INDIANAPOLIS – A capsule look at the Colts' opponent this week, the Tennessee Titans of the AFC South.
Synopsis: The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts have combined to win every AFC South Division title since the division's inception in 2002. However, through nearly one-half of the 2011 season, the Houston Texans have established an advantage for the division lead.
This Sunday the Titans and Colts will look to bounce back from disappointing losses in week seven. Each team hopes to obtain its first AFC South victory of the season.
The Colts have begun the season 0-7 but with five of six divisional games remaining, the team remains focused on improving each week. That starts with the upcoming matchup against the Titans.
"Right now, we've got a division game coming up this week, which is big for us," said Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell. "Obviously, things right now have been fairly difficult for us, so we've got to see if we can get everything sort of headed in the right direction to perform a little bit better. That's going to be a key, because it's a good team that we're facing. The big thing is that I'm not worried about future projections or anything of that nature. I'm worried about right here and now. Those are the things that we try to focus in on."
Victories in a row over the Ravens, Broncos and Browns placed the Titans atop the AFC South after four games. However, back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Texans have dropped the Titans to 0-2 in the division and 3-3 on the season.
"Any time you lose a couple games in a row, there is no doubt that guys are competitive and everyone wants to win," said Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak. "The city wants to win, the city wants to be represented in a positive way, we want to win and that's our goal. Every day we are here to work to win, not to almost win. If you lose, you lose. It doesn't matter how many you lose by but you want to win, so you have to deal with that, too."
Through seven weeks of the season, the Titans have been labored to run the ball as well as they have in past seasons, and Titans running back Chris Johnson understands that he must make better use of his touches.
"We only had seven points," said Johnson of the Houston game last Sunday. "We can't go out there and run the ball like that. It's just the opportunities that I do have to run the ball, I have to take advantage of and we have to execute those plays."
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is in his first year with his new club, after leaving the Seattle Seahawks to join Tennessee. Even from afar, Hasselbeck was well aware of the Titans' proficiency in running the football. The veteran quarterback also understands that each season a team must form its identity.
"Well for years and years the identity has been the running game out here," said Hasselbeck. "So, I think we've been so hoping that would be it, but we just…every year is different and every team is different."
"If that can be your identity, that works, that's a recipe for success, that's a recipe to win the division, but that wasn't us (against the Texans) either. So, I don't know, we're working on that, we're trying to find ways to succeed and to win, and it would be nice if there were certain things that we could just count on."
Moving forward, Tennessee may look to its upcoming matchup against the Colts as a way to jumpstart its momentum heading into the second half of the season.
The Colts currently rank 30th in the league in total defense and 31st in rushing yards surrendered. The Titans will look to take advantage of a Colts defense coming off a tough performance against New Orleans, but they may have difficulty against a Colts team hungry to prove themselves.
"All these guys are extremely competitive guys, and they don't like being embarrassed. Nobody does," said Caldwell. "That certainly was indeed the case (in New Orleans), so I think we'll use that as an opportunity for us to add a little fuel to the fire and see if we can get better. Also, I think our guys are intrinsically motivated as well. They don't necessarily need any sort of external impetus to get us going. We understand where we are. We understand that it's been very difficult. We haven't performed well and we have to do better."
*2011 Record: *3-3, 2nd in AFC South.
*Head Coach: *Mike Munchak, first season as Titans head coach (3-3).
*Last game: *With sole possession of first-place in the AFC South on the line, the Houston Texans traveled to Tennessee to face a Titans team fresh off of the bye week. The Titans were hoping to grab a two-game lead in the division, but were unable to match the hot start of the Texans. Tennessee quickly found itself down 20-0 at halftime, and Houston did not hit the brakes, earning a 41-7 victory. The Texans were able to ride the potent rushing duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate to a victory, as the two combined for 219 yards and two touchdowns.
*2011 NFL Rankings: *Offense – Overall, 24th (307.2); Rushing, 32nd (64.3); Passing, 12th (242.8); Defense – Overall, 16th (358.0); Rushing, 24th (124.5); Passing, 15th (233.5).
*2011 Leading Passer: *Matt Hasselbeck (131-211 comp., 1,518 yards, 62.1 pct., 10 TDs, 6 INT, 87.7 rating).
*2011 Leading Rusher: *Chris Johnson (93 carries, 268 yards, 1 TD).
*2011 Leading Receiver: *Nate Washington (29 receptions, 399 yards, 1 TDs).
2011 Leading Sacker: Derrick Morgan and Karl Klug (2.0).
2011 Turnover Breakdown: Even (16th).
First-round draft choice: Jake Locker, quarterback. With the eighth overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft, the Tennessee Titans selected Jake Locker out of the University of Washington.
Locker earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors, after being named team captain for two straight seasons. As a junior, he was awarded honorable mention All-American by Pro Football Weekly and was selected as a Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award semi-finalist.
*2010 Review: *The Titans charged out of the gates strongly to begin the 2010 season, claiming a 5-2 record and first-place in the AFC South through the first seven weeks of the season. However, Tennessee relinquished control of the division when it hit a tough stretch and dropped six straight games. The Titans dropped their final two games, including a 23-20 verdict at Indianapolis to finish 6-10. Head Coach Jeff Fisher departed from the organization after a solid career. Fisher had been the longest-tenured NFL head coach. Tennessee found itself in the top 10 of the 2011 draft. The Titans used the eighth pick in the draft on Jake Locker, supplying the organization with a potential franchise quarterback of the future.
Last time in Playoffs: L, 10-13 vs. Baltimore Ravens (2008).
*Last time in Super Bowl: *1999.
*Super Bowl Championships: *None.
*2010 Pro Bowl Selections: *Chris Johnson RB, Jason Babin DE, Michael Griffin FS, Marc Mariani KR.
Quotable I: On the loss to the Texans:
"Preparation and practice, that's (what is) biggest for us right now. We've got to be able to put this behind us and practice well. The Colts don't care (about our loss), and they're looking at this as a team that they can beat. The last two games we've given up 80 points on defense. That's nothing to be proud about, and that's nothing we even like looking at. So we have to get better as individuals and better as a team."
--- Titans Cornerback Cortland Finnegan
Quotable II: On moving forward after a tough loss:
"I think we are close. Every team comes in and stomps their foot and has games like this. It's just a situation where we can't let this situation keep lingering and keep causing us to lose more games. It's just a point where everybody has to look at themselves in the mirror and say they are not going to let the next man beat them. They have to overcome things and play at their top level."
--- Titans Running Back Chris Johnson