NFL: Jaguars will put no-sack streak to test

TIM BATH | CNHI SPORTS INDIANAIndianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett fumbles the ball during a sack by Jacksonville's Yannick Ngakoue on Oct. 22, 2017, at Lucas Oil Stadium. Brissett was sacked 10 times, the most surrendered by Indianapolis since 1980.

INDIANAPOLIS — The sign greeted arrivals at the Jacksonville airport last December during the week leading up to the Colts' annual visit.

It proudly read "Welcome to Sacksonville" and prominently featured a photo of Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett in a Jaguars defender's grasp — a colorful reminder of the 10 sacks Jacksonville recorded a little less than two months earlier at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Jaguars' 27-0 victory was one of the low points of the Chuck Pagano era and a game not easily forgotten.

Brissett shook his head Monday as he sat in front of his locker at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center and recalled the beating he absorbed.

"It shows you what they're capable of," he said of a Jacksonville team that reached the AFC Championship Game last year. "Not just their (front) seven, the whole defense, when they're playing in sync. We've gotta look for that to come. They're coming off a bye just like we're coming off a bye, and that's how they're gonna play this game. We'll be a fool if we think they'll play any other way."

The Jaguars have struggled to rediscover their form of a year ago.

But, as Brissett noted, the Colts aren't counting on that to continue.

Both teams enter Sunday's game at 3-5, two-and-a-half games behind division-leading Houston in the AFC South. So both need a victory to retain realistic hope of chasing down the Texans in the season's second half.

For Indianapolis, the key will be continuing a remarkable streak on the offensive line.

The Colts haven't surrendered a sack in three consecutive games, and quarterback Andrew Luck has attempted 156 straight passes without a sack -- by far the longest stretch of his career.

It's helped the offense average 34.2 points over the past five games, and it's critical to success against a Jacksonville defensive front that might be the best in the NFL.

"This protection, this sackless streak that we're on here, it's really gonna be put to the test this week," Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said. "This (Jaguars) team can get after the passer. So it'll be a good challenge for us."

For all its struggles during a four-game losing streak, Jacksonville still is tied for the league lead with an average of 190 passing yards allowed per game.

The defensive line anchored by Calais Campbell remains star-studded and is capable of taking over any game.

It represents a chance to make a statement for a Colts offensive line that is on the rise.

"The way our group feels is every week is a statement week," said injured right guard Matt Slauson, who is now serving as an unofficial assistant coach. "We have to play well as an O-line to have a shot, and these guys have put that on their back, and they embrace that. Because if the O-line's playing well, then it makes it way easier for Andrew to play well, and if he's playing well, the guys on the outside are playing well. But it all starts with the guys up front, and they've been really doing well with that task."

There's plenty of reasons for the current sackless streak. Reich's offense emphasizes shorter routes and quick-hitting plays. Luck has been playing well within the scheme and getting rid of the ball quickly. And second-year speedster Marlon Mack has gone over the 100-yard rushing mark in consecutive weeks, marking a first for the franchise since 2007 and leading the way for back-to-back 200-yard rushing games as a team.

But the most important factor might be confidence.

New offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo inherited a group low on self esteem. He recognized there was talent in the room, but the players had to believe in themselves.

Eight weeks into the season, that appears to be coming together.

As it prepares for its biggest test to date, the offensive line is enjoying its new-found success.

"It's just been a hell of a lot of fun," center Ryan Kelly said. "I think we've all really done it. We've all just taken a step back. We can control this team and how far we go. We kind of dug ourselves a hole there in the beginning, but I think we're going in the right direction."


Right tackle Braden Smith participated in Monday's morning walkthrough but was held out of the full practice. He wore a wrap on his left hand and watched drills from the side. The Colts aren't required to publish an injury report until Wednesday. ... Safety Clayton Geathers and running back Robert Turbin returned to practice after missing the win at Oakland prior to the bye week. ... Offensive lineman Joe Haeg is moving closer to a potential return from injured reserve. He is eligible to begin practice next week and did some work with trainers away from the practice field Monday. ... Rookie defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis is entering his second week of practice since coming off IR. Indianapolis has until Nov. 14 to activate Lewis to the 53-man roster, but there is at least a slight possibility he could be available for Sunday's game. "We'll monitor it real closely," Reich said. "We're real happy with the progress that he's been making, and we'll monitor it closely this week."

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