Eyes in the Backfield – Titans (road)

18 Things to Watch for in the Colts/Titans Game

Jeff Fisher’s new wrinkle?  An actual wild cat.

Last week, Eyes was right on target as the Colts crushed the Seahawks.  This week the 4-0 Colts head south down I-65 to play the Titans in Nashville.  Games in Tennessee are always tough, so keep your guard up.  This week be sure to watch for:

1.  Watch the records not matter.  The Colts and Titans have played a series of rough and tumble games in recent years, and the meaningful ones always end up close.  Last year’s game was tied heading into the fourth quarter.  The Colts won by just two in Tennessee in 2007.  In 2006, they lost on a 60 yard field goal at the gun and won by just a point in Indy.  No matter what else happens, this game will be a war. 4-0 verses 0-4 has never been so close a call.

2.  Watch for bombs away. The Titans have one of the worst pass defenses in football right now.  They are allowing opposing passers to post a rating of 107.1, 31st in the NFL.  This week they take on the NFL’s leading passer.  Go to it, 18.

3.  Watch the stopwatch.  After endless hand wringing by clowns like me, Charlie Johnson has kept Manning clean through 4 games.  Now he’s hurt, and it seems likely that Tony Ugoh will get a shot to play (if he’s healthy).  If the Titans can exploit the left tackle, Manning’s stunning YPA could take a serious hit.

4.  Watch the ball over the middle.  Alge Crumpler has 13 catches and Bo Scaife has 8.  While it’s not exactly the Frank Wycheck days, passes to the TE are still a big part of the Titans offense.  Brackett’s return to the Colts defense should keep the bail out throws to a minimum.

5.  Watch the gimmick.  As much as I hate to admit it, the more the Colts play, the more it seems like the Wildcat is one of the only ways to successfully attack the Colts.  Few teams in football boast a quarterback as tailor made to play the crazy run heavy scheme as the Titans do in Vince Young.  Young may not be the best QB in football, but he certainly poses certain match up difficulties.  Watch and see how Fisher uses him.

6.  Watch for the return from the dead.  Bob Sanders has started practicing the week of a big division game.  If he’s even close to ready, he’ll play.  The Colts kept him on the active roster for four weeks.  It only makes sense that they were waiting to unleash him for this game.  The Zombie will play; brains will be eaten.  Sanders will force a turnover.

7.  Watch for the boom and the bust.  Chris Johnson is a talented back, there is no question.  Anyone who saw his three long TDs against the Texans will attest. Unfortunately for the Titans, Johnson has had trouble just making it back to the line of scrimmage as well.  His success rate is a putrid 38%, good for just 34th in the NFL.  Johnson may bust some big runs against the Colts, but he’ll get stopped for short gains plenty as well.  That makes it tough on an offense to sustain drives.

8.  Watch the dynamic duo.  Freeney and Mathis were unstoppable last year, both posting huge seasons, and countless game altering plays.  This season has been no different, as they currently stand fourth and fifth in the NFL in sacks.  Leaning largely on thier ability, the Colts are 4th in the NFL in sacks this season.  Everything begins and ends with them.  Last year, the Titans protected the QB better than anyone, and this year they are still in the top 10.  It’ll be hard to get to Collins, but if anyone can do it, it’s Freeney and Mathis.

9.  Watch third down. The Indy defense is allowing a 48% conversion rate on third down, second worst in the NFL.  The Titans offense is converting at a middling 38% clip.  The Colts must get the Titans off the field and prevent a repeat of the Miami game.  That’ll be tough if the starting corners are Lacey and Jennings.

10.  Watch fourth down. There is no tomorrow for the Titans.  They are playing a primetime game in front of a national audience and a stadium full of angry fans.  Luckily for the Titans they have the right head coach for the occasion.  Expect at least 3 fourth down conversion attempts.  Remember that last year’s game came down to two failed fourth down conversion attempts for the Colts.  It’s always close.

11.  Watch the other guy. Caldwell is not Jeff Fisher, and we don’t want him to be.  But he does need to recognize the magnitude of the game.  A well-timed risk might be enough to swing the game in the Colts favor.  Fake punt anyone?  This is Caldwell’s chance to put his stamp on things.

12.  Watch Joe and Don. The Colts are only rushing for 84 yards per came, and yet it feels like a vast improvement over last year.  They have been effective, but far from dominant.  The Haynesworth-less Titans will provide an early-season measuring stick for the running game.  Even with out the big lug in the middle, the Titans have been difficult to run on.  84 effective yards would be a nice accomplishment.

13.  Watch the mistakes. Tennesse has given the football away 11 times, second most in the NFL.  This statistic goes a long way towards explaining the 0-4 start.  The undefeated Colts by comparison have just four giveaways.   It sounds cliche to talk about the turnover battle, but it matters.

14.  Watch the rookie with a country singer’s name. WR Kenny Britt out of Rutgers has been one of the few bright spots for the Titans this season.  He has amassed 17 catches for 271 yards and 14 first downs.  He is the closest thing Tennessee has had to a #1 receiver in several years.  He also plays a mean washboard at the hootenanny.

15.  Watch the pressure. The Tennessee defense has notched 9 sacks on the season, but none from star defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.  After missing much of 2008 with injury, Vanden Bosch desperately needs to find his 2007 Pro Bowl form.

16.  Watch the back up. Lendale White gets about one out of every four carries for the Titans.  Much was made of his weight-loss efforts in the offseason, but they have not paid off thus far.  White is avaraging just 3.6 yards per carry, which pales in comparison to Chris Johnson’s 6.3 ypc.

17.  Watch the clock. It is a well known that Indy ranks near the bottom of the league in average time of possession (27:22).  Tennessee holds the ball for even less time at 26:23, ahead of only Oakland and Buffalo.  What will it mean when they play each other?  We have no idea, but surely this means something, right?  If your screen goes black for approximately 6 minutes, you’ll know that the ball was possessed by a worm hole or other interdimensional force.  I’m not sure if that counts as a turn over.

18.  Watch for the flip.  This was one of four games I had marked as a loss for Indy before the season began.  Sunday night, they flip that L into a W.  It’ll be close, but the Horse prevails 21-17.  Demond likes the Colts to clip the Titans 33-27.

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