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Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: Preview and Pick
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: Preview and Pick
The Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts will meet again in another pivotal AFC South matchup. This is a quick turnaround for these two teams after meeting two weeks ago on a Thursday night special game. The Titans had a huge win to grab a playoff spot with the season coming to a close, but a win against the Colts could make things interesting in the division.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Odds
The opening NFL point spread for this game has the Colts listed as (-4) point favorites. This point spread has moved with early wagering and it can now be found at (-4.5) at many of the respected sports betting outlets. The betting action, however is even as just 52 percent of the action is on the improving Titans.
The Colts are struggling at the start of the games and Andrew Luck is also having problems. Luck was 20-of-39 for 163 yards, the second-lowest yardage total of his career. The Cardinals defense sent added pressure on 12 of Luck's 42 drop backs (29%), their lowest percentage in a game this season. Arizona was able to pressure Luck without committing extra defenders, putting him under duress on a career-high 15 drop backs. Luck found moving the ball difficult against the Cardinals' four-man pass rush.
The Titans offense is starting to click. Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter set career highs in receiving yards Sunday, both topping the 100-yard mark. Hunter stretched the field, catching five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown on throws traveling more than 10 yards downfield. This Titans resurgent play could be a big factor in this big game. If the Colts fail to win this game there could be big problems in Indianapolis.
The latest football betting trends for this game reveal some interesting angles that should not be overlooked. Tennessee is 0-5 straight up in its last 5 games when playing on the road against Indianapolis and the total has gone under in 7 of Tennessee's last 8 games when playing on the road against Indianapolis. From a betting standpoint Tennessee is 1-4 against the spread (ATS) in its last 5 games when playing on the road against Indianapolis. Indianapolis is 9-2 straight up in its last 11 games at home and 9-1 straight up in its last 10 games when playing Tennessee.
Tennessee is 2-5 straight up in its last 7 games overall, while the Titans are 16-7 straight up in its last 23 games overall.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Pick
With plenty of time to go before the start of is big game, I will wait to release my pick on this game until we get closer to game day.
They say, “You are what your record says you are.” At this point, I’m not sure about that when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts.
The pre-bye Colts had a championship flare. Three wins over contenders — San Francisco, Seattle, and the signature performance against the Broncos — had fans thinking, “home-field advantage.” Quarterback Andrew Luck was on fire, the running game looked outstanding, and the defense was playing at a high level, led by stifling press defense in the secondary and the blistering edge rush of Robert Mathis; the unit promised a new way to win in Indy.
Since the bye, the Colts have majored in bad football.
Of the last 12 quarters of ball, they have been dominated in 10. There is no way to sugarcoat it. Being out-scored 93-12 in first half of the last four games means you have been out-prepared, out-played, and got your butt kicked. It’s amazing they won two of those games.
With the exception of the last six minutes at Tennessee, the running game has vanished. With coverage now glued to T.Y. Hilton, there has been no separation in the passing game. The offensive line has been overwhelmed by elite rushers and simple line stunts. Even Luck has begun to show wear from the burden of carrying an average roster on his shoulders.
On defense, the secondary has become a liability, suffering from miscommunications, mismatches, and the inability to compete for the ball. The front seven, with the exception of Mathis and linebacker Jerrell Freeman, has been invisible. The Colt defense has zero depth, when I see backups in the game, I cringe.
The Colts looked to be a lock in the woeful AFC South, but with a stinker in the desert and the Tennessee win in Oakland, the lead has shrunk. A slip by the Colts this week, and the gap closes to one game with a month to go. With the renewed importance of this week’s game, let’s analyze the key issues for Sunday:
- TITANS OFFENSE
Running back Chris Johnson can still be a force. Versus conventional sets, you must spin your safeties down into eight-man fronts. You must not only set the edges, you must fill the off-tackle area fast and firm. The Titans struggle when Johnson is silent.
Though rookie receiver, Justin Hunter, is a deep threat, and Nate Washington is a solid possession guy, the Titans’ passing game is most effective when using hybrid tight end Delanie Walker and all-purpose wide receiver Kendall Wright on the inside — isolating them on linebackers and safeties.
Also, you can expect rubs — where receivers “accidentally” get in the way of defensive backs — and crossing routes to attack man to man coverage. You must mix your man coverages with tight zones. I like to squeeze and match the pass routes within zones, which reduces the quarterbacks throwing windows.
You must get after quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick through either left tackle Michael Roos or right tackle David Stewart. Both guys really struggle with speed and stunts. I would get Mathis isolated on either guy and give him a two-way go and let him work his magic. Do not underestimate Fitzpatrick. He is smart and competitive. He’s better than a backup, but he will play outside his skill set, and can be forced into turnovers.
- COLTS OFFENSE
The Colts must find a way to run it. This may be the time to adjust and get into heavy sets and pound, while getting play action passes to tight end Coby Fleener and Hilton. I would definitely create some loose play for Donald Brown such as speed screens, flips, quick traps, and toss crack plays.
The biggest issue for the Colts will be the Titans’ pressure packages on third down. All “sub” pressures, bluffs, as well as their signature “3-2 dime package,” with more defensive backs on the field, will create mental and physical challenges. The fact that the two best players on the unit are cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty gives the Titans total scheme flexibility.
In these situations, Luck, the offensive line, the running backs and the receivers must be totally in sync. Trent Richardson can be valuable here, because he can sort problems and can take on blitzers.
In the end, the Colts must get their collective act together quickly, or continued bad ball will become their death sentence.
The Indianapolis Colts are a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an early two-score deficit.
The agonizingly slow starts that have haunted the team all month peaked again Sunday with a 27-3 halftime deficit leading to an embarrassing 40-11 loss at Arizona.
Indianapolis has been outscored 93-12 in the first half of its last four games — dating back to Nov. 3 at Houston — and it's lost two of its last three games by a combined 59 points. The two wins in that stretch required comebacks of 18 points against the Texans and 14 against Tennessee, who will face the Colts in a rematch this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium.
So fans can be forgiven if the team's 7-4 record feels closer to 5-6, and if a two-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South currently is of little comfort.
Injuries have hampered the team since a 5-2 start was capped Oct. 20 with a 39-33 victory against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. But it's hard to fathom a fall this dramatic.
And there appear to be no easy answers.
"You can't go to Wal-Mart and buy a pill for this," inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman told the media Monday. "You got to go out there and work and just work towards our goals, and we should be okay."
Defense is a good place to start looking for a cure.
The Colts allowed scores on four of Arizona's six first-half drives Sunday, and a fifth ended with a blocked field goal. That's no way to support an offense that was missing six significant contributors — including four starters.
But the offense can't escape blame, going 0-for-5 on third down in the first half and adding to the woes with an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
"The things that we knew we had to do, we just didn't execute well and get them taken care of," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. "We'll go back to work. We got to put it behind us."
Indianapolis was running the ball well when it was winning games early in the season. Pagano often points to that dropoff as a major area for improvement. But the lack of success in the running game — the Colts gained just 80 yards on the ground Sunday — is more likely a symptom of the team's overall troubles than a cause.
Early deficits have caused Indianapolis to go to the air on nearly every snap. That further exposes a struggling offensive line and puts added pressure on a slumping receiving corps. That, in turn, leads to shorter possessions and more punts and rushes the embattled defense back onto the field.
Nothing happens in the NFL in a vacuum. Everything is connected.
And the Colts are ensnared in a vicious circle.
"The margin for error is small right now," Pagano said.
If things don't improve quickly, the team's playoff outlook will match.
Monday was no day off at the Indianapolis Colts' northwest side complex, a departure from recent weeks. With the Colts situated between a 40-11 blowout loss at Arizona on Sunday and a crucial game with Tennessee upcoming, players were brought in for meetings and to take a look at the ugly truth on videotape.
There was no tough love or harsh criticism, no dramatic shuffling of the lineup or pleas of desperation.
It was the business of football.
"We've just got to get back to playing football, playing better fundamentals and techniques and doing the things we did early in the season, doing the things we did to beat those football teams we beat early in the season, teams like Denver (9-2), Seattle (10-1) and San Fran (6-4, going into a Monday night game at Washington)," coach Chuck Pagano said.
"The Tennessee game is huge. It can't get here, obviously, quick enough. This team is very resilient. You know how this team has responded to adversity. They've been able to bounce back."
The Colts (7-4) haven't lost consecutive games since Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck were brought in last season. Now is not the time.
The Colts lead Tennessee (5-6) by two games in the AFC South. They can claim the division title and its assurance of a home playoff game by beating the Titans on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, then winning any one of their remaining four games.
There are further implications.
Were the playoffs to begin today, the Colts would be the AFC's No. 3 seed and while New England (8-3), the No. 2 seeding and its attendant first-round bye are a plump carrot worth pursuing, maintaining status quo is crucial. The No. 3 seed would mean a wild card meeting with the sixth-seeded and eminently beatable Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium. The No. 4 seed, currently Cincinnati (7-4), would face fifth-seeded Kansas City (9-2).
The Colts hold the No. 3 seed over the Bengals by virtue of the applicable tiebreaker, AFC record. The Colts are 5-2, Cincinnati 5-3 (the teams play on Dec. 8), but the Colts are wobbling.
They have been outscored 93-12 during the first halves of their past four games. They have lost two of the three, to St. Louis and Arizona, by a 78-19 aggregate.
Pagano was concerned but hardly panicked Monday.
He reiterated, emphatically, that effort is not the issue, that execution is. He said the young players, particularly the receivers, forced into action by injuries, will come through because they have to. He said his coaching staff is doing everything possible to get them ready.
"They're working overtime," Pagano said. "We start meetings at 8 o'clock with special teams. The young guys are in here at 7 with the position coaches. They stay after practice. Those guys are putting in hours you normally don't put in with guys. They understand the circumstances we're in right now.
"Between the players and the coaches, they're doing everything. They're exhausting all resources to get them up to speed as fast as they can."
The coach said the approach is the same after tough losses as after big victories. The good and bad are identified and reviewed, mistakes are corrected, then it's on to the next game.
"We stay steady. We stay the course," Pagano said. "We stick to the process."
He said injuries suffered Sunday by cornerback Vontae Davis (groin) and receiver LaVon Brazill (back contusion) aren't expected to sideline them. He said cornerback Greg Toler (groin), who has missed the past four games, and fullback Stanley Havili (concussion), remain day to day.
Almost every one of their significant preseason objectives remain within reach of the Colts, but as Pagano said Sunday, "There's blood in the water right now."
This game has implications for the AFC South standings and the final Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Tennessee has an opportunity to move within one game of Indianapolis for four games to follow.
The Titans are one of six AFC teams with a 5-6 record and currently hold an edge in the tiebreaker process. With road trips to Denver (9-2) and a home contest against Arizona (7-4) following this game, the Titans know the importance of settling a score against the Colts.
Tennessee is 3-2 on the road this season but is yet to win in five games at Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008.
Fitzpatrick has had a passer rating of 109 or higher in his past three games (two starts, one relief appearance for injured Jake Locker), and Johnson had a season-high 150 rushing yards the last time he played on artificial turf in St. Louis (Nov. 3).
The Titans want to do better against the run than they did the first time against the Colts (32 rushes for 137 yards and three TDs), as well as containing TE Coby Fleener, who had eight receptions for 107 yards.
Tennessee is 5-2 when it has an even or positive turnover ratio this season and 0-4 when it has a negative turnover ratio
The NFL has upheld its decision to suspend Michael Griffin for one game for an illegal hit on Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera.
The Tennessee Titans safety appealed against the punishment, which was for his second breach of the league's safety rules this season.
Head coach Mike Munchak told the Titans Tonight radio show: "I'm not sure what we can or can't say about all those things, but this is tough.
"I know the players are still learning how to best, especially at his position, I think safeties, DBs are the ones that are always on the line for questionable hits or having a couple of those throughout the course of a couple of years.
"I think Mike, especially, I think there's a lot of factors. We felt like he'd be able to play this Sunday, and they decided against it."
Rivera, who has 260 receiving yards and two touchdowns so far this season, has been limited in practice with a concussion since the incident.
Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay spoke his mind on twitter Tuesday letting it be known that his team better turn things around quickly and losing the division is not an option.
The Colts have a huge game on Sunday against Tennessee on WISH-TV. The Colts have a two game lead over the Titans in the AFC South.
On Tuesday, Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano told WISH-TV Sports Director Anthony Calhoun that he and his players are determined not to let their boss down.
"Our guys our coaches and our players we know the magnitude of this football game. We know how big it is. We know what it means to this organization and what it means for our football team moving forward and certainty our fans. No bigger game than this game coming up and we always take them one at a time. But it is a huge game it is a division game and it going to be the tale on where we end up at the end of the season so we have to find a way to get the job done," Pagano said.
Since the Indianapolis Colts' 2012 revamp, the Tennessee Titans have figured out Indianapolis. For a half.
The Titans have led the Colts at the half three times. And three times they have blown the lead and lost.
Eleven, 13 and seven point leads at intermission have proven insufficient for the Titans against the Colts.
“We played really well in the first half of that game (two weeks ago),” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We need to find a way to finish. That’s two times in a row, two games I’ve called, where we need to find a way to put them away.
“I thought we moved the ball well in this last one, played pretty decent as an offense. We just need to find a way to score one more time in the third or fourth quarter.”
When the Colts came to Nashville on Nov. 14, they were coming off a 38-8 loss to St. Louis.
As the Titans head to Indianapolis, the Colts are coming off a 40-11 loss at Arizona.
Since Chuck Pagano became coach and Andrew Luck became quarterback, Indianapolis has not lost back-to-back games.
“Right now we’re at a point where we’ve got to go,” Titans safety Bernard Pollard said. “We can’t wait, we can’t compromise anything. We’ve got to play good football week-in and week-out. We don’t have time to let down. We’ve got to go.”
Another blowout loss has Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano searching for answers and owner Jim Irsay issuing a wake-up call.
The Tennessee Titans are hoping to add to those concerns while inching closer to securing their first playoff berth in five years.
The Colts will try to get back on track Sunday with their second victory in four weeks over the visiting Titans, who have lost five in a row in Indianapolis.
Two weeks after its worst home defeat in two decades, 38-8 to St. Louis, Indianapolis (7-4) fell behind 27-3 at the half en route to another humbling 40-11 loss at Arizona on Sunday.
In a series of Twitter posts, Irsay called on the Colts to find a way to win the division title, accentuate the team's strengths, limit the weaknesses and ''get our heads out of r butts-WAKE UP!''
Pagano is trying to make that happen.
''We have to figure out a way, because something's missing, and it certainly isn't our players and their effort and the way they practice and the way that they prepare and the time they put in,'' he said.
Indianapolis has a chance to bounce back and virtually wrap up the AFC South with a victory over second-place Tennessee (5-6), which trails the Colts by two games.
Although they had dropped five of their previous six, the Titans are in control of the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot after a dramatic 23-19 victory over Oakland on Sunday.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has taken over with Jake Locker out for the season, went 30 of 42 for a season-best 320 yards and two touchdowns - including a 10-yard go-ahead strike to Kendall Wright with 10 seconds remaining.
Wright caught six passes for a career-best 103 yards, while rookie Justin Hunter had a breakout performance with six catches for 109. It was Tennessee's first 300-yard passing game with two 100-yard receivers since 2004.
After connecting on 71.8 percent of his attempts for 806 yards with five touchdowns and no picks in his last three games, Fitzpatrick is looking to keep the Titans ahead of the five other 5-6 teams in the muddled AFC playoff chase.
''Hopefully we'll capture some of the momentum we have ... and use that to catapult us through the rest of the season,'' Fitzpatrick said.
Tennessee can make a big statement against the Colts, who haven't dropped back-to-back contests in their last 26 regular-season games. The Titans, however, have lost 17 of 21 in this series, including nine of 10 in Indianapolis.
They'll have to end their five-game skid without two-time Pro Bowl safety Michael Griffin after he lost his appeal of a one-game suspension for a hit on Oakland tight end Mychal Rivera on Sunday.
Tennessee will try to get off to another strong start against a Indianapolis team that's been outscored 93-12 in the first half over its last four games. The Titans jumped ahead 17-3 on the visiting Colts on Nov. 14 but failed to hold on in a 30-27 loss.
Andrew Luck went 23 of 36 for 232 yards with a touchdown run in that contest, but threw for 163 yards - the second-lowest total of his two NFL seasons - against the Cardinals. He's tossed two touchdowns and four interceptions in his last three games after throwing for 13 scores with three picks over his first eight.
Donald Brown has totaled 321 yards and averaged 7.3 per carry with three touchdowns in his last three games against the Titans, but was limited to two rushes for one yard against Arizona.
Indianapolis' Trent Richardson has totaled 59 yards on 2.1 per carry over the last four games.
Tennessee's Chris Johnson ran in a pair of first-quarter scores and finished with 86 yards on 5.1 per carry in the first meeting. Johnson, however, has run for 59.5 yards per game in his last six meetings with the Colts, who have the 27th-ranked run defense in the league at 125.5 yards per game.
After limiting opponents to 15.8 points per game and 32.3 percent on third-down conversions during a 4-1 start, the Colts have allowed teams to score 30.2 and convert on 45.2 percent of third downs while splitting its last six.
Fitzpatrick was at his best on third down against the Raiders, completing 10 of 14 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns as Tennessee converted 10 of 18 third-down tries.
Ask Mike Munchak or his Titans players about their biggest victory during the Munchak era and you get at least a brief pause before the response.
That’s not to say there haven’t been any gratifying wins over the past three seasons. But in terms of a really significant victory — a signature victory — it’s hard to put your finger on one.
“We haven’t had too many meaningful games,” defensive end Derrick Morgan said. “I mean, every game is meaningful, but with playoff implications and things like that? We haven’t really had the opportunities.”
The Titans (5-6) have a chance to record a memorable victory Sunday against the AFC South-leading Colts (7-4). While the Colts aren’t playing their best football — losses in two of their last three games by lopsided scores — a victory would be meaningful for the Titans:
• It would be a win against a team that has their number. The Colts are 17-4 against the Titans since 2003 — 3-0 since coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck arrived.
• It would allow the Titans to remain in the thick of a crowded wildcard race and to move within one game of the division lead.
• It would be a divisional win for a team that is 4-11 against the rest of the AFC South under Munchak.
• It would mark the first time the Titans have won three straight road games under Munchak.
So say what you will about Munchak highlights — beating the Ravens for his first win, recording back-to-back victories over the Steelers, edging the Chargers in a last-second finish — a victory today would almost certainly be the most impressive of his tenure.
“There’s a lot on it,” Munchak said. “I think these guys are excited about it. I think we feel good about our chances there and how we match up.”