A Capsule Look at this Week's Colts Opponent, the Tennessee Titans
Synopsis: The Colts have yet to play a team this season that had a winning record entering the game. That will change this week.
And it will change dramatically.
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, on Monday will travel to Nashville, Tenn., to face the only other team to ever win the South: the Tennessee Titans, the team that leads the division by three games and the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team.
They're also a team primed and ready for the team that has dominated the division over the last half-decade.
"A lot of people still don't respect us, and feel like we haven't played top-notch talent in the league yet," Titans safety Chris Hope told the Associated Press this week. "They're still not sure how good we are, and what better way to show them than on Monday Night Football against Peyton Manning and the Colts, one of the premier teams in the league?"
While Colts President Bill Polian said this week the Colts haven't played like one of the NFL's premier teams – "we're a mediocre, .500 football team and we have a lot of work to do to get better," Polian said – he said the opposite is true of Tennessee.
"No one should be surprised that they're 6-0," Polian said.
The Titans, after making the playoffs in 2002 and 2003, spent the next few seasons rebuilding, and the result is a solid, mature defense and an offense that features one of the NFL's top running back combinations in rookie Chris Johnson and third-year veteran LenDale White.
"Defensively, they're probably the best defense in the league," Polian said. "I don't know if they're up there statistically, but I would doubt there's a better defense than the one they have."
Johnson, a first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from East Carolina, and White – who played collegiately at Southern California – have combined for 863 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, and the Titans rank fourth in the NFL in rushing. They set a franchise-record with 332 yards rushing in a victory over Kansas City Sunday.
Quarterback Kerry Collins, who Polian selected No. 5 overall in the 1995 NFL Draft while with the Carolina Panthers, has taken over as the starter, replacing Vince Young – the No. 3 selection in 2006 – and is 5-0 as a starter this season.
"Kerry Collins is three things," Polian said. "One, he's among the toughest quarterbacks in the NFL. You can take two jet planes, two F-16s, rush them off the edge and it wouldn't bother Kerry Collins one iota. Secondly, he can make every throw. Third, he's a winner. He has the soul and the heart of a winner. He's going to find a way to win. There is no obstacle too big for Kerry Collins to overcome.
"On top of that, he is now an extremely veteran presence who lends not only great talent, but great wisdom and leadership to this team. He's sort of the missing piece, if you will."
Defensively, tackle Albert Haynesworth and end Kyle Vanden Bosch form the core of one of the NFL's best lines, and the Titans haven't allowed more than 17 points in their last nine games.
"It's no accident they are 6-0," Polian said. "They are that good. It's not a mirage by any means. They are a very, very good football team."
2008 Record: 6-0, 1st in AFC South.
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher, 15th season as Titans and NFL Head Coach (120-99, 125-103 including playoffs).
Last game: LenDale White and Chris Johnson each rushed for more than 100 yards for Tennessee, which set a franchise record for rushing yards in a 34-10 victory at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday.
White rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-long 80-yard touchdown, and Johnson rushed for 168 yards. The Titans finished with 332 yards rushing, breaking a franchise record that had stood since 1977.
2008 NFL Rankings: Offense – Overall, 20th (314.5 yards per game); Rushing, 4th (154.5 ypg); Passing, 26th (160.0 ypg); Defense – Overall, 3rd (268.5 yards per game); Rushing, 8th (89.5 ypg); Passing, 5th (179.0 ypg).
2008 Leading Passer: Kerry Collins (75-133 completions, 863 yards, 56.4 pct., 3 TD, 3 INT, 74.2 rating).
2008 Leading Rusher(s): Chris Johnson (103 carries, 549 yards, 3 TD), LenDale White (80 carries, 314 yards, 8 TD).
2008 Leading Receiver(s): Bo Scaife (23 receptions, 274 yards, 1 TD), Chris Johnson (14 receptions, 73 yards, 1 TD), Justin Gage (12 receptions, 176 yards, 1 TD), Brandon Jones (11 receptions, 140 yards, 0 TD),
2008 Leading Sacker: Albert Haynesworth (6).
2008 Turnover Breakdown: Plus-6 (14 forced, 8 committed).
First-round draft choice: With the No. 24 overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Titans selected Chris Johnson, a running back from East Carolina.
Johnson, widely considered one of the fastest running backs in the draft, has emerged quickly as a key to a two-back, run-oriented offense, twice rushing for more than 100 yards in his first six NFL games. He has rushed for at least 60 yards in five of six games, with the lone exception being a 13-10 victory against Baltimore – the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense – in which he rushed for 44 yards on 18 carries.
Through six games, he is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and he scored on a season-long 66-yard touchdown run against Kansas City this past Sunday. He has yet to fumble this season, and he has two runs of 50 or more yards.
Key free agents acquired: Dave Ball (New York Jets), DE; Chris Carr (Oakland), DB; Alge Crumpler (Atlanta), TE; Jevon Kearse (Philadelphia), DE; Justin McCareins (New York Jets), WR; Jake Scott (Indianapolis), G; Josh Stamer (Buffalo), LB.
Key free agents lost: Jacob Bell (St. Louis), G; Chris Brown (Houston), RB; Gilbert Gardner (Detroit), LB; Ben Hartsock (Atlanta), TE; Travis LaBoy (Arizona), DE; Antwan Odom (Cincinnati), DE; Randy Starks (Miami), DT; Ben Troupe (Tampa Bay), TE.
2008 Review: The Titans, one year after making the playoffs on the final week of the regular season, have been the NFL's most-consistent, steady team in the early season, and as a result, they are the NFL's only unbeaten team seven weeks into the season.
The Titans have yet to allow more than 17 points in a game this season, and only once – in a 30-17 victory over Minnesota – have they allowed more than one touchdown in a game.
In the regular-season opener, the Titans won a big, AFC South game at home against Jacksonville, taking sole possession of first place in the division, a lead they held with a 24-7 victory at Cincinnati the following week. They then won back-to-back games over division rival Houston (31-12) and Minnesota before rallying for a 13-10 victory at Baltimore entering their bye week.
They dominated Kansas City, 34-10, this past week to move to 6-0 for the first time in franchise history.
Last time in Playoffs: 2007.
Last time in Super Bowl: 1999.
Super Bowl Championships: None.
2007 Pro Bowl Selections: Rob Bironas, K; Albert Haynesworth, DT; Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE.
Quotable I: "I really wouldn't say that we have any big weaknesses. There are some things that we can get better at. Do we have the basis of a good team with a good offensive and defensive line? Yeah. I'm not saying that we are weak at any point, but there are things that we can get better at."'
--- Titans Quarterback Kerry Collins
Quotable II: "We wanted to come in and get a win off the bye. If we were looking to getting a win going into Monday night (against the Colts), we would be getting ahead of ourselves. We wanted that win off the bye because there are no more breaks the rest of the season. For us to come out and have a performance like we did in a tough place to play was big for our team and it shows the country what this team's mind state and attitude is all about."
--- Titans Linebacker Keith Bulluck