We're now entering the 4th Quarter of the NFL season, and it's a bit of an understatement to say that the Colts have blown away expectations in 2012. An 8-4 record, a strangle-hold over an AFC playoff spot, and a Quarterback that seems to have a flare for the dramatic, especially late in games. Certainly bodes well for the "4th Quarter" of the season.
This Sunday the Colts play host to one of their division rivals, the Tennessee Titans. This will be the second meeting of the season, and the first one didn't disappoint. The Colts tied the game at 13 with just over three minutes remaining after a nearly seven minute drive, capped off by a Delone Carter 1 yard TD. The Colts Defense then did its job, keeping the Titans from scoring, and the game went to Overtime. The Colts won the coin toss, and for the first time in a regular season game, scored a TD on their first possession, ending the game under the new OT rules on a flying, twisting touchdown by Vick Ballard, one of the highlight plays of the entire NFL season. It was the Colts first road win of the season, after being blown out on their first two trips away from Indianapolis.
While the Colts have won four of their last five since visiting Nashville, the Titans have lost three of their four games, although two of those were to the Bears and Texans. In their other two games, they blew the doors off the Dolphins in Miami 37-3, then lost to the Jaguars 24-19. Overall they sit at 4-8 on the season, third place in the AFC South.
The last time the Titans won in Indianapolis was in 2007, a 16-10 Week 17 game where Peyton Manning played one series, and Kerry Collins came in for an injured Vince Young and won the game, putting the Titans in the Playoffs. You want the last time the Colts lost where they played the whole game? Week 9 in 2002, a 23-15 game which saw a furious 4th Quarter comeback fall short when the Colts couldn't pull off their third TD drive of the quarter. Needless to say, Indianapolis hasn't been kind to the Titans over the past decade.
Can the Colts continue their home dominance, both against the Titans and during this season? Let's take a look at the numbers and find out:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Titans (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||49.8%||25||62.9%||32||54.8%||17||55.3%||17|
|Avg Start Pos||26.5||32||28.9||7||28.2||27||32.4||29|
|3 and Outs||3.18||8||3.05||29||4.22||25||2.78||32|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.676||3||1.217||1||0.783||14||0.744||24|
Keys to the game:
- In the first meeting, the Colts Defense pretty much let the Titans move the ball at will in the middle of the field, but tightened up considerably once they got into the Orange and Red Zones, causing few points to be scored. The Colts accomplished this last week as well, and we should expect to see it once again this week.
- The Titans are towards the bottom of the league at turning it over, but we all know how inept the Colts Defense has been at creating them. While this won't make or break the game (the Colts have clearly been able to win despite the lack of turnovers), it would certainly make things easier on them.
- One area of strength for the Titans Offense is on 3rd/4th Downs, where they rank 12th in the NFL. In the first meeting they converted 45%, above their season average, so for the Colts to win they'll have to get them off the field on 3rd downs.
- The Titans rushing stats scream "boom or bust" with their high Yards per Carry and low RB Success Rate, and nobody would argue that's the kind of back Chris Johnson is. Limit the "boom" plays, the Colts will be fine. Easier said than done though, as the Colts have had the tendency to give up the big run.
- On the other side of the ball the Colts Offense should be able to move the ball down the field, as they already did it once before this season, and they've done it to almost everyone else. My only concern is they haven't done it consistently the past two weeks, so we'll see if they can snap out of their funk.
- The Titans have been around league-average at Orange and Red Zone Defense, which have been consistent struggles for the Colts Offense this season, last week's perfect game notwithstanding. We saw last week the importance of scoring TDs over FGs.
- Is this the week we see Andrew Luck have his second top 5 passing day, in terms of Adjusted Net Passing Yards per Attempt? The only other one was against the Dolphins, who aren't exactly a push-over. The Titans rank 27th defensively, so the competition seems right for it, as well as being at home.
We've seen this year that seemingly no matter the circumstances, if the Colts can just hang around, they find a way to win the game. They're 7-1 in games decided by one score or less, which means they've only had one "comfortable" win, something I think they'll do on Sunday. The Titans stole a few games early that they shouldn't have won, but overall they just aren't that good. If it wasn't for that thrashing they gave the Dolphins, I'd say this would be a three score game, but I think the Titans will hang around just long enough to make it interesting, but it'll never be out of the Colts control. The Colts just need two wins to assure themselves a Playoff spot, and one of them will come Sunday afternoon.
Colts 27, Titans 17