INDIANAPOLIS – A capsule look at the Colts' opponent this week, the Tennessee Titans of the AFC South.
Synopsis: With three games remaining in the 2011 season, the Indianapolis Colts are set to host the Tennessee Titans in the first of three match-ups between AFC South opponents. The Colts will meet Houston five days after playing the Titans, then will close the season on January 1 at Jacksonville.
In the first meeting between the teams in Nashville on October 30, the Titans defeated the Colts, 27-10. Indianapolis will look to play the role of spoiler down the stretch, and claim a series tie with the Titans on the season.
For Tennessee, a loss to New Orleans last week dealt a blow to the team's playoff hopes, but the Titans still are alive for a possible Wild Card berth. The Titans currently sit one game behind the New York Jets for the sixth seed in the AFC, and a win against Indianapolis should keep their playoff hopes alive.
The loss to the Saints dropped the Titans to 7-6 on the season, and into a tie for seventh in the AFC playoff race. Despite the team's strong effort against one of the better teams in the NFC, the loss came as a disappointment to the entire Titans locker room.
"It was real tough," said Titans running back Chris Johnson on the loss to New Orleans. "A lot of people counted us out and didn't think we'd be able to play this game like this, be we all knew in the locker room that we could beat this team, that we could play with those teams like that, like the (New Orleans) Saints and things like that. So having the opportunity to beat them and stuff like that not able to capitalize, that's the most frustrating."
Following a slower start to the season than he had hoped, Johnson has returned to the form that the Titans have come to expect from the standout running back. In three of his last five games Johnson has rushed for more than 130 yards, and now ranks eighth in the AFC with 875 rushing yards.
In the first match-up of the season, Indianapolis was able to limit Johnson to 34 yards on 14 carries, and the team will look for a similar performance from the defense come Sunday.
On the offensive side of the ball for Indianapolis, Dan Orlovsky did not play against Tennessee in the first meeting between the teams earlier in the season, but time spent with the Houston Texans and Colts has given him a firm grasp of what to expect from a sound Tennessee defense.
"I know them pretty well, being down in Houston for two years, and obviously, (they are) in the same division," said Orlovsky. "So I think you know what you're going to get with Tennessee, although it is a new coach than it has been in the past. They're tough, (they have) a really good running back and defensively I don't think they do a lot to try and confuse you. They are more of a defense that wants to line up and play fast. They are a good team. They're a good organization and they've been that way for a long time. They're right in the hunt for a playoff spot and they're playing well. They took one of the better teams in the NFC (New Orleans) pretty deep (Sunday) in their game, and it will be another good test for us. We have to watch the film and make the conscious effort of really trying to get better at the things that we need to get better at quickly, which I think we can all get better at. It starts with me."
Head Coach Jim Caldwell understands the importance of performing well against division foes, regardless of the team's record. However, the faces that Colts and Titans fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the past decade have changed drastically, and Sunday's starters could look much different than those of the week eight battle.
After Matt Hasselbeck was forced to exit the game due to injury against New Orleans, there is some question regarding his availability for this Sunday against Indianapolis. Should he be unable to go, the Colts will face the Titans 2011 first-round pick, quarterback Jake Locker.
"Obviously, we're coming up on a stretch where we have three of our division opponents in a row, and certainly we do know something about their personnel," said Caldwell. "But there are some guys that we don't know much about. Certainly we don't know much about (Jake) Locker, we've seen him run around and play, but this will be an opportunity for us to get a little bit closer look at him. I know he's a very fine player and he runs extremely well. There is some benefit to having played them once, but between the times that we've played one another, some things change in terms of personnel."
*2011 Record: *7-6, 2nd in AFC South.
*Head Coach: *Mike Munchak, first season as Titans and NFL Head Coach (7-6).
*Last game: *The Tennessee Titans faced the New Orleans Saints in week 13, as the Titans looked to continue their march toward a potential playoff berth. Tennessee entered the week two games behind Houston for first place in the division. Despite having a 10-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Saints were able to overcome the deficit and defeat the Titans, 22-17. Nate Washington led all receivers with six receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown, and Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck were able to combine for 18-of-36 passing for 326 yards and one touchdown.
*2011 NFL Rankings: *Offense – Overall, 19th (323.5); Rushing, 30th (93.9); Passing, 14th (229.5); Defense – Overall, 22nd (362.2); Rushing, 20th (121.8); Passing, 20th (240.4).
*2011 Leading Passer: *Matt Hasselbeck (246-403 comp., 2,701 yards, 61.0 pct., 15 TDs, 10 INT, 82.9 rating).
*2011 Leading Rusher: *Chris Johnson (217 carries, 875 yards, 4 TDs).
*2011 Leading Receiver: *Nate Washington (59 receptions, 798 yards, 5 TDs).
2011 Leading Sacker: Karl Klug (6.0).
2011 Turnover Breakdown: 5 (Tied-7th).
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 if there is value to letting Jake Locker start one of the last three games even if Matt Hasselbeck can play:
"No, we are looking at it like we are in the middle of a playoff run here and we have to win these three games. If Matt (Hasselbeck) is healthy then Matt will quarterback us. As far as Jake (Locker), he will have plenty of time to be our guy so we wouldn't put him in there just to give him experience. We know that we can win with him in there and we feel real good about what we have seen in the two games that we have had a chance to play so we will just take it from there. We wouldn't be doing it just to see, our thing is we have three huge games ahead of us and we have to take care of all three of those if we want to play anymore."
--- Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak
Quotable II: On where the Titans go from here following the loss to New Orleans:
"We had some positive things out there. Something we can build on. It's a game we have to put behind us. We have three divisional games coming up that are must wins, regardless of what the situation is. We have to go out there and put this game behind us. Start tomorrow (Monday) and watch film, correct our mistakes and get ready for next week when we go to Indianapolis."
--- Titans Safety Michael Griffin