The Indianapolis Colts travel to Nashville, TN on Thursday night with both teams coming off Week 10 performances they would like to put behind them in a hurry. Indy suffered an embarrassing 38-8 blowout at the hands of the St. Louis Rams, while the Titans became the first team to fall victim to the hapless (and previously win less) Jacksonville Jaguars. With both teams losing last week, the Colts remain two wins ahead in the race for the AFC South crown, but a Titans victory this evening could create a momentum shift within the division.
The Colts will face a backup quarterback for the third week in a row after Jake Locker injured his foot against Jacksonville and has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. Filling his boots will be the capable nine-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has already featured in four games this season for the Titans due to a previous Locker injury. Fitzpatrick, who spent three years with the Buffalo Bills before arriving in Tennessee this year, has thrown over 100 passes on offense and should be familiar with his receiving core. Kendall Wright is unquestionably the number one receiver-catching 50 passes for 580 yards- while Nate Washington has been a competent second option this season with over 450 receiving yards. The Colts’ secondary has been torched two weeks in a row, first by Andre Johnson in Houston, followed by Tavon Austin’s breakout game last week. If the Titans’ offensive line can offer sufficient protection from the Indy pass rush, Fitzpatrick should have ample opportunity to make plays down-field.
On the running side of things Chris Johnson is having a solid season thus far, amassing 546 yards and two touchdowns. While the Colts’ running defense is improving, they are giving up an average of 4.3 yards per carry, something Tennessee will surely look to exploit. The Titans have rushed for a combined total of 280 yards over the last two weeks and if they are able to establish a run game early, the Colts could find themselves in deep water once again.
The Indianapolis’ offense will be facing a very similar proposition to last week. The Rams were ranked 9th against the pass going into Week 10, and the Titans are ranked 8th ahead of this evening’s match-up. The Tennessee defensive unit is allowing an average of 211.3 yards through the air, and has conceded just 7 passing touchdowns, the best in the NFL. Wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers has been promoted from the Colts’ practice squad in a bid to improve their stuttering passing game, while serious questions remain regarding the production of running back Trent Richardson. The Colts ran for over 100 yards in 6 of the first 7 games of the season, but a 69-yard day against the Texans and a dismal 18 total yards on the ground against the Rams have led many to believe Coach Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton should abandon their “power running game” in favor of a pass-orientated no-huddle offense in which quarterback Andrew Luck excels. I don’t expect any radical changes to happen midway through the season, however it will be interesting to see what direction the Colts take going forward if Richardson continues to struggle.
One of the main criticisms of Indianapolis this season is that they have played down to the level of lesser opponents. The three losses on the year have came against teams with a combined record of 12-16. In contrast, the Colts’ three biggest wins have have been against teams with a total record of 23-5, giving Seattle and Denver their only losses so far this season. Tonight’s game against Tennessee is a big one, and if the Colts want to establish themselves as Superbowl contenders, this is the kind of game they have to win.
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