s goal is 20.

Maybe the primetime stage is the proper setting.

And the winner is

Colts 31, Jets 17. Get the lead, drain the Jets of hope, run Taylor in the fourth quarter, turn out the lights, go home.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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