By MARK LONG
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —
Trent Richardson scored on his first carry with the Indianapolis Colts, a successful debut that came after just two practices with his new team.
Now, after a week of work, he's facing the perfect defense to help make a big day happen.
The Jaguars (0-3) rank last in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up 168 yards a game. It could make for a long afternoon against the Colts (2-1), who suddenly have one of the top backfield tandems in the league with veteran Ahmad Bradshaw and the newly acquired Richardson.
"Ahmad Bradshaw took a big load off of me," Richardson said. "Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, the offensive line, it's a big load being taken off of me. When you don't have to play from behind, you can really get the touches that you really want. We've got a two-headed monster. It's crazy."
The Colts gave up a first-round draft pick in 2014 for the 5-foot-9, 225-pound Richardson, who provided coach Chuck Pagano a bulky back for his power-running scheme.
"This guy's got a rare skill set and has a chance to be a great, great runner," Pagano said.
Richardson ran 13 times for 35 yards in last week's 27-7 win at San Francisco. He goes against a less-formidable front Sunday in Jacksonville, which was gouged on the ground by Oakland (226 yards) and Seattle (156 yards).
"It's not very good right now," Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said about his team's run defense. "This is going to be a huge challenge for us. If we want to be any type of team, we have to see vast improvement in that area."
The Jaguars have used more eight-man fronts and single-high safeties in hopes of slowing down opposing running games. But with two new defensive tackles, a new linebacker and as many as three rookies in the secondary, they haven't all been on the same page early in the season.
"We have to be very, very disciplined in how we fit the run," Posluszny said. "If one guy is wrong, there's a crease and that's where the ball goes."
As the Colts try to get Richardson more involved, and the Jaguars try to avoid their third 0-4 start in franchise history, here are five things to keep in mind:
RECEIVER WOES: The Jaguars might have to call up two receivers from the practice squad for Sunday's game. Starter Justin Blackmon is suspended for one more game, backup Mike Brown has a broken bone in his back, and newcomer Stephen Burton is in the concussion program after feeling symptoms Wednesday. Those issues leave Jacksonville with two healthy receivers on the 53-man roster: Cecil Shorts III and rookie Ace Sanders. That could mean a promotion for practice-squad receivers Jeremy Ebert and/or Tobais Palmer.
POWER PLAY: The Colts overwhelmed San Francisco with an inside running game. Can they do it again in Jacksonville?
Bradshaw, who took over the starting job when Vick Ballard was lost with a season-ending knee injury, looked like his old self, then missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a neck injury. The Colts hope he'll be able to play Sunday. If so, he'll probably start again ahead of Richardson, who is still scrambling to learn Indy's playbook. But if both play and defenses creep up to the line of scrimmage, that could open it up for Luck and the deep passing game. Jacksonville's defense was torched for 11 explosive plays at Seattle.
ROOKIE SAFETIES: The Jaguars likely will start two rookies at safety: Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans. Evans, a sixth-round pick from Florida, is filling in for veteran Dwight Lowery (concussion), who missed some practice and was wearing sunglasses in the locker room one day. Evans played significantly at Seattle, but also made crucial mistakes in the 45-17 loss. "It definitely was a learning experience," Evans said. "I was put in the fire, and it definitely made me better. I'm glad it happened early in the season rather than later."
COVER CORNER: The Colts spent last week blanketing San Francisco's receivers the way Pagano wants. But if they need any reminders of how things can go wrong, all they have to do is look at a clip from last year's September game — specifically the 80-yard TD pass from Blaine Gabbert to Shorts with 45 seconds to go. It's one of the few plays from 2012 the Colts would like to have back. They upgraded the secondary through free agency and now get another shot at slowing down Shorts.
MJD SHOW? Maurice Jones-Drew has been at his best against the Colts, running for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 career games. Facing Indy could be the perfect cure for MJD's slump. Jones-Drew hasn't topped 45 yards rushing in three games this season, and he's averaging a paltry 2.6 yards a carry. "It all goes to starting fast," he said. "We just haven't been getting positive gains on first down, so we want to work to do that and continue that going."