The Colts don't have to wait too long to get the nasty taste out of their mouth from Sunday, as they travel a few hours south on 65 tonight to battle the Tennessee Titans, their third and final divisional road game of 2013. I know most players don't like the short week, but after the turd the Colts laid Sunday, I think they'll be ready to go tonight about 7:30 local time in Nashville.
The Titans come into Thursday night at 4-5, the Colts closest competitor in the AFC South, but losers of four of their last five games. Their one win? The Rams two weeks ago 28-21. In fact, other than their inexplicable loss to the Jaguars last week, the other three losses came to the Chiefs, Seahawks, and 49ers, three of the best teams in the NFL, and they didn't have their starting QB, Jake Locker, for two of those games. It certainly looked like they had brushed those losses off with that win in St. Louis, but losing to the Jaguars? Guh.
For the second time this year, and now for the rest of the year, Locker has been lost to injury, this time a Lisfranc to his foot, costing him his season. That means it's Ryan Fitzpatrick running the show for the Titans. Passing wise I don't see much dropoff from Locker to Fitzpatrick, but Locker is much more nimble and can scramble quite effectively. Fitzpatrick is also prone to fumbles, five in four games, so look for sack master Robert Mathis coming around the edge looking for the strip-sack.
The Colts history on Thursday night is an interesting one. They are 10-1-1 all-time on Thursdays, but only three of the 12 games have been played at home: one in 1996 (Eagles), the home opener against the Saints after the Super Bowl win, and Week 16 in 2011 against the Texans. (Unsurprisingly, the Jaguars have played five of their six Thursday night games at home.) The Colts last (and only) loss on a Thursday night was Week 1 of 2004 in New England. The Colts and Titans have played once before on Thursday night, a 30-28 Colts win in 2010.
The Colts lead the all-time series with the Titans 23-14, with the Colts winning eight of the last nine meetings. I actually didn't realize the Colts have been that dominant over the past five years. Since the inception of the AFC South the Colts lead the series 16-6.
How do the Colts and Titans match-up? Let's dive into the numbers and find out.
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Titans:
|Orange Zone Eff||50.1%||23||50.3%||9||56.7%||13||63.2%||27|
|Avg Start Pos||29.3||19||27.0||5||32.0||8||29.7||18|
|3 and Outs||3.12||9||3.54||19||4.62||28||4.37||4|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.472||1||0.817||19||0.892||19||0.677||27|
Keys to the Game:
- This just might be the game we see the Colts running game, and in particular Trent Richardson, finally get going. The Titans don't give up huge runs, but their RB Success Rate ranks just 27th in the NFL. A lot still depends on whether the Offensive Line can block, but these same guys were creating holes the first 6 or 7 games.
- The other area that is critical for the Colts Offense is scoring points when they get in the Orange and Red Zones. We've seen a considerable drop-off over the last four weeks in these areas from the Colts, and the Titans aren't much better stopping teams who get close. If we see Adam Vinatieri trotting out there several times for field goals, it's bad news for the Colts.
- Where might the Colts struggle? Third/Fourth down, where they've gone from 4th in the league to 21st in three weeks. On top of that, the Titans rank 5th in the NFL at just 34.2%. The key for the Colts is gaining maximum yardage on 1st and 2nd downs, keeping themselves out of 3rd downs. With no running game lately (and continuing to "pound it" into a stacked line), they've put themselves in deep holes on 3rd down. Need to stay out of those.
- Expect short drives from the Colts, as the Titans are best in the NFL on Plays per Drive. That doesn't mean the Colts can't score on three play drives, but there may be quite a few three play drives.
- The biggest key for the Colts Defense will also be on 3rd/4th down, where the Titans have been pretty good this season, and the Colts have been decent as well. If they can get the Titans off the field they win easily. If not, another long night.
- The Titans passing numbers aren't very good, but the Colts pass defense without Greg Toler has been atrocious the past two weeks. The Titans receivers aren't household names, but I expect them to take several deep shots on the Colts secondary, since they've worked a little too well as of late.
- The Colts need to force some Three and Outs, as the Titans have over four of them per game. If they get that initial first down, however, I'm not very confident the Colts can keep them from scoring points.
Because of the Colts recent poor play the Predictor is telling me 22-20 Titans, but I'm eschewing the numbers and going with my eyeballs this week. Aside from the fact the Colts haven't lost back-to-back games under the "new regime", this team plays well when they're counted out, backs up against the wall, etc. The short week helps them immensely in this game, as they haven't dwelt on past games yet in a year and a half (and some of them have been quite bad).
I think this is the week we see the Offense start clicking again, thanks in large part to being able to run the ball (!) effectively. I said mid-way through the third quarter Sunday that I couldn't wait to bet on the Colts, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. Give me the Colts, I'll give the 3 points, and they'll have a stranglehold on the AFC South.
Colts 28, Titans 20