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2011 NFL Week Fifteen Preview: Indianapolis Colts Vs. Tennessee Titans

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Amidst all the news about Peyton Manning actually throwing to receivers again and Jim Caldwell losing his job if the Colts finish the season without a win, there is a game to talk about this Sunday between the Colts and their division rival Titans. I went on the Music City Miracles weekly podcast on Tuesday night (which you can listen to here), and I had asked Jimmy if he wanted me to have anything specific prepared. He told me he didn't want to talk much about the game, but mostly about the upcoming offseason, so we did. When your favorite team is 0-13, it's just really hard for anyone to talk about the actual games. But we'll do it here!

The Colts and Titans met back in Week 8, a 27-10 Tennessee win in Nashville. The Colts had a punt blocked on them when they couldn't move the ball outside of their own 10 yard line, and also started the trend of the Colts getting the ball inside the 5 yard line while down 3 scores in the second half, and kicking a field goal. We also saw Curtis Painter give up trying to throw the ball and ran it for 79 yards. The Colts Defense actually played pretty well, getting the Titans off the field on several occasions, only to see the Offense do nothing with it. A glimmer of hope, perhaps.

This will also be the first game I attend in person on Sunday, and there is a little precedent in me seeing teams I root for when they haven't won a game. Back in 2007 when Notre Dame was 0-5, I flew all the way to Los Angeles to see the Irish play UCLA in the Rose Bowl, and they somehow won the game 20-6 against a not-terrible Bruins team. So we'll see how that goes.

Keys to the game and prediction after the jump...

Adjusted Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Titans:

Statistic Colts Titans
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 62.4% 29 74.1% 31 67.4% 17 70.1% 19
ANPY/A 4.180 29 7.140 31 5.677 14 5.863 21
Turnovers 2.04 24 1.18 30 1.42 5 1.75 18
Yds/Drive 23.66 28 31.78 24 28.37 16 31.23 22
ToP/Drive 2:17.0 32 3:05.0 32 2:32.0 25 2:58.0 29
Yds/Play 4.654 27 5.388 23 5.198 16 5.032 11
First Downs/Drive 1.33 29 1.90 31 1.50 21 1.85 25
3rd/4th Down 35.0% 26 48.1% 32 39.0% 14 40.9% 19
Avg Start Pos 26.6 32 33.4 28 30.0 24 29.4 7
3 and Outs 5.03 28 3.20 26 3.78 14 3.36 22
RZ Eff 51.8% 30 80.9% 31 79.8% 1 66.9% 21
Plays/Drive 5.108 29 5.857 29 5.482 16 6.096 30
Penalty Yds / Play 0.532 1 0.702 30 1.037 27 0.809 16
RB Success 43.6% 22 49.8% 28 36.2% 31 42.8% 6
Yds/Carry 4.17 15 4.01 15 3.67 28 4.10 16
Net Punts Yds/Game 38.46 14 40.49 30 37.04 24 35.92 6
Overall 30 32 17 22

Statistical Keys to the Game:

  • For the Colts Offense they have to take care of the football, especially Dan Orlovsky. He has to have better awareness when a sacker is about to get him, and not get stripped. Thankfully the Titans don't have anybody nearly as good as Terrell Suggs, but they aren't bad either. Recovering fumbles is all luck, so the Colts shouldn't expect three more of those to fall into Colts' players hands again.
  • The Titans Defense has made it a habit to give up long drives to their opponents, so a couple of those drives like we saw against the Patriots will go a long way in helping the Colts get a win Sunday. It doesn't even have to be 10+ play drives. Just ones that eat up time, ensuring the Defense doesn't have to be on the field for 35+ minutes.
  • How do you have time-consuming drives? RUN THE FOOTBALL! Again, it looks like the slightly better QB is playing now, but it doesn't mean he can actually win games by throwing. The one thing consistently decent all season for the Colts has been the running game. Cycle the three backs in, keeping them all fresh, and pound the rock. You'd think 13 games into the season they'd realize this, but when you call 41 pass plays to just 16 run plays the week before, it clearly hasn't sunk in.
  • On the Defensive side the Colts may be seeing a rookie QB making his first start in Jake Locker, but we probably won't learn that until Friday at the earliest. Matt Hasselbeck did not practice Wednesday, but didn't have anything on his injured calf, while Locker didn't throw any passes in practice. Not sure which one I'd rather see at this point.
  • Don't expect the Colts Defense to force any Turnovers, as the Titans have been great at protecting the football. For the Colts to win, however, they'll probably have to get one or two to flip the field. Usually with this defense however it is the Offense making a dumb play rather than the Colts actually forcing something (save a Freeney or Mathis strip-sack), so I'm not counting on that happening.
  • The Titans are the best team in the league in the Red Zone this year, scoring nearly 80% of their possible points. That's about what the Colts were at last year, when it seemed almost automatic they'd score 6 once they got inside the 20. The Colts Defense will have to take a few more chances between the 20s, because the "Bend but don't Break" will surely break against this offense in the Red Zone.
  • Chris Johnson has been better of late, but he's still not the same RB from two years ago. He also just lost his backup Javon Ringer to IR, so expect to see a lot more of Johnson. Bringing him down early, forcing 2nd/3rd and longs will be key. If we're seeing a lot of 2nd and 4 or 5, then a 3rd and 2, it'll be yet another long day for the defense. I think First Down plays will be the most important downs on Sunday.

Of the three games remaining on the Colts schedule, my stats say this is the best chance for the Colts to win, at just 29%. The first game between the two teams actually wasn't as lopsided as the score indicates, but the Titans still dominated the game and were never really in any danger of losing. I really think they'll need a big play from either the defense or special teams to win, and I really think it's important for them to get an early lead, something they haven't done since the Kansas City game two and a half months ago. Just a little "hey, we remember how this works", as I'm sure it's horrible to go week after week never even leading a game.

With those things in mind, I still don't think the Colts will get it done. I can't see them making any drastic changes, because if they wanted to do that, it should have happened a long time before now. The Titans are fighting for a playoff spot, so they clearly care about taking care of their business.

Titans 28, Colts 17