Colts at Titans – Week 8 Game Preview

The Indianapolis Colts (0-7) suffered the most embarrassing loss in their Indianapolis history on Sunday night: a 62-7 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. They will have to put that loss behind them quickly as they prepare to take on a Tennessee Titans (3-3) team that is also coming off of an embarrassing loss: a 41-7 defeat to the Houston Texans on their home soil. Will the Colts be able to overcome their embarrassment and the questions about whether they have given up on the season and earn their first victory of the season, or will the Titans hand them their eighth-consecutive loss and propel themselves back into the race for the division title?

 

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 27th (24th) 23rd (32nd) 12th (7th) 15th (27th)
Rushing 25th (17th) 30th (30th) 32nd (32nd) 24th (12th)
Total 30th (22nd) 30th (32nd) 24th (9th) 16th (23rd)

 

When the Colts have the ball

 

Indianapolis Colts Offense Tennessee Titans Defense
87 WR R. Wayne DE 98 D. Ball
44 TE D. Clark DT 93 S. Smith
72 LT J. Linkenbach DT 99 J. Casey
73 LG S. Olsen DE 91 J. Jones
63 C J. Saturday WLB 56 A. Ayers
67 RG M. Tepper MLB 55 B. Ruud
69 RT Q. Ojinnaka SAM 92 W. Witherspoon
17 WR A. Collie CB 30 J. McCourty
85 WR P. Garcon SS 24 C. Hope
7 QB C. Painter FS 33 M. Griffin
34 RB D. Carter CB 31 C. Finnegan

 


The Colts seventh game of the season appeared to be a mirror image of their first game of the season – a perfect storm of circumstances, turnovers and unforced errors that led to a blowout in which no player delivered a solid performance. Scheme, game plan, and match ups are great, but in the end it all boils down to execution. Penalties, turnovers, missed assignments, and dropped passes will kill any offense. The Colts must get back to basics if they hope to get back into the win column any time soon.

Aside from the fundamentals, the Titans field an average-at-best defense that should afford the Colts plenty of opportunities to move the ball. They appear to be especially vulnerable through the air where their lack of pass rush – they are tied with the Colts for 26th in the league with 11 sacks on the season – has allowed opposing quarterbacks a quarterback rating of 89.9, including a 65% completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

If the Colts offensive line, which consists entirely of 2nd- and 3rd-stringers at the guard and tackle positions, can give QB Curtis Painter time to throw, Painter should have little trouble finding an open receiver. Look for him to focus his attention on two targets: WR Pierre Garcon, his big play threat that has gone cold in recent weeks and TE Dallas Clark who, despite his importance to the offense, was not targeted once on Sunday night. The Colts offense was more successful when it focused around stretching the field deep with Garcon and then worked the worked the slot receivers underneath, and it will have to get back to that philosophy if it hopes to lead the Colts to a win on Sunday.

On the ground the Colts may find room to run the ball – the Titans defense is around league average at stopping the run – but that will depend on the performance of backup offensive linemen Seth Olsen, Mike Tepper, and Quinn Ojinnaka. Through 7 weeks, the Colts have been able to consistently run the ball on opposing defenses despite a rash of injuries on the offensive line. That ability will be tested with the insertion of the 3rd-string players at both guard positions. If the line can continue to open holes, RBs Delone Carter and Donald Brown have both shown the ability to make quick decisions and then hit the hole hard, as they work towards alleviating the team’s – and its fans’ – concerns of a post-Addai backfield.

If the Colts can get back to basics – protect the ball, catch the ball, and execute your assignment (and consider using the no huddle as a change of pace, not the norm) – they have a chance to be successful against the Titans on Sunday. If they continue to stumble over themselves – failing to sustain drives and giving opposing offenses short fields – they will not be successful against any team this year.

When the Titans have the ball

 

Indianapolis Colts Defense Tennessee Titans Offense
93 DE D. Freeney 85 WR N. Washington
99 DT A. Johnson 88 TE C. Stevens
95 DT F. Moala 71 LT M. Roos
98 DE R. Mathis 64 LG L. Harris
53 WLB K. Conner 54  C E. Amano
51 MLB P. Angerer 73 RG J. Scott
50 SLB P. Wheeler 76 RT D. Stewart
25 CB J. Powers 17 WR D. Williams
30 SS D. Caldwell 8  QB M. Hasselbeck
41 FS A. Bethea 45 FB A. Hall
27 CB J. Lacey 28 RB C. Johnson

 


The Colts defense has been bad by any measure: they rank in the bottom-3 of every statistical category in both raw/conventional and advanced statistics. If there is a silver lining this week it is that the Titans afford the Colts the exact match up that the Colts defense has found its most success against – an offense that lacks balance and struggles to move the ball both on the ground and in the air.

In the case of the Titans it is, surprisingly, the run game that has struggled thus far. Led by overpaid “superstar” Chris Johnson, the Titans rank dead last in the league in rushing. While Johnson and his supporters blame the play calling, scheme, and blocking on the running game’s lack of success, most experts and team observers have noted a change in Johnson’s once-tenacious running style: he’s flinching, not hitting the hole as hard, and attempting to avoid contact at the expense of extra yardage. Not exactly a recipe for success.

In the air, part-time quarterback/full-time hair club for men client Matt Hasselbeck has improved the once anemic Titans passing game – up to 12th in 2011 from 25th in 2010 – despite the lack of stud WR/law breaker Kenny Britt. In Britt’s absence, the Titans lack a true dynamic play maker that is able to stretch defenses and force defenses to shift extra attention to a specific player, instead forcing the Titans and Hasselbeck to rely on a shorter passing game that involves many possession-type receivers.

Through 7 games, the Colts Cover-2 defense has failed at its basic, simple element: keep the play in front of you and make quick tackles. Against the Titans, the Colts defenders may find their best chance to get back to their roots. And if they cannot contain this passing attack, if they continue to allow every 5-yard slant to go for 15-or-more yards, then defensive coordinator Larry Coyer should be forced to walk home from Nashville as the team flies back to Indianapolis at 0-8.

One key match up

1. The Colts players vs. An 0-7 record and 55-point loss – Normally this spot would be filled with several match-ups key to the Colts ability to win on Sunday. This week, however, there is only one key question for the Colts: which team will show up? Will it be the team that was praised for its toughness, resilience, and ability to keep games close despite the obstacles stacked against them? Or will it be the team that looked out-coached, out-matched, and out-classed on Sunday night?

In many ways this will be the game that defines Caldwell’s tenure as the Colts head coach. Yes, for the man that won 24 regular season games in two seasons and took his team to a Super Bowl, his legacy may be defined by a game in season where his team is 0-7. If he can rally the Colts and have them ready to play their best on Sunday – prove that he has not lost the room – it will likely save his job for the remainder of the 2011 season, and perhaps beyond.

If, however, the Colts come out flat and are blown out by an average-at-best Titans team, then Caldwell may find himself out of a job as early as the Colts’ Bye Week in Week 11. To this point Jim Irsay and Bill Polian have remained loyal and supportive of Caldwell, but if it becomes evident that the players are no longer prepared to play their best for him they will have no choice but to install an interim coach for the remainder of the season.

The veteran leaders in the Colts locker room have made it clear that they intend to fight for every inch of field until the last whistle of the last game of the season. They made it clear that to “Suck for Luck” would be an insult to themselves, their team, and their fans. On Sunday, their actions will speak louder than their words of desire to win or their declarations of support for their coach.

The injury reports

Indianapolis Colts

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Peyton Manning NECK (OUT)
Anthony Castanzo ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
Joe Reitz KNEE (OUT)
Dwight Freeney REST (PROBABLE)
AJ Edds CONCUSSION (QUESTIONABLE)
Kavell Conner FOOT (QUESTIONABLE)
Drake Nevis BACK (QUESTIONABLE)
Brody Eldridge KNEE (PROBABLE)
Antoine Bethea REST (PROBABLE)
Joseph Addai HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)
Mike Pollak HAMSTRING (DOUBTFUL)
Anthony Gonzalez GROIN (PROBABLE)
Pat McAfee REST (PROBABLE)
Pat Angerer KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)
Ryan Diem HAMSTRING (DOUBTFUL)

Tennessee Titans

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
DE William Hayes BACK (QUESTIONABLE)
S Chris Hope FOREARM (QUESTIONABLE)
LB Colin McCarthy HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)
TE Craig Stevens RIB (QUESTIONABLE)
QB Matt Hasselbeck THUMB (PROBABLE)

 

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually):  CBS
Who(Visually):  Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots.  It takes a Solomon Wilcots to make me long for Dan Dierdorf.
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.

Series notes

  • The Colts lead the all-time series 20-13-0 including an 8-6-0 record at Tennessee
  • Curtis Painter has never faced the Tennessee Titans. Did you know? Curtis Painter is the only Painter to every play quarterback in the NFL!
  • Reggie Wayne has played against the Tennessee Football Oilers 18 times in his career. In those 18 games he’s amassed 82 catches for 1114 yards and 7 touchdowns.
  • Pierre Garcon has caught 23 passes for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns in 6 career games vs. the Titans. He’s also the only waiter in NFL history.
  • Dallas Clark has 45 catches for 491 yards and 3 scores in 10 career games against Tennessee. He is not the only city to play in the NFL.
  • Joseph Addai has faced the Titans 8 times. He’s run 100 times for 380 yards (3.8ypc) and 4 TDs. He’s also caught 21 passes for 165 yards and 1 TD. Your random fact of the day: Addai’s full name is Joseph Kwahu Duah Addai Jr.
  • Donald Brown has run for 69 yards on 24 careers (2.88ypc) and caught 5 passes for 37 yards in 3 career games against the Titans. He has never scored against the Titans. Brown is the only player in NFL history to have his name illegally changed to an expletive by his quarterback.
  • Delone Carter has never faced the Titans. He should be benched for his failures.
  • Dwight Freeney has faced the Titans 11 times in his career. In those 11 games he has recorded 13 sacks.
  • Robert Mathis has 5 sacks in 8 career games against Tennessee.
  • These series notes are longer against divisional opponents.
  • The Tennessee Titans lost at home by 34 lost week against the Houston Texans. They go into this game as 9.5-point favorites against the Colts.
  • Matt Hasselbeck has faced the Colts only once in his career. He completed 17 of 21 passes for 168 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs. The Colts were resting their starters that game, and the Seahawks took advantage of this to get Shaun Alexander the total-TD-in-a-season record. I’m not bitter, but I lost a lot of respect for a franchise that no one cares about.
  • Matt Hasselbeck is winless in his career against male-pattern baldness. This is probably karmic justice for the aforementioned game. Or genetics. I’m going with karma.
  • Chris Johnson has 97 carries for 374 yards (3.86 ypc) and 2 touchdowns in 5 games against the Colts. Think those numbers are bad? You should see his wonderlic scores.
  • Nate Washington has faced the Colts 5 times in his career. He has 14 catches for 197 yards and 0 TDs in those 5 games.
  • Titans CB Cortland Finnegan is 0-1 in his Pro-Boxing career, losing by YouGotKTFO to Texans WR Andre Johnson.

Prediction

Does anyone really know? This isn’t rhetorical! Does anyone have a *&%ing clue?! If so, give me a call, please.
Wait, I’m contractually obligated to provide a prediction? Seriously? We’re 0-7 and just lost by 55 points on national TV. My prediction is alcohol poisoning. It has to involve a score? Is 151 a score? No? Sigh.

Titans – 31, Colts – 17

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