A pair of teams looking to stay on the fringes of the AFC playoff race will square off Sunday afternoon when the Jets host the Colts.
The Jets snapped a three-game losing streak last Sunday when they improved to 2-3 by beating the visiting Denver Broncos, 34-16. The Colts last played Oct. 4, when they fell to 1-4 with a 38-24 loss to the host New England Patriots. New York and Indianapolis are two of six sub-.500 teams in the AFC.
Darnold, the youngest starting quarterback in NFL history at age 21, tossed a season-high three touchdown passes against the Broncos but did so on just 22 attempts, one more than the career-low 21 attempts he had against the Detroit Lions in the season opener.
Darnold's effectiveness was as much about maximizing big plays -- he tossed touchdowns of 76 and 35 yards to Robby Anderson as well as a 20-yard touchdown to Terrelle Pryor Sr. -- as it was the Jets setting him up with a dominant running game.
Isaiah Crowell set a franchise record by rushing for 219 yards -- 77 of which came on a second-quarter touchdown run -- as the Jets racked up 323 yards on the ground, just 10 short of the team record.
"We got the running game going, then we were able to take some shots and suck them up a little bit," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said.
The Colts are emphasizing a short passing game with Luck, who missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury. While Luck is averaging 9.1 yards per completion, which is more than three yards lower than his average in 2016, he is leading the NFL in both pass attempts (245) and completions (163) and averaging a career-high 298.2 yards per game.
Of course, if Luck is passing so much, that means the Colts aren't running the ball. Indianapolis ranks last in the NFL with 20.2 rushing attempts per game. Leading rusher Jordan Wilkins has 44 fewer yards all season than Crowell did on Sunday.
Frank Reich, the rookie head coach and former NFL quarterback, knows better than anyone that Luck's effectiveness will wane if the Colts can't develop a running game.
"Early on in the season we can get away with it because there's always the threat of the run," Reich said. "But once you get further into the season and you are one of those teams that's been determined 'These guys can't run the ball,' then, as the season goes on, they pay less and less respect and the play-action pass isn't as effective and it just snowballs."
The Colts will need to get their running game untracked Sunday, when two of Luck's targets, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) and tight end Jack Doyle (hip), are expected to be sidelined again.
Crowell (ankle) was one of seven Jets who did not practice Wednesday, though he is expected to play Sunday. Cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson (quadriceps) and Buster Skrine (concussion) could miss the game.
The Colts lead the all-time regular-season series, 41-28. Indianapolis won the most recent meeting between the teams on Dec. 5, 2016, when Luck was 22-of-28 with four touchdowns in a 41-10 win over the host Jets.
(With inputs from agencies.)