The Indianapolis Colts host the Tennessee Titans this Sunday. Both teams hold a 1-2 record and a win could put either team at the top of the AFC South (provided the Texans lose).
Andrew Luck holds a 4-0 record over the Titans and a lot would have to go Tennessee’s way for that to change. Luck is easily the best QB that they’ll have faced this year and the Titans have been outscored 59-17 over the past two weeks.
Here’s what fans should be on the lookout for:
Run or Pass?
The Colts are at their best when they are passing the ball in spread formations, but the coaches really want to run the ball. The Titans happen to be horrible against the run this season and at least partially successful against the pass.
Part of the Titans success stems from opponents not passing as much because they can pound away on the ground. In their first two games they also recorded eight sacks, but couldn’t get to Andy Dalton last week. The Colts have the best pass protection in the league right now so Luck will have decent time to find the open man.
Expect the Colts to get big chunks of yardage on the ground and for the passing game to open up as the game rolls on. And for whoever Blidi Wreh-Wilson is “defending” to have a big day.
Tight end Delanie Walker has long been a thorn in the Colts side. He’s also easily the best receiving threat on the Titans roster, leading with 17 receptions for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The next closest receiver, Justin Hunter, has eight receptions for 126 yards.
Unfortunately for the Colts, it looks like linebacker Jerrell Freeman will out for a third straight game. That leaves Josh McNary and D’Qwell Jackson left to cover him (or a safety, but that usually ends poorly). Both linebackers have been awful in coverage this season, so expect Walker to be wide open.
There is a slim chance that Walker doesn’t suit up as he sat out part of this week with a shoulder injury. He’s currently questionable for Sunday.
The issue for the Titan’s won’t be Walker getting open, but how do they get him the ball. Jake Locker has played poorly this season and is now dealing with a wrist injury on his throwing hand. He is also questionable for Sunday.
Even if he does play, he’s completing just 56-percent of his passes and has three touchdowns to four interceptions in addition to a pair of fumbles.
Should Locker not play (which is extremely likely), the Titans will turn to Charlie Whitehurst (yes, he’s still in the league). The ninth year player has three career touchdowns, four interceptions, and four fumbles to go along with a 54-percent completion rate.
Expect the Titans to run the ball a lot.
Stopping the Run
There is no reason the Titans should put the ball in the air unless they absolutely have to. They are so much better at running the ball it isn’t even funny.
Tennessee averages 131 yards per game on the ground and will test the Colts’ vaunted new run “defense.” Yes, the Colts are better against the run this year, but it isn’t a shutdown defense by any stretch of the imagination. Opponents are averaging 111 yards per game on the ground and are 25 against the run per DVOA.
The defensive game plan should include plenty of run stopping blitzes as the Titans will be pounding the ball and it wouldn’t be surprising if they only pass about 15 times.
The Titans have been flagged 28 times in three games, the Colts 21 times. The Colts are having issues with the defensive contact rules while the Titans are equally bad on both sides of the ball.
The Colts have been able to draw quite a few penalties on offense and that trend will likely continue on Sunday. This might be a game where those questionable calls from the past few weeks even out a bit.
The Titans are perpetually the definition of average. They always finish in the six to nine win range and never seem to get any better. This year is no different and that stats paint a picture of a middle of the road team.
The Colts will win Sunday, but it will likely be closer than many are expecting. The Titans won’t fold against the Colts and always manage to play up when facing this division rival.