Colts showcase same offensive issues with Nick Foles at QB: AFC South analysis

The Colts’ hope was that Nick Foles could provide a spark. That he could push the ball downfield, putting vertical stress on opposing defenses, something Matt Ryan couldn’t do in two stints as the starting quarterback.

But in Foles’ first start as a signal caller, it was more of the same for Indianapolis and its terrible offense, which squandered another strong defensive performance.

Foles completed just 58.6 percent of his passes (17-of-29) for 143 yards and three interceptions in the Colts’ 20-3 loss on Monday Night Football to the Chargers, who clinched a playoff berth with the victory

Foles’ efforts to create explosive plays backfired in Indianapolis. He was 0-for-4, including an interception, on passes of 20-plus yards through the air, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also 4-for-6 for 57 yards and two interceptions on throws between 15 and 20 yards through the air, per PFF. The struggles in the deep and intermediate passing game were a combination of poor decisions and Foles’ lack of reps with the Colts’ first-team pass catchers. The veteran quarterback didn’t get any plays with Indianapolis’ starting offense until last week.

Foles didn’t get much of a chance in the pocket either, with the Colts’ pass protection collapsing quickly as it has all season. He was sacked a career-high seven times and struck out nine times overall. Indianapolis, which has now lost five straight under interim coach Jeff Saturday, didn’t convert a single quarter (0-for-10) for the second time this season.

“I don’t think we ever really got into a rhythm as an offense,” Foles said Monday. “I think the points are showing.”

He said Saturday that Foles will be the Colts’ quarterback for the final two games of the season. Maybe he looks better to finish 2022 with more time with the first team pass catchers, maybe not. But it doesn’t make sense in the grand scheme of the franchise, which will be back in the quarterback hunt in 2023. And will have a chance to get one in the draft. The Colts are currently slated to have the No. 5 overall pick.

For now, they just need this miserable season to end.

Other thoughts from around the AFC South:

JJ Watt made his presence felt with jeans on, off the field

Cardinals defensive end JJ Watt announced Tuesday that he will retire from the NFL after this season. His legacy as a first-ballot Hall of Famer was cemented with the Texans, with whom he played his first decade in the league. Recorded 101 sacks (including two 20-sack seasons), 282 quarterback hits and 172 tackles for loss with Houston from 2011-2020.

One of only three players in NFL history to win Defensive Player of the Year three times, he will go down as one of the greatest defensive players of all time.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who coached in Houston as linebackers coach (2014-16) and defensive coordinator (2017), said Watt would be dedicated to the team’s defense. He recalled a time when the Texans played the Bills. Throughout the week leading up to the game, the Houston team tried to figure out how to defend one particular aspect. And when they settled on a plan, Watt came into the game and did something unexpected.

“JJ, on the play, intercepted the ball and ran it back 75 yards (for a touchdown),” Vrabel said Tuesday. “We were just laughing like, ‘Yeah, I guess we spent too much time worrying. If we knew he was only going to intercept it for a touchdown, we wouldn’t have spent so much time in coverage.” That pretty much sums up who JJ was.”

Watt has been just as impactful off the field. He won the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in part because of his fundraising efforts to help the city of Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey.

jaguars hit the trenches again

One game after losing left tackle Cam Robinson, the Jaguars have picked up a big man in the trenches on the opposite side of the ball.

Standout defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot, who is tied for a team-high five sacks and is second with 12 quarterback hits, suffered a torn Achilles in the Dec. 22 win over the Jets. He and Robinson, who suffered a meniscus injury in Week 15 against the Cowboys, were placed on season-ending injured reserve Saturday.

Through Week 14, Jacksonville is tied for second with eight takeaways. A big reason why? His ability to get after the quarterback. In that span, the Jaguars are also second in the NFL in rushing rate (36.9%), according to Next Gen Stats. Smoot has played an integral role in this.

Let’s see how that affects Jacksonville down the stretch, with their Week 18 matchup coming off a win-win against Tennessee. Aside from the rise of Trevor Lawrence, the generation of turnovers has played a critical role in the Jaguars’ three-game winning streak.

It should titans rest starters against the Cowboys?

In the Titans’ race for a playoff spot, their Thursday night game against the Cowboys is meaningless. Their only path to the postseason is to beat the Jaguars in the regular season finale, which would also give them a third straight division title.

With that in mind, some have thought Tennessee should just rest key guys. After all, he’s been through injury hell. The team has been forced to use 82 different players this season, after using 91 last year, which set an NFL record for a season without a strike.

The Titans players have made it clear they aren’t thinking that way. Star safety Kevin Byard said the team needs to win this week. Catcher Robert Woods said the Dallas game presents an opportunity for the team to work on itself and the details.

“I want to win every game, whether it’s important or not,” defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said. “Every time we step on this field, our goal is to win games. We’re not going to be shy. We’re not going to be afraid of anybody.”

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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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