INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – At one point in what ranks as one of the more entertaining and rambling press conferences in his six years as head coach, Chuck Pagano talked of hurricanes forming off the coast of Africa.
The storm’s coming, he stressed.
What are you going to do about it?
“When that storm starts coming . . . you’ve got to respond,’’ Pagano said Monday afternoon.
Well, another storm is bearing down on the Indianapolis Colts.
We’ll call it Hurricane Jacksonville.
How are the Colts going to respond Sunday at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field?? Hopefully, better than the last time.
You remember last time, right? The storm blew into Lucas Oil Stadium and left Jacoby Brissett and his pass protection in tatters. There were 10 sacks and an additional 10 hits. Seven Jaguars took turns adding to the sack total. The 27-0 score didn’t begin to convey the totality of Jacksonville’s dominance.
“We didn’t play well,’’ Pagano said Wednesday. “Didn’t do much of anything really good in that first ballgame.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.’’
Yes, it is. The Colts have allowed an NFL-high 47 sacks – along with another 54 hits, according to NFL stat books – while the Jaguars have generated a league-best 41 sacks.
Indy is on pace to yield 68 sacks, which would surpass the team record of 62 set in 1997 and be tied for the 9th-most allowed since the NFL began charting sacks in 1982.
Pagano’s message to the players as they prepared for Sunday’s rematch was clear: the Jaguars will see a different team, a better team.
“We’re a different team than we were last time,’’ said Brissett, who obviously was paying attention to his coach’s Wednesday morning sermon.
Since being annihilated by the Jaguars, the Colts are an unsatisfactory 1-3 but have improved in several areas, most notably on defense. However, their pass protection remains a weekly clinic on how not to protect the QB. The Colts have allowed 28 sacks in the last five games, including eight in last Sunday’s loss to Tennessee.
“I expect us to play better,’’ said Brissett.
Improvement must come without center Ryan Kelly, who’s expected to miss the game with a concussion, and with Mike Person anchoring the middle of the offensive line and making the necessary pre-snap adjustments.
Person has intimate knowledge of the looming challenge. When a hamstring injury forced Kelly to miss the second half of the first Jaguars game, he stepped in. Jacksonville, up 20-0 at the half, piled up seven of its 10 sacks after the break.
“That was a whole different animal that game,’’ said Person, who had been with the Colts barely two weeks. “It was a tough situation.’’
Jacksonville management has parlayed the draft (cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linemen Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr., linebacker Telvin Smith), veteran free agency (linemen Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Tashaun Gipson) and trades (lineman Marcel Dareus) to build one of the NFL’s most disruptive defenses.
The Jaguars rank first in fewest total yards (281.8), passing yards (168.7) and points allowed (15.3). They’re 1st with 41 sacks and 25 total takeaways, and tied for 3rd with 14 interceptions. They’ve forced 21 fumbles and recovered a league-high 11.
Any chance the Colts have of flipping the script rests with their ability to accentuate Frank Gore and their running game, and Brissett remaining poised and decisive while operating in what promises to be a perilous passing pocket. Brissett must make quick decisions and the proper reads.
“The correct read is always better than the incorrect read,’’ he said with a smile. “I’m going to do my best to do that.’’
Priority 1, though, is not allowing the Jaguars to jump out to an early lead.
“We’d be dead in the water,’’ Pagano said.
It’s worth noting Jacksonville (7-4) has 31 of its 41 sacks in its seven wins, and 20 in the blowouts of Houston and the Colts. In their season opening 29-7 rout of the Texans, the Jaguars grabbed a 12-0 lead with 2 minutes remaining in the first half, then overwhelmed Houston with seven sacks in the game’s final 32 minutes.
In the first meeting in Indy, Jacksonville eased into a 14-0 first quarter lead. It got to Brissett for sacks on the final two plays of the first half, and seven times after the break.
“We’ve got to score early and we’ve got to score often and we can’t fall behind by 20,’’ Pagano said. “We can’t fall behind by 10 (or) 13 points.
“It’s going to be hard enough to block them because most of the time it’s a four-man rush and they deploy seven into coverage. When they know it’s pass, it’s even more difficult. (It’s) as good a defense as we’ll face. We know that.
“We understand if we fall behind it’s going to be a long day.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.