Eyes in the Backfield: Titans

12 Things to Watch for in Sunday's Colts-Titans Game

Look, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought it would be funny somehow, but it's creepy as hell.

I know it. You know it. Let's not make a thing out of it, ok? Thanks. And yes, I still suck at photoshop all these years later. Again, let's move on.

Last week Andrew Luck did the impossible and brought his team back from the brink of defeat. This week, the Colts have a chance to win their ninth game of the year. Here's what to watch for as they take on the Titans.

1. Watch for jealousy. The Titans and Colts both feature young quarterbacks. The Andrew Luck-Jake Locker matchup could well end up defining the next 10 years of the AFC South. Locker could end up being a very good player, but there's no question that Luck has already zipped right past him. Indy and Tennessee have something of a dormant rivalry and these two young players could help revive it. Good thing for the Colts, the Titans and their fans would probably swap signal callers in a heart beat.

2. Watch the new emphasis. Jared Cook had four catches in 15 targets against the Texans. After months of complaining about Chris Palmer's offense, Cook was the primary focal point once Palmer was deposed. Indy is last in the NFL at defending tight ends, so how they handle Cook and how effective Jake Locker is at hitting him will go a long way toward determining who wins.

3. Watch for turnovers. The Colts are on pace to break the NFL record for fewest forced turnovers in a season. The Titans have turned it over 13 times in their last four games. Something has to give. If the Colts can't pry the ball loose from Tennessee, they will likely end up holding a dubious record.

4. Watch for the fab freshmen. Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen have had outstanding rookie campaigns which is a major reason the Colts can even sniff the playoffs. Hilton and Allen are approaching team rookie receiving records while Luck already bested Peyton Manning's record of most 300 yard games. What's absolutely frightening is that Luck is also on track to shatter Cam Newton's rookie passing record by nearly 700 yards. Look for the combo of Luck and either Hilton or Allen to make a big dent in the Titans defense.

5. Watch the empty catches. Kendall Wright leads NFL rookies in receptions, but is averaging less than 10 yards a catch. His DVOA is near the bottom of the league. A lot of that is just how the Titans use him, but if I'm picking an all-rookie team, I'll take T.Y. Hilton over Wright all day. Hilton has more yards, touchdowns and a much better YPR.

6. Watch the maroon zone. It's been a problem all year for the Colts, but once the field constricts, the vertical nature of the offense loses it's bite. Indy is among the best teams in the league at moving the ball, but scores at a mediocre rate. Part of the issue is their inability to run ball. It affects them more as the field compresses. With Delone Carter getting extra carries this week, keep an eye on the tough yards near the goal line.

7. Watch for humility. Andrew Luck has essentially willed this team back into many games after being gifted a chance by some miraculous special teams and defensive plays. Last week he played poorly, very poorly until it counted. After the game he swallowed his pride and thanked his teammates for giving him one more chance. That kind of humility has made this his team. They trust the kid when the chips are down and it's paid off in spades. If this is a close one, and I think it will be, this team truly believes Luck is going to take care of business.

8. Watch for the spirit of Tony Dungy. This isn't Tony Dungy's team, it's Chuck Pagano's team but still you see the echoes of what Dungy built. Interim head coach Bruce Arians specifically said the words, "Next man up," in his post-game conference. You see this team making no excuses, giving no explanations but instead setting expectations and executing. They are short on talent and big on heart–something Dungy made a career of in both Tampa and Indianapolis. As this team approaches an unlikely postseason appearance they appear to be strongly grounded in a way of which Coach Dungy would be and likely is proud.

9. Watch for what could have been. Stop and think about how close Peyton Manning was to going to the Titans. Can you even imagine it? The Colts would likely be 7-5. The Titans would be somewhere close to 10-2. Manning in two-tone blue coming back to the Luke. It makes me shudder. As much as people made fun of Bud Adams' mad dash to secure the services of Manning, can you really blame him? That move alone would have made the Titans instant contenders.

10. Watch for a really funny joke. So two Titans walked into a bar, and uh, ouch. It's insanely hard to come up with jokes about Nashville or the Titans. As Zach Law said, the Titans are "the most boring team in the NFL". Yes, Bud Adams is amusing, but when Jeff Fisher left town, most of my fodder for jokes left with him. I mean you try and tell a laugher about Mike Munchak (Munchak? I hardly know her?). The best I can come up with is a weak Little Shop of Horrors reference, but that would feel slightly racist toward Eastern Europeans (Is that a thing? Can you be racist toward Eastern Europeans specifically?)

11. Watch for the home crowd. Earlier this year there was talk of possible blackouts. No one should doubt the fans in Indianapolis nor this team after this remarkable season. With shades of 1995 when a seriously understaffed Colts team came within one play of the Super Bowl, this team resonates with fans in a way that is visceral. It was easy to root for Peyton Manning but Jim Harbaugh or his scrappy rookie protege? Hoosiers like underdogs, the working man, those that earn everything. They loved Jim Harbaugh for his mettle and drive, the same characteristics that Andrew Luck has used to will this team to the brink of the playoffs. This team of unknowns, rookies and castoffs has become one of my favorites of all-time and from the way the crowd supports them it appears I'm not alone. The crowd and their love for this team will make a difference in this one.

12. Watch for more happy Sundays than sad. The Colts will win Sunday and secure their 17th winning season since coming to Indianapolis. Throw in a pair of 8-8s along the way and that's 19 seasons of 28 that the home town team left us happy at least as often as sad. That's special. Colts 20 Titans 14.

Eyes in the Backfield is a collaboration of Todd Smith, Kyle Rodriguez and Nate Dunlevy.

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Eyes in the Backfield-Titans

12 Things to Watch for in Sunday’s Colts-Titans Game

I’ll give a prize to anyone who can guess why this picture is up. Requires multiple jumps of logic. Answer in the comments. It ties back to the game in the most random of ways.

 

Last week, the Colts pulled even on the year with a win over the Browns. This Sunday, they face yet another critical road test in the Tennessee Titans. A win and even the most hardened cynic will admit the Colts are legit (or at least what passes for legit in the AFC). Here’s what to watch for:

1. Watch for the leap. About halfway through his rookie year, Peyton Manning traveled to San Francisco and suddenly, it all clicked. The Colts ultimately lost on some awful officiating, but Manning blew everyone away with his first big game. From that point on, he was a different player. The Colts need that kind of performance out of Andrew Luck on the road. Luck needs to have his first hyper-effiecent game as a pro, and the ridicuosly porus Titans’ secondary is as good a target as any for it happen. If Indy receivers can’t get open on Tennessee, they can’t get open on anyone. Sunday’s the day. It’s time go all Scott Bakula on their asses.

2. Watch for the gamers. A few weeks ago, I openly questioned Dwight Freeney’s motivation. I fully renounce those comments. Freeney isn’t playing particuarly well, but he is gutting it out and clearly giving everything he has. With the news that Don Brown is back at practice, you get the feeling like these Colts are desperate to play and to prove the world wrong. A team with Brown, Redding, Freeney, Angerer and Mathis back is better than one without them. They all may be slowed and hobbled, but if they can get out there they will. It’s a very cool time to be a Colts fan.

3. Watch for Reggie Wayne. The Titans’ defense is 31st in the league against #1 receivers, giving up 43.5% DVOA to them this season. Reggie Wayne has been “held” to five and six catches during the past two weeks, and has a big game coming. If Luck keys in on him like he has been, we could be looking at a double digit catch, 125+ yards kind of game. 

4.Watch for the big play. Remember the Colts’ last game against the Titans? Donald Brown does. The Titans’ run defense is 24th in run defense DVOA this season, one spot ahead of Cleveland, who the Colts’ ran over surprisingly easily last week. If Donald Brown plays this week (he was a full participant on Thursday), he could see some daylight for the first time all year. 

5. Watch for aggression. Something about the way Bruce Arians coached last week made me feel like he got the message about staying agressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chuck Pagano told him to be brave and coach balls-out. You get the sense that the entire Indy organization is hungry and they think they can steal something special. Arians spit the bit against the Jets, but did a better job against the Browns. Let’s see if he can keep it up for consecutive games.

6. Watch for the battle of the rookie stone hands. T.Y. Hilton has arguably been one of the top rookie receivers so far this season, having the third most catches and third most yards among rookies. The top rookie wide out in those categories? Tennessee’s Kendall Wright, RG3′s teammate at Baylor last season. Both rookie WRs have been essentially the third WR, and both are small, fast receivers who have the potential to be dangerous. Both players also have hands made of concrete. Hilton has three drops on the season, and Wright has five, albeit on more targets.

7. Watch for the anti-MoJo. Chris Johnson has never plagued the Colts the way Maurice Jones-Drew has. He has only two 100 yards games against Indy, and the Titans lost both of them. It curious that he has never taken advantage of the soft Indy run defense, but I always wondered if it was because his was more of a speed game than a power one. The conservative Indy defense kept him from getting the big ‘boom’ carries that his game is built on. That D is gone, and the Indy run D takes more chances. If the Colts stop Johnson, the win the game. The worry is if they are capable of stopping him.

8. Watch for the twin birds. Titans owner Bud Adams, who will be 90 in January, once celebrated a win over the Bills by giving the crowd not one but both middle fingers. Dementia? It’s possible considering his passionate desire to chase Jeff Fisher out of town and his love for Vince Young. While he’s captained a middling franchise in Tennessee since departing Houston it seems he’s content in being one of the more colorful sideshows in the league. With a win may get a chance to see him do something you’ve never seen an 89 year old man do before.

9. Watch for curse of Linkenbach. The Colts have run behind the left side of the line almost exclusively for the last three weeks. We’ve also seen more designed rollouts and quick drops in order to get the ball out of Luck’s hands in a more timely fashion. Suffice it to say all of this is due to the horrific play on display by the right side of the offensive line. Like any good opponent, the Titans will find that sore spot when it’s most important and key on it. In this case that’s third down, especially long third downs.

10. Watch for geritol. Matt Hasselbeck is the Titans’ 54-year old rookie quarterback. Hasselbeck is so old that Wilford Brimley turned him down for a spot in the Cocoon. Hasselbeck is so old he gets a joke about Cocoon. Hasselbeck is so old he knows who Wilford Brimley is. Weeden, oops I mean Hasselbeck, is so old…just keep reading, this could go on for a while…when he played high school ball, they called the huddle echuta matogo, which means circle of palaver in caveman speak. Hasselbeck is so old that he’s bad at football. Hasselbeck is so old that he’s still polite and consciencous enough to keep reading the same jokes I wrote last week, even though I pretty much just copied it straight from that piece. The fact is that while it was a joke with Weeden, it’s very nearly the truth with Hasselbeck. He doesn’t throw a great deep ball (unlike Weeden), but will be steady and accurate. His goal is to keep the Indy D on the field all afternoon.

11. Watch for the oopsies. The Colts haven’t been a particularly good team recently when it comes to protecting the ball. While uncharacteristic of Dungy-esque teams this new era has some work to do when it comes to ball safety. This game could hinge on turnovers. If recent trends continue there’s no hope for the boys in blue. Yeah, powder blue doesn’t qualify. Anyway, the Titans defense is among the worst in the league but as we saw last week against the Jets turnovers make a bad defense look much better.

12. Watch for a step back. Remember that Jets game a few weeks ago? The one where a mediocre quarterback just spent the whole day handing off, and the Colts couldn’t stop it? Yeah, you know the one. Well, welcome to part two. The Indy defense isn’t very good, and there’s no reason to think they’ll slow the Titans down at all.  Tennessee 38 Colts 21.

Eyes in the Backfield-Titans

6 Things to Watch For During Sunday’s Colts Titans Game

Tread carefully, Jake.

Last week, Dan Orlovsky returned to earth and the Colts were waxed by the Ravens. This week division rivals the Tennessee Titans come to town. With only three chances left to win a game, can the Colts pull it off? Here’s what to watch for this week.

1. Watch a truer test. Dan Orlvosky’s first game was against the awful Patriots defense. His second game was against the amazing Ravens defense. The Titans have the 13th best defense by DVOA and are 22nd against the pass. Neither great nor horrible, the Titans should prove a reasonable yard stick against which to measure the true capability of Dan Orlvosky. Tennessee is actually very good against the run, so the Colts will need Orlvosky to complete passes and mount drives. We also know how Curtis Painter played against them, so we should finally have a good point of comparison between the two QBs. 

 

2. Watch what could have been. There were rumors that the Colts had tried to land Matt Hasselbeck before the season, but the Titans offered him money and playing time that the Colts couldn’t match. He has been very average for the Titans, and that’s exactly what the Colts could have used. He has a DVOA around 9% and a passer rating hovering around 80. He hasn’t been good, but he hasn’t been bad either.  He’s a bit gimpy this week, so if the Colts could knock him from the game, they might have a chance.

3. Watch the talk. Jim Caldwell WILL get fired if the Colts go 0-16! Shocking news. Jim Caldwell will get fired if the Colts go 3-13 too. If he doesn’t there will be a full scale riot among season ticket holders. The fact is that the Colts will HAVE to make moves no matter what. The most likely name is Jeff Fisher, and the most likely time to talk about him will be during this game. I don’t know if he’s the best possible hire, but of the names I’ve heard bandied about, he strikes me as the best fit.

4. Watch the future take a beating. If Jake Locker does see the field, he should be running for his life. He’s already taken four sacks in 54 drop backs, and Freeney and Mathis will be bearing down on him. Locker hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time, and has been a mixed bag despite some decent raw stats. He’s the future of the Titans, however, and it will be fun to watch him play if pressed into duty.

5. Watch my last game of the year. I won’t be at the Houston game next Thursday, so this is my final chance to see a win in 2011. As the losses pile up, it gets harder and harder to to endure. Sunday’s are just better when the Colts win, and I could really use one. It’s been since 2007 since I’ve been to a Colts win live. The last win I was at was a 38-15 stomping of the Texans. Seriously.  I need a win.

6. Watch for an end to the misery. If Jake Locker gets any significant playing time, I expect the Colts to win, mostly on the strength of a forced fumble or two by Freeney or Mathis. If Hasselbeck plays the whole game, the Titans might come out on top, but I’ll call it 14-13 for the Colts.

Eyes in the Backfield-Titans

7 Things to Watch for in Sunday’s Colts/Titans Game

I think Indy has an outside chance this week. Is this where I am?

Last week, well let’s pretend last week never happened, shall we? This week the Colts face a winnable game against the Titans who also got spanked last week, only at home and to a slightly worse team than the one who best the Colts. Here’s what to watch for:

1. Watch for random stats that have no direct bearing on the game but interest me, so I want to bring them up here. From 2000-2009, there have been 57 players taken from picks 27-32 in the NFL draft. 14 of them became Pro Bowlers. 1/4 players picked in the bottom 5-6 picks of the first round went to the Pro Bowl. The Colts have drafted after pick 27 SEVEN TIMES in that span (eight if you count 2010). They drafted two Pro Bowlers (Wayne and Addai). That’s 29% Pro Bowlers in the first round, just above league average. Note that twice, they didn’t pick at all in the first round, and went 1/2 (Sanders and Ugoh). Now PLEASE can we stop talking about how ‘bad’ the Colts drafts have been? It’s like people never bother to look at what kind of talent is actually there. By the way, from 2007-2009, no pick from 27-32 has made a Pro Bowl. None. Oh, and no one in the first 5 picks of the second round has either. Yes, no one picked from 27-37 has made a Pro Bowl since 2006.

 

2. Watch for the back who can’t run verses the defense who can’t tackle. Chris Johnson has been a mess, looking like a shell of his former self. The Colts run defense has collapsed since Nevis and Foster went down. Johnson has been going out of his way to avoid contact, which could be good for him this week, as the Colts defenders also frequently avoid contact. This game could be like watching a set of magnets with their poles reversed. Just fields bouncing off of each other.

3. Watch what could have been. Matt Hasselbeck has played well for the Titans, and rumor has it that the Colts wanted him. Perhaps had Hasselbeck signed in Indy, the Colts would be 2-5 right now! His passer rating of 87.7 is respectable, but I don’t think it can be sustained. Still, it’s a little better than Painter’s, as his his sack rate. He’s thrown 6 picks though, and there might be a lot more coming. Painter’s rating was never going to stay high as it was inflated by a few bombs to Garcon. It’s hard to stay in the 90s while barely completing 50% of your passes.

4. Watch for damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If this team starts to win, people will rip the team for not being better prepared at the start to deal with the loss of Manning. If they keep losing, the angst will get out of control. I feel like I shot my wad before the season with my analysis of the 2011 Colts. The minute Peyton went down, I crashed into a massive depression, because this mess is what I knew was coming. I suffered a season’s worth of losses in one afternoon. There’s not much to say at this point. We just have to ride it out. It’ll be better next year.

5. Watch for the return of ‘Who to Root For!‘ Everyone’s favorite piece is back starting tomorrow. Even I’m stoked. I’m rooting for the Colts every week. It’s bad karma not to, right? But that won’t stop me from rooting for the ‘Fins and Rams to win some games too. I’m now officially a fan of every bad NFL team. That means you Jacksonville! I’m on the bandwagon. Glitter up and jump on the tarp because the Jags bandwagon is rolling out of the station!

6. Watch for the cushion. Polian said the players were giving too much cushion this week. I don’t buy it. After this long, if the players don’t know where to line up, that’s still the coaches fault. Either all the DBs are morons, or someone has failed to teach them how to play the world’s easiest defensive scheme. Either way, it’s a coaching issue. I expect the Colts to play up on the Titans a little more this week, if only as a point to show fans what ensues when Indy DBs play TOO close.

7. Watch for a familiar story. I think this game will be close going into the fourth quarter. Then I think Painter will fumble, throw a pick, trip, or something. Titans win 27-17 after a return for a score. In other words, just play a tape of weeks 2-6.

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