Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck drops back to pass during a game against the New England Patriots on October 4, 2018. Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo
The New York Jets picked up a much-needed victory last weekend by ending a three-game losing streak.
The Indianapolis Colts hope to do the same this week, needing a victory to halt a three-game slide and keep them from falling further away from postseason contention when they visit the Jets on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
Indianapolis (1-4) has stumbled out of the gate and is sitting at the bottom of the AFC South, but it is only two games behind division co-leaders Tennessee and Jacksonville. So there is a sense of urgency surrounding the Colts, whose only victory was a 21-9 win at Washington in Week 2.
"It will be a big week," said Colts head coach Frank Reich, who wore a "got juice" shirt to his media briefing on Wednesday. "We're back on the road again, up against a very versatile offense that had a quite impressive game last week (34-16 over Denver), and a really good defense. We'll have our hands full, but we're really looking forward to the challenge."
While the Colts were absorbing a 38-24 beating at the New England Patriots last weekend, the Jets (2-3) halted their skid with the win over visiting Denver, relying on a quick-strike offense that featured a pair of long touchdown passes from rookie Sam Darnold and a long scoring run from Isaiah Crowell.
The intriguing subplot in the game revolves around Darnold. In March, the Jets made a blockbuster move with the Colts to move up three spots in the draft, allowing them to take Darnold with the No. 3 overall selection.
Although Darnold had three touchdown passes, including scoring strikes of 76 and 35 yards to Robby Anderson in last week's win, he finished just 10 of 22 for 198 yards and tossed his sixth interception of the season.
Still, Reich noted that there is plenty to like about the young signal-caller out of USC.
"First and foremost, one of the first observations is he just looks like the real deal," Reich told reporters. "I love his body language. I like the energy I see from him on the field. He just looks like he belongs. It's funny, you see certain quarterbacks, they just have a look and feel to them on the field, and I think you see that in Sam."
Jets head coach Todd Bowles is pleased with the progression of Darnold, despite the fact that he has failed to throw for 200 yards in four of his five starts.
"He's been very positive," said Bowles. "He understands that he's close and we're close as a team and they keep grinding at it. That's what you like about him; he keeps working. He doesn't look at the good and the bad, he looks at the progress and knowing everybody is close and making sure everybody is on the same page."
Darnold will be matched up against former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, who missed the entire 2017 season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Luck said his shoulder has felt "better and better" as the season progresses, even though he's on pace to set a NFL record for passes attempted.
Because the Colts have continually played from behind and rank 29th in rushing offense, the offensive burden has been placed squarely on Luck, who has attempted a record 121 passes in the past two games, the most ever in a five-day span and second overall for two games in league history.
Luck again is expected to be without two of his Pro Bowl pass catchers in wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring/chest) and tight end Jack Doyle (hip). Luck's offensive line will be pressed into starting a fifth different combination in six games due to injuries that have impacted three spots.
"Certainly it's not ideal," Luck said. "I'm not going to say it's the perfect situation, but it is the situation that we're in so we'll roll with it.
"They've got a really strong spine on the defense. Their interior rushers are really special. They've got guys in the secondary who can cover. They've got athletic linebackers that can go field to field. We need to be sharper."
Darnold, meanwhile, has the luxury of a strong running game that Luck is missing. Crowell was held to zero yards on four carries at Jacksonville in Week 4, but he rumbled for 219 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries last week.
Crowell ranks third in the NFL with 390 rushing yards and is one of only two players with more than 350 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Bilal Powell has 264 yards rushing for the Jets, who face an Indianapolis defense that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.