12 Things to Watch for in Sunday's Colts-Titans Game
I'll give a prize to anyone who can guess why this picture is up. Requires multiple jumps of logic. Answer in the comments. It ties back to the game in the most random of ways.
Last week, the Colts pulled even on the year with a win over the Browns. This Sunday, they face yet another critical road test in the Tennessee Titans. A win and even the most hardened cynic will admit the Colts are legit (or at least what passes for legit in the AFC). Here's what to watch for:
1. Watch for the leap. About halfway through his rookie year, Peyton Manning traveled to San Francisco and suddenly, it all clicked. The Colts ultimately lost on some awful officiating, but Manning blew everyone away with his first big game. From that point on, he was a different player. The Colts need that kind of performance out of Andrew Luck on the road. Luck needs to have his first hyper-effiecent game as a pro, and the ridicuosly porus Titans' secondary is as good a target as any for it happen. If Indy receivers can't get open on Tennessee, they can't get open on anyone. Sunday's the day. It's time go all Scott Bakula on their asses.
2. Watch for the gamers. A few weeks ago, I openly questioned Dwight Freeney's motivation. I fully renounce those comments. Freeney isn't playing particuarly well, but he is gutting it out and clearly giving everything he has. With the news that Don Brown is back at practice, you get the feeling like these Colts are desperate to play and to prove the world wrong. A team with Brown, Redding, Freeney, Angerer and Mathis back is better than one without them. They all may be slowed and hobbled, but if they can get out there they will. It's a very cool time to be a Colts fan.
3. Watch for Reggie Wayne. The Titans' defense is 31st in the league against #1 receivers, giving up 43.5% DVOA to them this season. Reggie Wayne has been "held" to five and six catches during the past two weeks, and has a big game coming. If Luck keys in on him like he has been, we could be looking at a double digit catch, 125+ yards kind of game.
4.Watch for the big play. Remember the Colts' last game against the Titans? Donald Brown does. The Titans' run defense is 24th in run defense DVOA this season, one spot ahead of Cleveland, who the Colts' ran over surprisingly easily last week. If Donald Brown plays this week (he was a full participant on Thursday), he could see some daylight for the first time all year.
5. Watch for aggression. Something about the way Bruce Arians coached last week made me feel like he got the message about staying agressive. I wouldn't be surprised if Chuck Pagano told him to be brave and coach balls-out. You get the sense that the entire Indy organization is hungry and they think they can steal something special. Arians spit the bit against the Jets, but did a better job against the Browns. Let's see if he can keep it up for consecutive games.
6. Watch for the battle of the rookie stone hands. T.Y. Hilton has arguably been one of the top rookie receivers so far this season, having the third most catches and third most yards among rookies. The top rookie wide out in those categories? Tennessee's Kendall Wright, RG3's teammate at Baylor last season. Both rookie WRs have been essentially the third WR, and both are small, fast receivers who have the potential to be dangerous. Both players also have hands made of concrete. Hilton has three drops on the season, and Wright has five, albeit on more targets.
7. Watch for the anti-MoJo. Chris Johnson has never plagued the Colts the way Maurice Jones-Drew has. He has only two 100 yards games against Indy, and the Titans lost both of them. It curious that he has never taken advantage of the soft Indy run defense, but I always wondered if it was because his was more of a speed game than a power one. The conservative Indy defense kept him from getting the big 'boom' carries that his game is built on. That D is gone, and the Indy run D takes more chances. If the Colts stop Johnson, the win the game. The worry is if they are capable of stopping him.
8. Watch for the twin birds. Titans owner Bud Adams, who will be 90 in January, once celebrated a win over the Bills by giving the crowd not one but both middle fingers. Dementia? It's possible considering his passionate desire to chase Jeff Fisher out of town and his love for Vince Young. While he's captained a middling franchise in Tennessee since departing Houston it seems he's content in being one of the more colorful sideshows in the league. With a win may get a chance to see him do something you've never seen an 89 year old man do before.
9. Watch for curse of Linkenbach. The Colts have run behind the left side of the line almost exclusively for the last three weeks. We've also seen more designed rollouts and quick drops in order to get the ball out of Luck's hands in a more timely fashion. Suffice it to say all of this is due to the horrific play on display by the right side of the offensive line. Like any good opponent, the Titans will find that sore spot when it's most important and key on it. In this case that's third down, especially long third downs.
10. Watch for geritol. Matt Hasselbeck is the Titans' 54-year old rookie quarterback. Hasselbeck is so old that Wilford Brimley turned him down for a spot in the Cocoon. Hasselbeck is so old he gets a joke about Cocoon. Hasselbeck is so old he knows who Wilford Brimley is. Weeden, oops I mean Hasselbeck, is so old...just keep reading, this could go on for a while...when he played high school ball, they called the huddle echuta matogo, which means circle of palaver in caveman speak. Hasselbeck is so old that he's bad at football. Hasselbeck is so old that he's still polite and consciencous enough to keep reading the same jokes I wrote last week, even though I pretty much just copied it straight from that piece. The fact is that while it was a joke with Weeden, it's very nearly the truth with Hasselbeck. He doesn't throw a great deep ball (unlike Weeden), but will be steady and accurate. His goal is to keep the Indy D on the field all afternoon.
11. Watch for the oopsies. The Colts haven't been a particularly good team recently when it comes to protecting the ball. While uncharacteristic of Dungy-esque teams this new era has some work to do when it comes to ball safety. This game could hinge on turnovers. If recent trends continue there's no hope for the boys in blue. Yeah, powder blue doesn't qualify. Anyway, the Titans defense is among the worst in the league but as we saw last week against the Jets turnovers make a bad defense look much better.
12. Watch for a step back. Remember that Jets game a few weeks ago? The one where a mediocre quarterback just spent the whole day handing off, and the Colts couldn't stop it? Yeah, you know the one. Well, welcome to part two. The Indy defense isn't very good, and there's no reason to think they'll slow the Titans down at all. Tennessee 38 Colts 21.
@omahacolt It was based on his less than enthusiastic quotes about the defense and the fact that the Colts have no interest in keeping him for next year.
The combination has lead to more than one player in NFL history just claiming he's too hurt to play and riding out the season so as not to hurt his free agent value.
Freeney seemed to be going down that road, but to his credit, he's really playing hard.
@Nate Dunlevy i think it was impressive he came back so quickly from his high ankle sprain. freeney has always been a diligent worker from his workouts to his diet. he has always seemed to play hard regardless of being dinged up or not.
never once did it cross my mind that he would dog it. nothing in his history would suggest such a thing
Re: #5, why don't we see more 'interim' coaches going balls out? I mean, surely they realize it's like a hall pass, right?
It's Airen Cracken. Cracken is close to Kraken which was a mythological beast. The Titans were also mythological figures.
@Justin P We have a winner on Twitter.
You have to release the Kraken to destroy the Titans is the correct answer!
@Nate Dunlevy Aww, Nate, I was hoping for a geekier answer. Such as Cracken being known for being imaginative and not a slave to convention, therefore you shouldn't punt in opponent's territory and go for it on 4th down more often. :D
Or we can go beyond G-level canon and start talking about his sneaky doings in the Rogue Squadron series, therefore the Colts have got to disguise blitzes and use more play action... but man, that's getting REAL geeky there. ;)
@Nate Dunlevy Given the years of action figures, movies, books, magazines, comics, VCR tapes, laserdiscs, DVDs, conventions, and fan obsessiveness that turns toy hoards into valuable collectibles, grown men into boys, and a set of movies with atrocious dialogue and unidimensional characters into well loved cultural touchstones, do you really think a Star Wars fan ever settles for what he gets? ;)
I made a pun regarding the name of an obscure Star Wars character, relating it to a bad action movie and you want more geeky?
@Justin P You are on the half-yard line. I might declare that the winner, but I want to see if anyone can punch it all the way in.
O.K. Here is my guess.
Former Titans coach Jeff Fisher went to USC. Star Wars creator George Lucas went to USC film school. One night after a particularly rowdy fraternity party, Fisher saved Lucas from getting his ass kicked by a back up nose tackle named Jeff "Chewy" Chewbaccawitz.
Thereafter, they became fast friends, so much so that they engaged in a facial hair growing competition their senior years. Lucas went full on beard, while Fisher went mustache only as his chin strap rubbed any hair growth it covered raw. (But to this day, Fisher will still honor his friend by putting away his razor for the end of the season.)
When Lucas was looking for a cool visual for how his flight commanders would communicate with their pilots, it was again Fisher who stepped in to help. "Treat'em like coaches communicating with the press box," he suggested. Lucas, liked this idea, but thought that the basic head phone look was too bulky. Fisher, remembering his days of playing little league baseball and how he hated the monstrous two ear flap batting helmets they made everyone wear, suggested that Lucas create a "headset" utilizing only one ear.
Thus a "look" was born, and the Star Wars franchise was freed to go on and make billions of dollars.
While I'm still working on the picture, I did get the Scott Bakula/Quantum Leap reference. (And I so remember that Steve Young led 49ers game from Peyton's rookie year.)
@DougEngland I cannot begin to tell you how many mid-day Quantum Leap episodes I watched in Bloomington in the mid 90's. Like Jerry Macguire "had me at hello", Nate had me at "Scott Bakula" w/this post.