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2015 NFL Week 3 Preview: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans

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The Colts season finally starts this week, as I've completely blocked out Weeks 1 and 2 from my memory. Can the Colts start the slow climb back to being head and shoulders above their AFC South rivals? They start with a trip to Nashville against the Titans.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the 2015 season has gone exactly the opposite of what everyone associated with the Colts thought it would be. Two first halves without a single point, penalties killing drives left and right, the most turnovers in the NFL, and a secondary that had a guy even the most fervent Colts fan had barely heard of covering Brandon Marshall at the end of their game Monday night. Yep, it's been a nightmare start for the 0-2 Colts.

But there's hope. Well, maybe.

The AFC South has been the worst division in the NFL for several years now, and the general consensus before the season was that the Colts would cakewalk through the division, winning easily yet again, as those other teams just don't have enough for a team that made the AFC title game a year ago. But I'm going to hold off on proclaiming that to be true until we see the Colts play a division game, and that starts Sunday when they travel to Nashville to take on the 1-1 Titans.

It's been a carousel of quarterbacks the past several years with the Titans, but for now it looks like they found their guy in Marcus Mariota, who has had an impressive couple of games to start the season. I'm hesitant to call him "the guy" after just two games, but I think Titans fans have something to be excited about under center. The other big change for the Titans in the offseason was hiring longtime Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick Lebeau to run their Defense. I again think it's too early to make any definitive statements, but the scheme Andrew Luck and the Colts Offense will face Sunday will look very different than they one they saw twice last season (and pretty much shredded both times).

The Titans have had two very opposite performances to start the season. They came out Week 1 and had 35 points before halftime against the Buccaneers, cruising to an easy win. Then last week they were killed by big plays, losing 28-14 to the Browns. Because we're so early in the season it's hard to know if that loss or either of the Colts losses were "good", but my strength of schedule numbers have the Titans playing the easiest two games so far this season.

We all know how good the Colts have been in the AFC South since the start of 2012, sporting a 16-2 record and winning their last 13 in a row, so life has been pretty easy for the Colts against their division rivals. The Colts have won seven straight against the Titans, and twelve of their last thirteen in the series, with the lone loss coming in 2011 (of course). Those 13 games date back to that disastrous Monday night game in Nashville in 2008, where the Colts could do nothing right and a 10 point loss made it look rosy. Since moving to Indianapolis, the Colts are 24-11 against the Oilers/Titans.

How do these two teams stack up against each other for Sunday? Let's dive in and find out.

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Titans (Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Titans
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 75.2% 3 65.2% 9 64.3% 30 71.2% 25
ANPY/A 5.250 23 6.318 26 6.482 3 6.127 23
Turnovers 2.20 32 1.34 30 1.69 16 1.41 26
Yds/Drive 30.68 8 30.76 24 29.58 15 27.34 6
ToP/Drive 2:47.0 8 2:43.0 22 2:39.0 13 2:38.0 16
Yds/Play 5.305 11 5.388 25 5.267 15 5.189 11
Orange Zone Eff 58.2% 9 51.3% 12 49.8% 29 55.5% 23
First Downs/Drive 1.83 5 1.64 15 1.65 19 1.54 5
3rd/4th Down 47.4% 2 33.1% 9 32.9% 29 38.5% 17
Avg Start Pos 27.4 32 30.7 27 29.4 20 30.1 21
3 and Outs 3.60 14 3.13 30 3.54 9 4.42 2
RZ Eff 69.1% 11 65.8% 21 61.7% 26 64.6% 17
Plays/Drive 5.912 2 5.591 17 5.488 21 5.333 1
Penalty Yds / Play 0.877 25 0.966 2 0.743 6 0.921 8
RB Success 49.7% 2 38.5% 7 38.4% 30 49.2% 32
Yds/Carry 4.09 21 4.08 12 4.37 4 4.10 13
Overall 7 19 24 16

Keys to the Game:

  • I've said over the last 5+ years that in today's NFL Passing will always, always trump Rushing. Always. However, when you have an offensive line that is struggling (to put it kindly), and a QB who can't help but throw the ball to the wrong team, maybe it's time to run it a bit more. What a perfect time to do that against the worst ranked Defense in RB Success Rate in the NFL. Let this OL blow some guys off the line, gain some confidence, then kill them with play-action. If we don't see that, and the Colts struggle yet again on Offense, something is terribly wrong.
  • That being said, the Browns torched them with long pass plays last week, scoring on 50+ yard plays three times (once on a punt return). This can easily be accomplished after establishing a competent run game and hitting play-action hard. We know the Colts want to throw the ball down the field. They'll assuredly take their shots.
  • It also seems the Titans Defense will either get you off the field immediately (2nd in Three & Outs, 1st in Plays per Drive), or it'll be a long scoring drive. Granted the long TDs also play a part in that last stat, but it'll be good news if the Colts have several long drives.
  • The Colts have to have better field position than they've gotten the first two weeks. Even the 30 yard line would be a welcome change. They absolutely cannot be expected to drive 80+ yards time and again and win football games. It's damn near impossible, even with an Offense firing on all cylinders (which the Colts clearly are not).
  • Turnovers. None please. Stop with the lip service.
  • On the flip side the Titans appear to be pretty good throwing the football so far this season, which is bad news for the aforementioned Colts secondary. I'm hopeful Vontae Davis will be cleared after the concussion he suffered Monday night, and Greg Toler was a non-contact participant in practice yesterday, but I'm guessing he's still at least a week away. If Davis plays he'll most likely be paired up on Kendall Wright, but the Colts haven't gotten many stops when the Bills or Jets threw away from Davis.
  • The good news is if the Colts can get the Titans to 3rd down, they have a big advantage, as the Titans rank 29th in the NFL on 3rd/4th down. If the Titans are converted 3rd downs, the Colts will be in big trouble.
  • The Titans rushing stats look very interesting: 4th in Yards per Carry, but 30th in RB Success Rate. What does that mean? Lots of short runs, then a 65 yarder, then a bunch more short runs, then a 50 yarder. Limit the big plays in the run game and defend the pass.

Apparently it's big news that the Colts have only had one 100-yard rusher with Luck at QB, as I've seen it several times over the past two weeks. The reason for it is that it just wasn't necessary to have to win games. When the passing game is at its peak, the running game just keeps the Defense honest. This week, however, I think the opposite should be true. I think we finally see a 100 yard rusher, and it'll help calm down both the Offense Line and Andrew Luck, making everyone play better.

We also heard this week Head Coach Chuck Pagano say the Colts "backs are against the wall", which has been brought out several times in his tenure, and every time the Colts have responded accordingly. It seems, whether it be in a game or between games, when it looks like the Colts are about to go off the deep end, they finally turn it on and somehow pull through. How else do you explain all the comeback wins and bounce backs after losses? This team, for whatever reason, thrives when they are given no chance. While they haven't been written off in 2015 (at least as much as some other 0-2 teams), they are using it for motivation. As long as it works I'm good with it; just wish they didn't feel the need to put themselves in hole after hole continuously.

Colts 27, Titans 21

Thursday Night Pick: Redskins 26, Giants 23 (SuperContest Pick WAS +3.5)