AFC South Showdown
Now, Indianapolis may have an even bigger problem on defense.
The Colts will begin a prolonged stretch without safety Bob Sanders - the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year - when they host the AFC South rival Jaguars on Sunday, with Indianapolis looking for its first win at Lucas Oil Stadium and Jacksonville hoping to avoid an 0-3 start.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Colts -5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 70% of bets for this game have been placed on Colts -5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
With four starting offensive linemen injured, the Colts' offense has sputtered this season, as the team with more points than any other since 2003 hasn't reached 20 in either of its first two games.
Indianapolis (1-1) needed a late rally at Minnesota on Sunday to avoid what would have been a shocking 0-2 start, as Peyton Manning led the Colts back from a 15-0 deficit and Adam Vinatieri hit a field goal in the closing seconds to clinch an 18-15 win.
They suffered a big loss during the game, though, as Sanders sprained his ankle and could miss up to six weeks. He may also undergo arthroscopic knee surgery while sidelined.
Even with the two-time Pro Bowler in the lineup, the Colts' run defense had struggled, allowing at least 180 yards in each of its first two games.
"With a guy like Bob, of course, there's going to be some dropoff," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "Maybe you won't see someone make that spectacular play, but you've still got to make plays. When one guy goes down, another guy has to step up, and there have to be 11 guys swarming to the ball."
In addition to the knee injury that kept Manning out of the preseason, Indianapolis has played without Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, right guard Mike Pollak and left guard Ryan Lilja due to injuries, with tight end Dallas Clark and left tackle Tony Ugoh also missing time after getting banged up in the first two weeks.
Saturday and Clark could return this week, but Ugoh likely won't.
The absences have had disastrous results for the running game, as the Colts rank last in the NFL in both rushing yards per game (39.0) and yards per carry (2.3). Coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Joseph Addai has only 64 yards rushing in two games.
"Our running game is - it's hard to call it a running game right now," said Manning, whose 568 passing yards comprise the vast majority of the team's total offense. "We don't have much of that. We have a pretty one-dimensional team."
While the Jaguars' problems running the ball haven't been as bad statistically, they may be more critical given the team is built around the run. Jacksonville (0-2) rushed for nearly 150 yards per game last season, ranking second in the NFL in that category en route to an 11-5 record and a trip to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
With three starting offensive lineman out, the 2008 Jaguars haven't rushed for as many as 150 yards in two games, averaging 65.5 yards on the ground - 28th in the league - in losses to Tennessee and Buffalo.
"Is it perfect right now? No," Jaguars right tackle Tony Pashos said. "But the effort's there and we're going to get it right."
They're hoping to exploit the weakened Indianapolis defense, but Maurice Jones-Drew managed only 17 yards on seven carries in the 20-16 loss to the Bills on Sunday. Fred Taylor didn't do much more, carrying 14 times for 49 yards.
With the passing game missing a top receiver in free agent pickup Jerry Porter (hamstring), quarterback David Garrard hasn't been able to compensate, throwing for 380 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the first two games.
"Losing two games isn't the end of the world," cornerback Drayton Florence said. "Obviously, you don't want to start out 0-2. But the swagger's not gone, the confidence isn't gone, the expectations aren't gone. We've just got to regroup and get this thing turned around before it gets ugly."
Losing a third game could be a problem for the Jaguars, considering only three teams since 1990 have made the playoffs after starting 0-3. Avoiding that fate could prove difficult, as the Colts swept the season series from Jacksonville last season and are 6-1 all-time at home in the series.
The Jaguars nearly pulled off an upset at Indianapolis last season, but lost 28-25 on Dec. 2, as Manning threw four touchdown passes and the defense held off a late Jacksonville charge.
The Colts are hoping to establish a similar home-field advantage at their new stadium, but they didn't have one in the opener, losing 29-13 to Chicago on Sept. 7.
Did you like this article? Subscribe to our NFL news feed for the fastest updates delivered right to you - Click here to Subscribe