After getting smacked around on their own field, the Indianapolis Colts head south to face a familiar foe. The Colts face their longtime division rival, the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football (which is still a thing for some reason).
The Colts (6-3) have a two game lead over the Titans (4-5) for control of the AFC South. A win tonight would effectively lock up the division for Indy.
Titans QB Jake Locker is done for the season with the dreaded lisfranc foot injury. That means Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center for the home team. Without Locker, the Titans don’t really have a chance of rallying late in the season and push for the playoffs.
Fitzpatrick was forced to start two games earlier this season, and the Titans lost both games (against Kansas City and Seattle). This past week, the hapless Jaguars earned their first win of the season by playing an inspired game against the Titans. Fitzpatrick was solid in the second half of that game and nearly brought the team back in the final minute (save for a failed onside kick).
Here’s what we’ll be watching for this week:
- The Bounce Back. Andrew Luck had a terrible game last week. Passes sailed on him, he was inaccurate, and when he tried to compensate, he threw interceptions. The good news is that he wasn’t the only one to leave a turd on the field. It was just the fourth truly terrible game of his young career (and the worst one this season by far). He will turn it around and have a big game this week. Why? Because he has to. The short week works in the teams favor as they will be able to forget about last week’s stinker and get back on the field.
- Run vs Pass? The Titans are better at stopping the pass than they are against the run. The Titans have a solid defensive line and a good secondary, but their linebacking corps is well below average. DT Jurrell Casey is going to be a problem for the Colts as he has been a beast at DT all season. Lining up across from anyone on the interior of the Colts line makes me nervous. He needs to be double teamed every play. If the Colts can get a handle on the Titans defensive line at the point of attack, the running backs will have room to run for more than a yard. It’s a big “if” but Trent “Three at a Time” Richardson is so overdue for a big game that he’s paying late fees.
- Coby Fleener needs to be a featured player this week. With the Titans’ linebackers being a weakness, it means that Fleener will have room to get open. Luck should look to him early and hope he brought his slowly improving hands with him to Nashville.
- Stop Chris Johnson. With Fitzpatrick at QB, the Titans will likely want to lean on the run game more heavily. Johnson isn’t the same player since he got paid (imagine that?), but he is still a home run threat. He’s had just one really good game all season, and most have been below average. He’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry but advance stats say he’s not very effective. He’s the 24th most effective RB in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. With all that said, the Colts still need to limit his opportunities. He’s a very boom-bust back, and if the Colts get him down early, he will give up. Call him the Tin Man, because he has no heart.
- Fast Start. The Colts HAVE to stop with these slow starts. It is impossible to keep coming back on an opponent when you can’t score in the first half. Forget anything resembling the typical game plan, its not working. The Colts have to go with what is most effective and not try to impose their will on the Titans. What wins games? Points, and the Colts need to do whatever works best to get in the end zone. That means letting Luck do Luck stuff like pass the ball and run when he has room.
- The Loudmouth. Mike Mayock does color commentary for the NFL Network on Thursday night. If you’re a Notre Dame fan, he also does the Irish’s games on NBC. He is also terrible. He constantly babbles in generic football jargon and has a low success rate on his calls. He’s not worse than Cris Collinsworth or Jon Gruden, but if you have to hear him more than once a week its hard to stomach.
The last time these two played in Nashville, the game ended in OT with a spectacular play. Vick Ballard, seen above, had an unreal dive into the end zone for the win. I doubt that this game will be so close and head to overtime.
The Colts really need a win this week, and I don’t mean a fourth quarter comeback. They are much better than the Titans and need to prove they are worthy of a division title with a road win at a division rival.
Colts win, 24-14.
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