Welcome back Colts fans! I don’t know if I’m the only one but bye week in the NFL feels really long. It’s a somber reminder of what life will be like once the season ends. The longest period of the year, by far, is the football off-season. I swear it feels like it lasts forever.
Although it has only been a couple of weeks, it feels like the Colts have an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. The defense has put together three solid weeks in a row, shutting down three of the best receivers in the NFL. Jabaal Sheard has been playing his best football of the season, if not his career; Pierre Desir has done his very best to make it easy to forget the departure of Vontae Davis; and Rashaan Melvin had one of the most impressive man coverage games against Antonio Brown that I can remember watching.
Keep in mind that while Barkevious Mingo has done well in his absence, John Simon will be returning to the field for the first time in weeks and he is coming back to a defense that is playing significantly better than it was when he was shut down with a stinger. It will also be the first time in a year Indianapolis has been able to put Clayton Geathers on the field on the back end. While his snap counts will be limited, he represents the most dynamic box defender on the team. He can punish ball carriers on the ground and has slimmed down slightly to improve his speed and range in coverage.
While Indianapolis will be facing a more difficult version of the Titans than they faced in Week 6, if for no other reason than Marcus Mariota will not hesitate to scramble out of the pocket in this game, Tennessee has never won a game in Lucas Oil Stadium. They have a paltry record against the Colts overall, winning only 2 games in Indianapolis since 2002.
Remember that the Titans like to impose their will on the ground above all. With Henry Anderson on injured reserve, it will fall to Margus Hunt, Grover Stewart, and Joey Mbu to keep Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry in check. Hassan Ridgeway is out with a shoulder injury, though he wasn’t particularly effective against the run in the first place.
The two biggest threats in the passing game for the Titans are tight end Delanie Walker and rookie wide receiver Corey Davis. Walker is dangerous due to the soft middle of the Colts defense with no inside linebackers who excel in coverage and Geathers playing a limited role in his first game returning to football. In my opinion, Davis was the most dangerous receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft and has only been back on the field for a couple of weeks following a nagging hamstring injury. He will breakout at some point this season and it will be up to the Colts secondary to be sure that day isn’t today.
In the Week 6 match-up, Indianapolis ran the ball effectively in the first half. It allowed them to control the ball and keep the Titans defense off-balance. In the second half they abandoned that strategy. With Gore and Mack both fresh off of the bye, it would make a lot of sense for Rob Chudzinski to remember the value of maintaining offensive balance for a full game, instead of just two quarters.
There’s something about how this team has started to come along over the last few weeks that gives me reason to believe they are on the verge of breaking out. At home, off of a bye, against a familiar divisional opponent seems like a prime environment to see that happen. At this point, this season is all about identifying key pieces who will return and serve as core pieces in 2018. Games like this one are a great opportunity for those players to shine.
5 Keys to a Colts Victory
- Maintain the edges on defense. One of the Colts’ biggest strengths in the front-seven this year is the stout combination of Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods. Even Antonio Morrison, Jon Bostic, and Jeremiah George are stout against the run on the inside. This means the best way to attack the Colts defense on the ground is to suck the defenders into the middle of the field and bounce plays outside. It will be up to defensive coordinator Ted Monachino to be intelligent about when to send his edge defenders inside on slants and stunts. If Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, and Barkevious Mingo can maintain the edge and keep Mariota and Murray inside the tackles, the Titans will have a hard time winning with their smashmouth game plan.
- Stay aggressive in coverage. If anything has been shown in the last three games it is that Pierre Desir and Rashaan Melvin are far superior in press man coverage than they are in off-man. Both defenders are no afraid to be physical at the line of scrimmage and maintain hand-fighting through routes. A couple of times a game they will likely be called for defensive holding or pass interference. This is a better outcome than playing soft and giving up big plays. No matter what the scoreboard says today, Pagano and Monachino need to keep the secondary in press mode. If Marcus Mariota and the Titans receivers beat Indianapolis by winning one-on-one aggressive match-ups, so be it. What can’t happen is soft, prevent-style coverage that makes it easy for Tennessee to move the ball.
- Maintain offensive balance. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski must help young Jacoby Brissett do a better job in the second half of football games. Brissett is given more latitude in a pre-snap run pass option than he can handle. Chudzinski needs to be sure that plays that are designed to get the running backs involved in the game plan. It is Brissett’s inability to make sound pre-snap and post-snap reads that often leads to turnovers and back breaking second half collapses. Utilize Mack and Gore evenly, get Mack the ball on dump-offs, screens, and delays, and have Gore pound the ball inside to get tough yards and force Tennessee to keep a balanced defense in the game. Additionally, show some creativity and avoid becoming predictable. How about taking a shot on your first offensive play of the game? How about a play-action pass to T.Y. Hilton on a shallow slant on third and short? Be unpredictable.
- Design quick-release passing concepts for Brissett. There are two versions of Jacoby Brissett this season. The impressive version gets rid of the ball quickly and hits receivers early in their routes to keep the chains moving. The impressive version leads his receivers on deep passes down the sidelines and allows them to win one-on-one match-ups. The version that is near the bottom of the NFL is the one that holds on to the football and slowly gets through his progressions. This version stands like a statue in the pocket for 3 or more seconds and never gets around to making a decision before a defender impacts the play. If Brissett can make quick decisions and can develop more pocket awareness he will make fewer mistakes.
- Play soundly and cleanly on special teams. Division games often find a way to come down to little things. Penalties that give opponents first downs in key situations or negate a big offense play can change the outcome of the game. Special teams is an oft-overlooked part of the game but this is a game where it could play a key role. The field position battle can play a key role in putting points on the board. If the Colts continue their solid coverage effort in this game and can avoid holding penalties in the return game it will play a key role in the outcome. Additionally, if the returners can be smart about when to run out the ball, when to fair catch, and when to take a knee, it can play a key role.
1:00 PM ET on Sunday, November 26, 2017
Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis, IN
FOX — Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline)
WFNI (107.5FM/1070 The Fan) and WLHK (Country 97.1 Hank FM) — Bob Lamey, Jim Sorgi, Matt Taylor (sideline)
TV National Broadcast Map
See which games will be shown in your area, from 506Sports.com.
(Retractable roof stadium) High 40’s, mostly sunny, 0% chance precipitation, wind WSW 9 mph
Craig Wrolstad. He is in his 15th year of NFL officiating.
Over/Under: 46.0 | Spread: Titans (-3.5) (topbet)