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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Titans vs. Colts Preview

Are you ready for some Thursday night football? The Titans and Colts face off tomorrow as two desperate teams searching for answers right now. Indianapolis and Tennessee are the perennial powers of the AFC South. Since the creation of the division in 2002, these two are the only teams to win it (Colts have won the title six times and the Titans the other two times). Both teams started the year off hot with Indianapolis going 6-3 and Tennessee jumping out the gates at 5-2. But since then both teams have been in a deep slump as the Colts have lost three in a row and the Titans 5. The Colts still control their playoff destiny at 6-6 and the Titans aren’t so lucky at 5-7. With Jacksonville at 7-5, mathematically both of the teams still have a chance to catch the division leading Jags. With that being said, these two teams know each other well and if they want to win division this year; neither can afford to lose this game.

Peyton Manning’s struggles have been well documented this year. He had another 4 pick performance last weekend against the Dallas Cowboys and hasn’t looked like the Peyton that we have been accustomed to or he may be doing his best Brett Favre impersonation. Manning has thrown 11 interceptions during Indianapolis’ three-game losing streak. He now has to take on a Titans defense ranked eighth in the league with 15 interceptions. I won’t place all the blame on him though, as the Colts are without some of their top playmakers in Joseph Addai, Austin Collie, and Anthony Gonzalez. Their run game has been a joke this year averaging just 54.6 yards and 3.0 yards a carry. You can tell Peyton has figured that he will have to do it all himself and is pressing. The result of his pressing has been the interceptions that you don’t usually see from him.

Tennessee’s problem has been the offense. As of week 6, the Titans had the number 2 scoring offense in all of football at 29.2 points a game, but as of the last 13 quarters they haven’t scored an offensive touchdown. You would think with the addition of such an accomplished receiver as Randy Moss that their production would increase not decrease when he came to town. The Titans haven’t really used Moss as I predicted that they would and he seems to be frustrated with the direction the team is going in. Chris Johnson has found little running room in the last two games as he has just 58 yards in those contests. The Titans need a spark offensively and got some good news with the return of Kenny Britt at receiver. Another problem the offense has faced is the inconsistency of having the same QB week to week. Kerry Collins will start for the second consecutive time, marking only the first time the Titans have had a QB start consecutive games since Vince Young, beat Dallas and Jacksonville in weeks 5 and 6.

Now for the key match-ups that will determine the game:

1. Peyton Manning vs. Titans Secondary – As I stated above, Manning is facing a top ten secondary so he has to play like the 4-time MVP that he is. In the game against Dallas, I saw throws come out of his hands that I haven’t seen since his playing days with the Tennessee Volunteers. He was thinking instead of reacting as he usually does. He is trying to make the big play instead of the good play and it is leading to turnovers. He has to manage his eagerness and just do what he capable of. The Titans secondary is very opportunistic and will have some chances to swing the momentum if Manning continues his lackluster performances of late.

2. Colts run game vs. Titans defense – If there was ever a time for the running game to show up for the Colts the time would be now. The Titans have allowed 159.4 rushing yards during it’s their 5 game losing streak. The Colts added their former running back Dominic Rhodes to bolster that department. Joseph Addai also has seen limited action in practice this week has been ruled out for the game. Mike Hart is yet another injured running back for the Colts and his game status is unknown. If the Colts could somehow get one of their main guys healthy, they would have a chance at a big game against the Titans. Maurice Drew-Jones made a highlight reel of the defense last game, going off for 186 yards. The run more than anything else would help Manning at this point. He would be able to set up play-action fakes and take some of the pressure off his shoulders to carry the offense. This may be the most important factor in the game.

3. Chris Johnson vs. Colts Run Defense – The prediction CJ made this year was the worse thing he could have did. Not only did he basically put every NFL defense on notice but he also put a large target on his back with his 2,500 yards statement. Every team the Titans have played this year now implements a certain defensive scheme just to stop number 28. I know Johnson won’t back down but that prediction was a bust as he now has 1,026 yards so far this season. He may finally find some running room in this game as the Colts defense is allowing 171.3 yards a game during their three game slide. I look for the Titans to get him the ball early and often to try and soften up the Colts run D. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are two of the best pass rushers in the game and they will feast on the QB if they don’t have a reason to worry about the run. Johnson will have his chances; it will be up to him to take advantage of them.

This will be a great game based on the pure agony each team will face with another lost. Peyton will be on his A-game after his dreadful performance against the Cowboys. You don’t see many back to back bad performances from the Sheriff. The Titans have lost five in a row and are due for a good game at this point. If the Colts and Titans want to keep the division within reach, then this is the game where it has to start. Another loss for either and they will continue their drop into obscurity. Which team will show up and play to their capabilities? Hopefully both teams but we will see.

Game Notes: Since the advent of the AFC South in 2002, only two franchises have won the division title: the Colts (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009) and the Titans (2002, 2008). The AFC South is the only division in the NFL with only two champions from 2002 to present.

• Thursday night’s game marks the first of three AFC South games over the next four weeks: Tennessee this week, Jacksonville (at Lucas Oil Stadium) on Dec. 19, and the Titans (at Lucas Oil Stadium) on Jan. 2.

• Despite trailing Jacksonville (7-5) in the AFC South race by a game, Indianapolis (6-6) can win the division by posting victories in all four of its remaining regular-season games.

• Four of the Colts’ six losses have been by three points or fewer (Jacksonville, 31-28; Philadelphia, 26-24; New England, 31-28; and 38-35 to Dallas in overtime).

• The average margin of defeat for Indianapolis this year is 6.8 points.

• Two former Colts currently play for Tennessee: offensive guard Jake Scott(notes) and linebacker David Thornton(notes). Scott was a fifth-round draft pick by Indianapolis in 2004. Thornton was taken in the fourth-round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Colts. Both joined the Titans as free agents once their original Indianapolis contracts expired.

• Peyton Manning has an 11-5 regular-season career record against Tennessee. He has completed 357 of 503 passes for 3,976 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 16 regular-season games against Tennessee.

Manning has completed 71 percent of his career passes against the Titans. He has a career 101.3 passer rating when facing Tennessee.

He has thrown for 300 or more yards five times against the Titans, with a high game of 425 yards in a 51-24 win on Dec. 5, 2004.

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