Kyle Mason is unavailable for this week's Weekly Matchup Preview, so I'll be filling in for him. This is the eighth of 16 articles that he will post throughout the season, previewing the Colts' upcoming matchup. Each week, KM attempts to analyze some strengths and weaknesses of both teams, a few areas to focus on, and a couple of key individual matchups. Overview: The last time the Colts saw the Titans, we were wrapping up a season that ended with a four game win streak to barely capture the division crown, thanks to a slew of injuries and a mid-season slide. Ironically enough, a Kerry Collins fumble cost the Titans a shot to win the game, no more than two plays after Dominic Rhodes had fumbled as the Colts were running out the clock for an Adam Vinatieri game winner. Captain Clutch came through again with a time expiring FG and the Colts won 23-20. This time around, we are in "kill us now" mode as we continue our struggle to win a single game. How lovely. For the Titans, this is a huge, must-win divisional game that they desperately need to stay alive in the AFC South. After the Texans smashed Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans' D for a 41-7 victory last week, all could slip away with another Titans' loss. Will we grab the keys to ignite our first win while putting a kink on the Titans' season? Or will we continue our downward spiral of suck and head to 0-8? Tennessee Titans Strengths:
- Matt Hasselbeck - This is could be a strength or a weakness, depending on which version of Hasselbeck shows up. The September form of Hasselbeck was impressing everyone and looked to be a steal from the crazy off-season, cruising along with 5 TDs, 2 INTs, and a 2-1 record for the Titans. The story has changed in October. Hasselbeck has managed five more TDs, but doubled his INTs, and the Titans have lost two in a row by large margins, with a bye week in the middle. If Septembeck (like that?) shows up, Nate Washington and promising TE Jared Cook could get involved early against our horrendous secondary, which could get out of hand fast.
- 3rd down Conversions - Much like last week, and pretty much every week before, the Colts continue to have trouble getting off the field on 3rd down. The Titans are 11th on 3rd down. Eek.
- Pass Defense - The Titans are also 15th in pass defense, which could be doubted as a strength, but still good enough for middle of the pack in a pass-heavy NFL. It could be a challenge for Painter to move the ball if we fall behind and the offense becomes one dimensional.
- Pass Protection - Tennessee has only given up 9 sacks on the entire year and 22 QB hits, which puts them at 3rd best in the NFL for both categories. If Matt Hasselbeck has all day to throw the ball against this Colts secondary, things will get seriously ugly.
- 3rd down Defense - Yes, the Colts have the worst defense in the league on 3rd down, but the Titans have the second worst. Despite consistently struggling on offense via third down, this matchup is our golden ticket to get back on track. Whatever that means.
- Points Per Game. Once again, even though we may be 0-7, we have a decent amount in common with the 4-3 Titans. They are only averaging 18.7 PPG, which puts them at 25th in the league. We must create turnovers or roughly 18 points will be enough to hold off our 15.9 PPG average. Sad.
- Rush Offense - The Titans are the worst in the league, sitting at a 3 YPC average and 62 YPG. I'm not sure what went wrong with Chris Johnson this year (must be all of his money troubles…), but the Titans are awful at running the ball in every aspect. Thankfully, this has surprisingly been the strength of our defense all year. Our secondary's ability to somehow aptly execute the "bend don't break" philosophy, will be a major factor in getting a win on Sunday.
- Playmakers - With Johnson going full vegetable this season, the Titans are incredibly low on explosive players that can take control of a game. Without Hasselbeck, I'm not sure how this team has but 1 or 2 wins this season. Kenny Britt was lost for the year and Nate Washington has stepped into the #1 WR spot. If Terrell Owens were to sign with the Titans before Sunday, the Colts secondary could be the resuscitation his "one foot in the coffin" career needs.
Indianapolis Colts Strengths:
- Rush Offense - We need to feed Delone Carter and Donald Brown the ball (Addai obviously still isn't healthy). The Colts are currently 12th in the league on the ground with a 4.3 YPC average. Quite impressive considering how insanely disappointing this season has been. The "ground and pound" method needs to be applied thoroughly on Sunday. If we get a lead, this is the only way we are going to hold on. Time of possession is the key to keeping our awful secondary off the field, as much as possible. If the Titans get a lead, it's over.
- Offensive Line Play - The ability of the running game to be effective, despite never really getting a chance to have actual value, is a clear testament to the progression of an o-line that has absolutely no continuity whatsoever. This week the o-line gets even more new faces, with Jim Caldwell confirming that Mike Pollak will be out, along with Ryan Diem for the second straight week. This means that the o-line will now consist of LT Jeff Linkenbach, LG Mike Tepper, C Jeff Saturday, RG Seth Olsen, and RT Quinn Ojinnaka for Sunday. Jamie Richard and Michael Toudouze will serve as back-ups. With Tepper and Olsen making their first starts, they both will need to step up in a big way.
- Pierre Garcon - The aggressive play call to open the Saints game was awesome. If Painter makes that deep throw, we walk away with a huge TD and the offense gets the ball rolling immediately. Garcon is without a doubt, the most explosive guy on this team. If Garcon can have another big day and build a lead for the Colts, the run game could very well do the rest of the work. Once again, time of possession is kind of a big deal…
- Defensive Turnovers - The Colts haven't had a defensive turnover in four straight games, which set a new record for the franchise. The secondary is a huge liability, but Coyer's inability to create a pass rush for the fifth straight week could prove to be deadly. We must capitalize on turnover opportunities (missed three possible attempts last week). Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the Titans have only allowed 9 sacks on the season.
- Total Offense - The offense has been incredibly mediocre, to say the least. Even with Painter turning it on in a couple games, the Colts are still 30th in total offense per game (27th in passing and 25th in rushing) and 29th in PPG. Not many teams can find a way to win when their offense is that ineffective.
- 3rd down Defense - Getting off the field on 3rd down seems to be an ongoing joke with this team. The defense is currently the worst in the league, giving up a 50% conversion rate on 3rd down. With the lack of a pass rush and our UFL secondary, this is the measurable between failure and epic failure.
- Secondary - The 10-yard cushion on 3rd down is inexcusable. Unless Larry Coyer plans on losing his job with dignity, don't expect to see this change on Sunday. Kevin Thomas is the flavor of the month and with this being his second week in action, we should get a chance to see what the kid's really got. The defense has pretty much conceded the end zone in hopes that teams will shoot themselves in the foot. Expect Cook to have a big day if this remains true.
What to Watch For:
- Turnovers – "It's been a common theme in this series, but winning the turnover battle is once again the Colts' best chance to remain competitive." KM pointed this out last week. Correction: Winning the turnover battle is the ONLY chance for the Colts' to remain competitive.
- Titans Offensive Line vs. Colts Front Seven - I'm confident that the Colts can take advantage of Johnson's "Music City Blues" and contain the run. However, it's time to see something from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. No more stunt garbage totally making Mathis ineffective, Coyer. You need to find some other way to bring the pressure or Hasselbeck will have all day to find open receivers.
- Colts Rushing Attack - After a great display of heart and talent from Carter last week, we can only hope for more of the same in Nashville. Carter and Brown (assuming Addai isn't ready) will take on a Titans' run defense that is 24th in the league.
- Matt Hasselbeck vs. Colts Secondary - I fully expect Hasselbeck to return to his September form and have his way with the Colts secondary. If the soft zones continue and Hasselbeck is given the time to find Cook within the red zone and Johnson on check downs, they will both shred the defense. Basically in the same way that Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles did last week. Washington isn't Britt, but he should fine plenty of ways to make life hell for the Colts. Even though the Titans are 25th in the league in PPG, the Colts have given up 225 points in SEVEN games. That should be all a weak Titans offense needs.
- Player's Will – After a defeat like last week and with everyone now pointing the fingers of blame in multiple directions, we will see what Jim Caldwell and his "staff" are really made of. Can they take this team on the road, again, and find a way to win their first game of the year? Their feet are to the fire and who knows how much time they have left. How will they respond? How will the players respond? Do these players still have faith in their coaches? We're about to find out.
Final Thoughts: After last week, if we don't lose by 55 points, I'll be a happy man. This team has been drug through the mud, week in and week out, while enjoying some very competitive games along the way. Even with all of these stats and traits of this team being exposed over and over, it simply all comes down to execution of a real game plan and the coaching staff's ability to make the most of their opportunities. They haven't managed to do these things all year, so why would it change now? The life has essentially been sucked out of this team in every possible way. While I believe that the Colts are very capable of winning ball games, they must still pull themselves up from the floor and rebound after suffering the eighth largest loss in NFL history. That's not going to be easy. With that said, I don't expect our first win this week. However, I do think that they rebound from the devastation in New Orleans with a real NFL effort, but still come up short in the 4th. If we do somehow pull off our first win of what has been a disastrous season and spoil the Titans' playoff hopes, the shots are on me! 21 and over only, of course. Sorry, Danny. Go Colts!