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.