For the second consecutive week the Colts will face-off against a division opponent, this week hosting the Tennessee Titans. While it sounds cliche to say you can "throw out the records" when you play a divisional game, the games between the Colts and Titans have historically been far closer than against either of the other two AFC South rivals, so this is by no means a gimme game for the Colts, but has surprisingly been very one-sided in favor of the Colts (more on that later).
The 2014 Titans look a bit different from the 2013 version, and that starts with the Head Coach. Mike Munchak is out and former Head Coach in Arizona Ken Whisenhunt is now in, and after Week 1 everyone was thrilled in Nashville, a 26-10 thumping of the Chiefs in Kansas City. However, they've struggled each of the past two weeks, getting smoked at home by the same 26-10 score to the Cowboys, and losing badly to the Bengals (not all that bad) last week. I'd be lying if I said I'd watched any of the Titans this year, so I can't give you any specifics on how they played, but judging by the scores they've struggled the last two weeks.
The biggest question mark coming into Sunday is the status of Titans QB Jake Locker. He missed practice today with a wrist strain, and he'll most likely be a game-time decision. Josh wrote about the situation with more detail earlier today, and if Locker cannot go, it's a huge break for the Colts. Locker may not be setting the world on fire, but I think he is a talented guy who just can't stay healthy. Their backup is Charlie Whitehurst, who hasn't started a game since 2011 and is just 1-3 in his career as a starter.
The Colts and Titans have played 40 times in their history: Six as Baltimore vs. Houston (3-3), eight as Indianapolis vs. Houston (4-4), and 26 as Indianapolis vs. Tennessee (18-8 including the playoff loss). Of the last 22 meetings, however, the Colts have won 18 of them, including the last five and 10 of the past 11, and one of those losses was a Week 17 Jim Sorgi special the Colts almost won anyway in 2007. The games have been close though, with seven of the last eight wins by the Colts in this series being by eight points or less. Also in a weird scheduling quirk, this is the first time since 2006 that the Colts will host the first game between the two teams. I thought it had been a while, but that's a really long time always playing in Tennessee first. Just odd.
How do these two teams compare heading into Week 4? Let's take a look at the Winning Stats and find out.
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Titans:
|Orange Zone Eff||54.8%||15||52.9%||14||52.4%||21||53.7%||18|
|Avg Start Pos||31.2||12||27.9||5||29.1||21||31.8||21|
|3 and Outs||3.84||18||3.40||19||3.06||6||3.15||25|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.755||13||1.026||4||0.875||24||0.729||24|
Keys to the Game:
- If there was a definition for "Average NFL Team", you'd see a picture of the Tennessee Titans. Right smack-dab in the middle on both Offense and Defense.
- The Colts have been very good moving the ball early on this season, and the Titans Defense isn't all that good in stopping drives. They're 29th in First Downs per Drive, 25th in 3 and Outs, and 21 in Drive Success Rate. The Colts should be able to move the ball against the Titans Defense.
- The Titans are quite good at defending the pass, ranking 7th in the NFL, so it isn't going to be quite as easy for Andrew Luck and Co. to throw the ball up and down the field like last week. The much-improved Colts pass blocking will hopefully help slow down the Titans pass rush, giving Luck time to throw the ball.
- The Colts had quite a few big plays last week against the Jaguars, but there's a lot less likely chance of that happening Sunday, as the Titans rank 9th in Yards per Play. If you see a bomb or two completed, it'll be a good day for the Colts.
- Special Teams have been very good for the Colts, resulting in the 5th best Average Starting Position by their opponents, which is a huge advantage. Forcing teams to go an extra 10 yards on each drive may not seem like much, but the percentages of points scored goes down dramatically when you get that far away. It's a luxury the Colts haven't experienced in a long time.
- Being the ultimate "average" team, the Titans Offense doesn't do anything great, but doesn't do anything bad. If Locker is unable to go, I'm sure we can count on the Titans to run the ball a lot, something they do pretty well and the Colts don't stop all that well.
- Penalties may play a small part as well, as the Colts do a good job at drawing penalties, and the Titans like to commit them. We've seen the Colts be on the receiving end of some questionable/bad calls. It might start to even out on Sunday.
This is a game the Colts should win, especially at home, and would be surprised if they don't care of business. I don't see this as being a push-over game at all, and fully expect the Titans to be in it until the 4th quarter. The difference will be the quarterback, and the Colts have the better one regardless of who starts for the Titans.
Colts 27, Titans 22