The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Tennessee Titans 24-17 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the term "learn" loosely):
Defense steps up
The Indianapolis Colts defense stepped up in a big way on Sunday and was a key in helping lead them to a huge victory over the Tennessee Titans. They gave up 17 points and 351 yards, but understand this: the Titans entered the game as one of the best and hottest offenses in the entire league. They were third in the league in rushing yards, and they were averaging 26.4 points per game and 386.1 yards per game. They also boasted one of the better offensive lines in football, and over the past three games had averaged 444.3 yards per game and 39.3 points per game. And on Sunday, the Colts limited the Titans to an offensive output well below their season average. Through the first ten games the Titans were averaging 386.1 yards per game; on Sunday they racked up 351. Through the first ten games the Titans were averaging 26.4 points per game; on Sunday they scored 17. Through the first ten games the Titans were converting 48.1% of third downs; on Sunday they converted 36%. Through the first ten games the Titans were averaging 145.2 rushing yards per game; on Sunday they had 97. Through the first ten games the Titans were averaging 4.84 yards per rush; on Sunday they averaged 3.3. Through the first ten games the Titans allowed an average of 1.3 sacks per game; on Sunday they allowed five.
Do you get my point? Against a good offense, the Colts' defense stepped up. They seemed determined to not let the Titans beat them on the ground, and it was a smart strategy that worked. Clayton Geathers stepped up, as did D'Qwell Jackson. Robert Mathis, Erik Walden, David Parry, Edwin Jackson, and D'Qwell Jackson all had sacks. Rashaan Melvin had a couple of passes defensed and led the team in tackles. It was a team effort for Indianapolis defensively, and while it wasn't perfect it was a good performance against a good offense that deserves a lot of credit.
A reversal of sorts
Remember earlier in the season when the Colts had trouble starting games? It was a real issue and the team would fall behind big before then catching fire in the second half and trying to pull themselves out of a hole. The Colts didn't seem to have any answers on how to fix that problem that had been plaguing them for the past few seasons, but to their credit they seem to have figured things out. In their first five games they only outscored their opponent in the first half once (against the Bears), but they outscored their opponent in the second half in four of the first five games. Furthermore, they trailed by double-digits at some point in three of the first four games. But recently, the team has been starting out much better. In four of the past five games they've outscored their opponent in the first half, with the lone exception coming against the Chiefs (the only game in the past five where Indy has trailed by double-digits). Against the Packers the Colts scored on three of their first possessions and would up scoring 24 first half points, while against the Titans the Colts scored on their first three drives to take a 21-0 lead. So the Colts absolutely deserve credit for this: they seem to have figured out how to get off to faster starts in games, which is something that was a main focal point earlier this year.
But in their quest to play full 60-minute games, the Colts have another area that has shown up recently: finishing. When I say finishing (since it seems some people get confused despite the context), I'm meaning continuing to play at the level they've started at and not letting the other team right back in the game. The Colts in recent games haven't done that well, as they've been outscored in the second half in all but one of their last five games. Despite holding double-digit leads in the second half of four of the past five games, all four of them have wound up being one-score affairs and in fact one of them the Colts even lost. The Colts haven't been nearly as effective in the second half recently and they'll need to work on keeping the pedal down and the momentum going after building a lead, but they'll be able to work on those things following a winning streak thanks to some clutch plays near the end. You can't say enough good things about Clayton Geathers's stop of DeMarco Murray on fourth down late in the game, and then Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton finished it off with a huge third down conversion. So they were able to "finish" in the sense that they sealed the game with a couple of clutch plays late, but they've struggled to "finish" in the sense that they keep letting teams back into the game.
Colts' dominance over Titans continues
The Colts' win over the Titans on Sunday secured yet another season sweep of the series, which is the fifth year in a row in which the Colts have swept Tennessee and seventh time in the past eight seasons! If you know anything about division rivalries and how those can always be trap games no matter how good a team is, that's insane. Furthermore, the Colts ran their win streak against the Titans to eleven games and have won 16 of the past 17, with their only loss coming in a road game quarterbacked by Curtis Painter. The Colts also improved to 9-0 against the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium, having not lost to Tennessee since 2007 - a game in which the Colts rested their starters in the regular season finale after having already locked up the AFC's number one seed. So to find a game that the Colts lost at home to the Titans in which they actually were legitimately playing and not just resting starters, you'd need to go back to 2002 - 14 years ago! Since the start of the 2003 season, the Colts are an incredible 24-4 against the Titans. Again, for a team to dominate a division opponent like this is almost unheard of. The team has yet to lose to Tennessee in the Andrew Luck era, and Sunday's game was yet another in a long line of victories for the Colts over the Titans.