This AFC South tussle has more Playoff impact than everyone thought before the season. Who has the edge in what looks to be a shootout on paper?
The Colts this week will be trying for their first winning streak of the season Sunday when they travel to Nashville to take on their old friends, the Titans. Before the season there wasn't much thought given to this game that it would be important to the AFC Playoff picture, but it certainly is. Right now, nine teams have 3 wins in the AFC, which means getting win #4 is crucial for both teams to stay ahead of the curve.
The Titans come into the match-up 3-4 on the season, but have won two straight games against the Steelers and Bills. Last week they had an offensive explosion, especially from Chris Johnson, in their 35-34 victory over Buffalo. It was their best offensive performance of the season, which included the game-winning TD from Matt Hasselbeck to Nate Washington with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Last season the Colts got their first victory of the season against these Titans, a 27-13 home win that ultimately knocked the Titans out of the playoffs. Their Week 8 meeting was a 27-10 Tennessee win in Nashville, a game where Curtis Painter was way more effective running the ball than passing it, and the field position was so bad I thought taking a safety was the correct move to make at one point. Since the two teams became division rivals, the Colts hold a 14-6 edge over the Titans, and have won six of the last 7 games against them.
How do these two teams compare in 2012? Let's have a look.
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Titans:
|Orange Zone Eff||50.7%||22||70.0%||31||53.1%||16||61.3%||26|
|Avg Start Pos||27.9||29||30.6||16||28.8||24||30.9||23|
|3 and Outs||3.03||7||4.02||11||3.82||15||2.90||29|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.696||10||1.187||2||0.800||17||0.613||25|
Keys to the game:
- The Colts have gone on the road twice this season, and really struggled offensively in both. Opponents clearly matter, and when those two opponents are the Bears and Jets, it makes sense why we saw those struggles. That should not be the case with the Titans defense, as they are not very good.
- The Colts have been productive moving the ball and eating up time on drives, even if they don't result in points, and I see no reason why that might not continue. The Titans have allowed opposing offenses to move the ball seemingly at will, ranking in the bottom four in most of the drive-related stats.
- The thing the Titans do the best is getting off the field on 3rd/4th down (even though it's still below average), something the Colts have struggled with lately as well. Whoever wins this battle will most likely come out on top Sunday.
- I think the running games, for both teams, will be minimized and won't really factor into the game. While Johnson had a big week last week, he's never really had that break-out game against the Colts, averaging just under 3.7 Yards per Carry in seven career games. For comparison's sake, he's averaged over 5.2 YPC against both the Texans and Jaguars, the two other teams that are quite familiar with him. The Colts ran the ball better last week, but it should be the Andrew Luck show against this pass defense.
- The Titans haven't set the world on fire passing the ball this season, and even last week against the bad Bills defense they didn't look so hot (3.9 ANPY/A adjusted). It looks like Jake Locker won't be back again this week, so Hasselbeck will be under center. The high offensive output was all about long runs by Johnson, and good play in the Red Zone.
- Speaking of the Red Zone, this has been the one really big area the Colts Defense has struggled in, as well as our Orange Zone, which is inside the 35 yard line. Since the bye week, only once have the Colts Offense not allowed a TD when their opponent got inside the 35, and that was a missed FG against the Packers (Technically the final FG was too, but the clock played a factor there). The Titans are about league average in the Orange Zone, so watch what happens when the Titans get into scoring range. If the Colts can keep them out of the end zone, it'll be a good day. I'm not counting on it, however.
- The Colts are dead last in creating Turnovers on Defense, so don't count on that helping them either. Get one or two and things should be fine, but again can't count on it happening.
I did a podcast with Jimmy and the guys over at Music City Miracles Tuesday (listen to it here, starts about 15 minutes in), and they brought up the fact that this might be the most hostile crowd the Colts have ever faced in Tennessee, which surprised me at first. Why this game over any of the other ones? Because presumably the entire crowd will now be Titans fans, rather than a good chunk of them showing up in Orange #16 jerseys rooting for Peyton Manning. Never thought about it before, but from what I've heard, it was the absolute truth.
They also asked me for my prediction, which I said it was a complete toss-up game with the eventual winner winning by three points, so I took the Colts 23-20. However, after really looking at the stats, I think there will be quite a bit more scoring. Still a three point Colts win, but on a bigger scale. The difference will be Andrew Luck, as I think he has the best game of his young career.
Colts 34, Titans 31