On Sunday the Indianapolis Colts will take on the Titans in Tennessee in what is suddenly a big AFC South match-up. The Colts at 3-3 are currently in second place in the division, but with a win the 3-4 Titans would take over that spot. In a wide open AFC, this game could be a big one.
The problem is that the Colts are on the road once again, where they have been beaten handily in each of their two tries this year. In the season opener, the Colts lost 41-21 at Chicago and then two weeks ago they got beat 35-9 by the Jets in New York. Symbolic of the whole team, quarterback Andrew Luck hasn’t been as sharp on the road as he has been at home.
Add the Colts’ road woes to the fact that they have yet to win back to back games and Sunday’s game becomes even a tougher matchup for the Colts.
If the Colts do the following three things, however, they will win in Tennessee:
1. Stop Chris Johnson
While the Colts rush defense ranks as one of the worst in the league, they have only allowed two 100+ yard rushers in six games (the Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jets’ Shonn Greene). This week they face an equally tough test in Chris Johnson. Just a few years removed from a 2,000 yard rushing season, he has struggled recently. Last week, however, he rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills and he looked like the Chris Johnson of a few years ago. The Colts can’t let him look like that this week, or else it will be a long game. Hopefully with the return of Cory Redding (he is a game time decision but said earlier this week that he will play) the Colts can contain Johnson and limit his effectiveness. If they do that, they stand a good chance to win.
2. Keep the run game going
Much like Johnson last week, the Colts also had their best rushing performance of the season. Without starter Donald Brown, the Colts rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. Rookie Vick Ballard and second year back Delone Carter, both seeing extended action for the first time this season, ran very well. Ballard averaged 4.2 yards per carry and gained 84 yards while Carter averaged 3.7 yards per carry for 41 yards. Both scoring runs came courtesy of quarterback Andrew Luck, who had a rough day passing but used his legs to carry the Colts to victory. This week, the Colts’ leading rusher for the season, Brown, may return (he is a game time decision after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery a few weeks ago). Regardless of Brown’s status, Ballard and Carter figure to get increased opportunities as the season goes on. With the three of them (and don’t forget Luck either), the Colts could take advantage of the league’s 25th ranked rush defense.
Editor's Note: Donald Brown practiced on Friday and is a gametime decision as to whether he will play-- Brad
3. Show up on the road
This is the most important one. As I mentioned earlier, the Colts have not shown up in their two road games this year, being outscored 76-30. This young team has been very competitive at home but on the road it has looked like an entirely different squad. It is not going to get any easier – six of the Colts’ remaining ten games are on the road. If they are going to compete this year, they must show up on the road. This week is a good time to start that – in a division matchup with the Titans. If the same Colts team we have seen at home (or at least close to the same team) shows up in Tennessee Sunday, the game will be close. If not, the Colts really don’t stand much of a chance. The consistency will come – hopefully it begins to appear on Sunday.
Bottom line is that the Colts have struggled on the road this year – but the Titans are not the Bears, or they aren’t even the Jets (although both of their quarterbacks are better than either one of New York’s). The Titans, 32nd in the league in points allowed, are beatable. It will take a solid performance by the run defense, the run offense, and some guy named Luck, but I think the Colts get their first of many road wins of the Andrew Luck era.
My prediction: Colts 21, Titans 17