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Knee-jerk Reactions: Titans crush Colts 45-26

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Colts locker room should be embarrassed to get completely dominated at home, with control of the AFC South Championship on the line. This team desperately wants to return to the playoffs and has established a reputation for playing stingy defense that creates turnovers and a resilient offense that utilizes seemingly every weapon to get the job done.

Without question, the Colts faced an uphill battle coming into the game. The biggest threat the Titans pose is a freakish running back who will take over the game against weak defenses. For those wondering how good Buckner is - use this game as exhibit A.

Comparisons between DeForest Buckner and Aaron Donald almost always include a wide line of separation, crowning Donald as best interior defensive lineman in the NFL. Donald is definitely the most disruptive and a terrorizing force in the passing game but what makes Buckner so incredible is that he gets plenty of quarterback pressure AND changes everything in the running game.

The Colts defense with Buckner had a respectable game against one of the league’s top offenses and held Henry to just over 100 yards for the entire game. The Colts defense without him got mutilated and gave up more yards to a Titans rusher than any other defense in franchise history.

While the Stampede Blue team will need to review film before making any determinations, it appeared that rookie interior offensive lineman Danny Pinter did as well as could have been expected in relief of the injured Ryan Kelly. Early, it looked like the offense might be able to overcome the loss of a starter.

When Anthony Castonzo went down, that all changed. Titans defensive end Harold Landry may not have filled up the stat sheet but his name was called far too often for disrupting the Colts’ offensive rhythm. He was lined up almost exclusively over swing tackle Le’Raven Clark who filled in for Castonzo.

Put simply, there is not another left tackle on the Colts roster as it is currently constructed. If Castonzo if forced to miss meaningful time, it could be devastating for the stretch run.

The Colts offense was unable to establish a running game and the defense allowed so many easy first half points that it forced Indianapolis to be one-dimensional. This put much of the burden on Philip Rivers and Frank Reich to be creative on the one hand and efficient on the other. They were neither of those things.

Rivers may have a toe injury to blame but accuracy was an issue all game. Balls that should have been completions were not because they were thrown behind receivers. Deep throws had so much air under them that the Titans defense could break on the ball and deflect passes or pick up easy interceptions. Rivers state line will show one interception today, on what amounted to a punt. In reality, he should have thrown a second that was dropped by a Titans defense who would have had an easy touchdown on the return.

T.Y. Hilton showed some signs of life with four catches and 81 yards, along with his first touchdown of the season. Unfortunately, on the play he scored he limped off of the field and may have another issue to overcome physically before the next game.

On defense, it should go without saying the Rock Ya-Sin ought to be embarrassed and benched indefinitely after the nonsense he showed this afternoon. Huge penalties extended drives, gave the Titans great field position, and ultimately turned what would have been a red zone stop and field goal attempt into a touchdown. He will need to figure out how to use his feet instead of his hands to cover receivers or he will need to polish his resume for a new career.

Remember how the Colts controlled the game by big special teams plays in their last meeting with the Titans? Not so this week. A Colts punt from deep in their own territory was returned for what would have already been good field position at the end of the first half for Tennessee.

During the punt, backup linebacker and special teams contributor Matthew Adams got frustrated by getting held at the line of scrimmage and threw a punch at a Titans player. It was right in view of the official, who was likely eyeing a possible hold, and led to 15 additional yards at the end of the punt return. While Tennessee would have had excellent field position at their own 41 yard line, they instead started in Colts territory at the 44.

For those keeping track, this means the Colts weren’t good on offense. Philip Rivers had a sloppy game and was lucky he didn’t have two interceptions, one that would have likely been returned for a touchdown. There was no running game established by the offense and the offensive line entered the game without one first round starter and exited the game down two first round starters.

The defense was unable to stop the run, at all. Selling out to try to stop the run in DeForest Buckner’s absence led to some pretty easy completions in the short areas of the field — vacated in part by the rangy Bobby Okereke. When the run game and short passing game weren’t effective the Colts busied themselves with pass interference and defensive holding penalties that kept drives moving and put Tennessee into scoring position.

Special teams units were responsible for a big penalty that led to a Titans touchdown to end the first half and put the game out of any reasonable reach. They were also responsible for an onside kick that was returned for a touchdown to put the exclamation point on the final score.

With all of that said, and I hate to repeat this complaint, the officiating in this game was an absolute train wreck. Defensive holding called on Grover Stewart? No replay on that one. A second defensive holding penalty was called on the defensive line in the second half to off-set a chop block. How often are defensive holding calls made throughout an entire season on defensive linemen?

Rock Ya-Sin gets called for hands to the face on Corey Davis but when Kenny Vacarro put his hands to the face of Nyheim Hines and runs him over on a safety blitz, Hines was called for a hold. Tannehill threw a big pass in the first half and on replay it was clear that Quesenberry had his hands in the face of Al Quadin-Muhammed.

After a horrible experience with numerous holding penalties late last week against the Packers, it’s frustrating to watch a replay of the third down trick package late in the first half where Jonnu Smith has his hands outside of Khari Willis’ shoulder pads as the run goes inside. It’s clear on the replay, the announcers don’t mention it and it goes uncalled.

Look, the game was going to be an uphill battle from the start. COVID-19 and whatever inconsistent rules the NFL uses to apply to when games should be delayed left the Colts in a really bad spot today. But they’re also responsible for doing plenty to beat themselves and the last thing they needed was to overcome trash officiating for a second consecutive week.

Indianapolis better hope for good news on the injury front this week. The final stretch of 2020 is shaping up to be a big test with the Steelers, Raiders, and a hot Texans team coming up to earn what will likely only be a chance at a wild card spot in the playoffs.