Hitchhiker’s Guide to Colts vs Titans, NFL Week 14

The Indianapolis Colts (8-4) responded to their first comeback victory of the season with one of their most disappointing performances of the year. Now, coming off of their amazing last-second victory over the Detroit Lions, they'll look to buck that trend, get a win over division rival Tennessee, and put 1 foot and 4 toes in the playoff door.

Will they be able to ride their home crowd to overcome a letdown and their own inconsistent play to run their win total to 9? Or will the Titans be able to exact revenge for their week 8 loss? After the jump, we'll look at the key stats, match-ups and injuries that will determine the outcome of this week's game in your Hitchhiker's Guide to the Colts vs. the Titans.

Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Titans measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.  

 

Indianapolis Colts

   

Tennessee Titans

 
  Offense Defense   Offense Defense
Passing 5th (19th) 19th (31st)   19th(28th) 26th(29th)
Rushing 18th (15th) 20th (30th)   19th(22nd) 27th(23rd)
Total 3rd (17th) 21st (31st)   23rd(27th) 27th(27th)

   

When the Colts have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Offense Tennessee Titans Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 91 DE D. Morgan
80 TE C. Fleener 94 DT S. Marks
74 LT A. Castonzo 99 DT J. Casey
76 LG J. Reitz 95 DE K. Wimbley
64  C S. Satele 56 OLB A. Ayers
75 RG M. McGlynn 52 MLB C. McCarthy
69 RT W. Justice 55 OLB Z. Brown
83 TE D. Allen 30 CB J. McCourty
11 WR D. Avery 26 SS J. Babineaux
12 QB A. Luck 33 FS M. Griffin
33 RB V. Ballard 20 CB A. Verner

When these two teams met in week 8, the Colts offense did Colts offense things: they moved the ball well, amassing 457 total yards, they gave up a lot of pressure (Luck was pressured on 44.4% of drop backs), and they kicked some field goals. If the Colts are going to win on Sunday, the key concept will be "finishing drives", making those hard earned yards result in points.

The first way the Colts will try to do that is by attacking the Titans vertically. In their week 8 match-up, Andrew Luck's longest completed pass was 22 yards. Since then, he's not gone a game with a long pass of shorter than 40 yards. Look for Luck to attack the Titans weak secondary deep down the middle with burners Donnie Avery and TY Hilton.

On the 5 plays he's not throwing bombs – ok, ok, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, 6 plays! – watch how Luck uses TEs Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. In that week 8 match-up – the game Fleener injured his shoulder – the Colts would occasionally split Fleener out wide, matching him up one-on-one with a linebacker. Look for them to go back to this tactic as a way to spread the Titans out and to get Fleener more involved. As for Allen, his size, speed, and hands have been a revelation, look for Luck to utilize him in the underneath game, allowing him to punish defenders and make something happen after the catch.

Finally, look for Reggie Wayne to play a big part in the passing game. I know, I know, I'm really going out on a limb with that one! While Wayne's targets have gone down in recent weeks as the youngsters have grown up and matured in the offense, he still remains Luck's best, most reliable target, and should be able to have success against this secondary. In week 8, Wayne successfully worked both the boundaries and the middle of the field, by abusing the Titans safeties with precise route running – his smooth double moves had S Michael Griffin twisting himself into the ground on a couple of occasions – look for him to do the same on Sunday.

When they aren't throwing, the Colts will be handing off to rookie RB Vick Ballard. With RB Donald Brown shelved with an ankle injury, Ballard will be forced to carry the load this week, a job he's shown he's capable of. While his season numbers aren't eye-popping impressive – he's carried the ball 127 times for 468 yards – he has grown considerably since his first few starts, and has shown flashes of the kind of patience, quickness, and toughness he'll need to a reliable NFL running back.

And while he won't be dazzling, the Colts shouldn't need him to be: get the yards that are there, prevent the negative plays as much as possible, and allow the offense to do a majority of their damage through the air. If the Colts can execute that game plan, they should be able to score more than enough points to earn their 9th win of the season.

When the Titans have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Defense Tennessee Titans Offense
90 DE C. Redding 85 WR N. Washington
99 NT A. Johnson 89 TE J. Cook
91 DE R. Matthews 71 LT M. Roos
98 OLB R. Mathis 76 LG S. Hutchinson
53 ILB K. Conner 61 OC F. Velasco
50 ILB J. Freeman 72 RG D. Lutui
93 OLB D. Freeney 66 RT M. Otto
32 CB C. Vaughn 88 TE C. Stevens
35 FS J. Lefeged 18 WR K. Britt
41 SS A. Bethea 10 QB J. Locker
20 CB D. Butler 28 RB C. Johnson

While the Colts offense remains more-or-less the same since the week 8 match-up, the Titans offense has undergone a minor face lift. Sure, their main weapons – WRs Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, TE Jared Cook, and RB Chris Johnson – remain the same, but little else remains the same: QB Jake Locker has replaced Matt Hasselbeck, and as many as 4 OL – including starters Steve Hutchinson, Dave Stewart, and Michael Roos will either miss Sunday's game or play banged up.

Given the change from Hasselbeck to Locker, let's start with the Titans running game, first. RB Chris Johnson has rebounded from an abysmal 21-game stretch (2011, and the first 5 games of 2012) to become a very high priced average running back! The story on Johnson is the same, so I'll be brief: maintain your gaps, don't give him free yards via the cutback, and hit him early, often, and hard. The Colts D has played well against the run recently, I expect that to continue this week.

Now, as for the pass: it's hard to tell. Who is Jake Locker? According to my brief research, the answer may surprise you! Here's a blind comparison, first:

Quarterback A: 120 of 212 (56.6%) for 1473 yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs, 11 sacks, 77.0 qbrating.  24th in QBR. 28th in DVOA.

Quarterback B: 138 of 221 (62.4%) for 1367 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs, 14 sacks, 81.0 qbrating. 25th in QBR. 23rd in DVOA.

Two fine specimens of a quarterback, if you ask me! Alright, enough with the suspense. Quarterback A is Jake Locker. Quarterback B is… <drum roll>… Matt Hasselbeck!

So in my brief research (of a very small sample size), I've concluded that Jake Locker is in fact a shorter, heavier, younger, more-hairy version of Matt Hasselbeck. Congrats, Titans fans!

With that out of the way, look for the Titans to utilize the same game plan on Sunday that they did in week 8: exploiting the Colts secondary on the short and intermediate routes. To that point, Hasselbeck completed 22 of 29 passes (75.9%) for only 236 yards. While Locker isn't as accurate as Hasselbeck, the shorter routes should mitigate any major accuracy issues plaguing the QB.

There are two pieces of good news for the Colts. First, both OLBs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis seem as healthy and as dangerous as they've been all year, and they should be able to take advantage of a banged-up Titans OL to harass Locker into some mistakes. Second, while CB Cassius Vaughn is still a thing, CB Vontae Davis returned from injury last week, and played decent – yes, he got burnt by Calvin Johnson, I'm convinced that play isn't his fault – and should provide some resistance against that short passing game with his size and tackling ability.

The biggest key to the Colts defensive success may come down to their coaching staff. While they haven't been pretty statistically, I've been really impressed with the Colts defense from a schematic standpoint: they've used multiple fronts and coverages to disguise and confuse QBs. We saw this fluster Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick two weeks ago, and force Lions QB Matthew Stafford into an interception this past week.

Locker is a young guy, Colts DC Greg Manusky should be able to get in his head and come up with a few disguises that cause Locker to throw into bad coverage. If the Colts can take advantage of those mistakes, it will go a long way towards helping secure a "W" and bring the Colts one step closer to the playoffs.

Key Match-ups

I've got to be honest with you, everyone in my house has pneumonia, so writing isn't the easiest thing at the moment. Let me sum up:

1. Win the Battle of the Lines – While this sounds cliched, "WIN THE WAR IN THE TRENCHES!", it holds true in this case. The Colts nearly lost this match-up the first time around for two reasons: 1) their inability to finish drives on offense and 2) their inability to pressure QB Matt Hasselbeck.

On offense, the entire OL struggled, but none more than LT Anthony Castonzo, who had his worst game of the year, giving up a sack and numerous pressures. The task won't get any easier this week, as the Colts could be missing both LG Joe Reitz and RT Winston Justice who were concussed against the Lions. Whoever is out there, they need to be able to handle the speed of the Titans DL in order to give Luck the time he needs to attack the Titans down field. Despite their respective records, advanced stats show that the Titans and Colts are equally matched. The Colts biggest advantage is under center. They simply cannot allow the Titans DL to neutralize that advantage.

On defense, there is reason to believe the Colts will have more success pressuring the Titans QB this time around. First, we've mentioned that the Titans OL is banged up. While the Colts lack a dynamic pass rusher on the DL, they should be able to take advantage of a unit dealing with this many injuries. Second, and more important, the Colts were without Mathis in the previous match-up. He's obviously a difference maker, recording a sack in all but one of his games this year, and will likely have his chances to increase his season totals.

Not only will the Colts have Mathis for this game, but Dwight Freeney was a shadow of his former self in that week 8 match-up. While Freeney has not yet returned to the form he's shown in previous seasons, he has been successful at getting pressure the past 4 weeks. With Freeney and Mathis both healthy, and with Manusky dialing up his beautiful coverage disguises, there's a chance the Colts do the unthinkable, the impossible, the monumental… and get a turnover or two.

The injury reports

NOTE: This guide comes out Thursdays, official injury statuses are not released until Friday, the Probable or Questionable designation in these reports is based on Wed/Thur participation only.

Indianapolis Colts

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
RB Donald Brown ANKLE (OUT)
S Tom Zbikowski KNEE (OUT)
LG Joe Reitz CONCUSSION (QUESTIONABLE)
RT Winston Justice CONCUSSION (QUESTIONABLE)
OLB Dwight Freeney REST (PROBABLE)
DE Cory Redding ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
QB Andrew Luck KNEE (PROBABLE)

Tennessee Titans


Player Name Injury (STATUS)
The Titans Have not yet
Released their Wednesday Participation
Report. Thanks, Titans!


 

Series notes

  • The Colts and Titans have squared off 35 times – including this years 19-13 OT Colts victory – with the Colts holding a 22-13 edge.
  • Andrew Luck was 26 of 38 (68.4%) for 297 yards 1 TD and 1 INT in his first game against the Titans
  • Reggie Wayne has faced the Titans 21 times in his career, amassing 97 catches for 1299 yards and 8 TDs in those games.
  • TY Hilton had 5 catches for 35 yards in the week 8 match-up against the Titans.
  • Vick Ballard had 15 carries for 55 yards and 1 catch for a game-winning TD against the Titans in week 8.
  • Dwayne Allen had 4 catches for 54 yards in week 8.
  • OLBs Dwight Freeney (13.0) and Robert Mathis (6.0) have combined for 19 sacks against the Titans in their careers.
  • Titans QB Jake Locker is 11/16 (68.8%) for 108 yards and 1 TD in 1 game against the Colts.
  • WR Kenny Britt has 17 catches for 222 yards and 2 TDs in 5 games against the Colts.
  • WR Nate Washington has 30 catches for 362 yards and 2 TDs in 8 career games against Indy.
  • RB Chris Johnson has faced the Colts 8 times in his career, and has carried the ball 147 times for 562 yards (3.82) and 2 TDs, and has added 39 catches for 264 yards and a score.
  • TE Jared Cook has 25 catches for 282 yards and 0 TDs in 6 career games against the Colts.

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually): CBS

Who(Visually): Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts

Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM

Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford 

Is the Game on in your area? Good question! The people at The506 will be able to tell you.

Officiating Crew:  Pete Morelli

Prediction

Colts – 23, Titans – 21

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