By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan)
BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.- The Tennesse Titans and Indianapolis Colts, their fanbases, the media, and the entire National Football League do not need to be reminded that this Sunday’s week 11 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium has enormous playoff implications. Chuck Pagano, head coach of the Colts said it best:
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) November 16, 2016
In a game where they are honoring their Super Bowl XLI winners, despite the fact they are three point favorites, the Colts have suddenly found themselves playing the underdog role to an emerging Titans team.
A loss to a division rival (its third of the season) would, in effect, bury the Colts’ 2016 playoff hopes. A win would keep them afloat. A win for the Titans would solidify their stranglehold on second place while they confidently await a New Year’s Day clash (played in Nashville) against the division leading Houston Texans. Associated Press’ Teresa Walker, who has covered the Titans for the past twenty years, indicates: “The Titans lost in Houston 27-20 (week 4) on the strength essentially, of a punt return for a touchdown. That was the difference in that game…. That mistake cost the special teams coordinator Bobby April his job the next day. The confidence has built tremendously since then. That was part of a 1-3 start for the Tennessee Titans and they’ve been 4-2 since then…. If they’re playing for that on January 1, in Nashville, that gives everybody a chance to come out, be loud, and if they can get that crowd [involved], it is a very tough place to play in Nashville.” A loss this week would drop the Titans to third place in the division, a hole from which it would be difficult to dig out.
A Look into the Rearview Mirror
Week 7: Colts edge Titans 34-26 on October 23, 2016
QB: Colts’ Andrew Luck: 353 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
QB: Titans’ Marcus Mariota: 232 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
RB: Colts’ Frank Gore: 61 yards rushing/22 receiving, 1 touchdown
RB: Titans’ DeMarco Murray: 107 yards rushing/20 receiving, 1 touchdown
Indianapolis Colts Week 11 Keys to Victory
- Health: Coming off a bye week, the Colts look to be in the best health (collectively) all season. Pagano remarked: “It will be the first time in a long [time], so continuity is great and having all the playmakers on the outside available and healthy certainly doesn’t hurt.” A cause for concern is that Luck was limited in practice on Thursday due to a right shoulder injury. If Luck is a no-go for Sunday, the effects will be catastrophic, as he has been their only bright spot this season.
- Need to Slay Two-Headed Monster in Mariota and Murray: A tall task, the best way to do this is to limit Murray’s production and, subsequently, force young quarterback Mariota to throw the ball. The intangibles are what makes Murray great. His mere presence in offensive packages has opened up the field for second-year quarterback Mariota. “What do you need to do for a young QB, like Mariota, to give him time to learn? Run the ball. You [even] saw DeMarco Murray throwing a TD pass in the 1st qtr…. They’re producing” affirms Walker. Mariota however, over the course of the last six games, has a touchdown to interception ratio of 17:3, a 68% completion percentage, and a 119 quarterback rating. This will be a tall task for a mediocre defensive unit.
- Capitalize on Having Home-Field Advantage: The Colts are looking for their first winning streak of the season in front of their home crowd. The Titans are entering play with a streak of their own: they have not won one, single game (in history!) at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts must capitalize on the excitement of their fans, in the attendance of, among others: Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Jeff Saturday, and Reggie Wayne. A fast start for the Colts would mean that the Titans’ young quarterback, Mariota, would need to manage his unit in an intensely loud atmosphere in a stadium with a retractible dome and a capacity of 70,000 fans.
Tennessee Titans Week 11 Keys to Victory
- Capitalize on the worst??? Offensive Line in the NFL. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has been sacked an NFL-high 33 times this season. Even the 0-10 Cleveland Browns (barely) protect their quarterback, Cody Kessler, better. The difference? Luck costs $140 million, Kessler costs $3.4 million. It is hard to believe offensive Line coach Joe Philbin still has a job. This week, he said: “I’ve certainly studied the hits, the sacks, looked at them all and in (the twists) scenario we have to get better.” Studying and executing are two different areas. This unit will match up against Titans outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, whose 9.0 sacks through 10 games are just 1 behind the NFL lead.
- Exploit the Colts’ Horrendous Pass Defense: Of the 32 teams in the NFL, the Colts are raked 31st in pass defense. Since the last time these two teams met, Mariota has completed passes for 41 (vs. GB), 47 (vs. JAX), and 48 yards (vs. SD), nearly doubling his game high from week 7 (26 yards). The Colts defense will lie down if Mariota can connect on the long ball in Indianapolis.
- Continue to Play Aggressively: Only the Atlanta Falcons have more 20+ yard plays this season than the Titans (tied with the San Diego Chargers at 44 plays). The Titans attempted an onside kick to begin the game against the Green Bay Packers in week 10. In that game, they ran five plays that resulted in gains over 30 yards; one of which, of course, was the 75 yard run by Murray in open space.
Everything considered, the Titans have all of the momentum entering this week 11 AFC South matchup against the Colts. The Titans’ recent explosive play is an indication that all units have gelled and are firing on all cylinders. Expect the Titans to have success on low percentage plays and have large gains from the line of scrimmage, thus negating the frenetic ambiance created by Colts fans. So long as the Titans can maintain a successful, two-dimensional game plan (offensively) and prevent Luck from settling in the pocket (defensively), they will win this game.
My Pick: Tennesse Titans 31, Indianapolis Colts 17 – Lock it in.