A Capsule Look at the Colts' Thursday Showdown against the Titans
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) vs. Tennessee Titans (5-7) Thursday, December 9, 2010 (8:20 p.m. ET) LP Field (69,143 capacity) – Nashville, Tennessee Television/Radio: The NFL Network (aired locally on WXIN-TV, Fox-59), Westwood One Radio and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
THE GAMEThe Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans are both coming off tough losses on Sunday, but neither team has the opportunity to dwell on it.
The two teams, who on a normal week have six days to prepare for the next game, have had their preparation time cut in half for this week's game.
"It's a challenge for both teams," Tennessee Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. "Typically, your body clock is saying (Tuesday) is a day off. It's the player's normal day off to come in on their own, at their leisure, get a lift and work the soreness out. The reality is it's somewhere between a Thursday and a Friday, (when it really is a Tuesday)."
The short week also means neither team has time to sit back and think about the game it just played. Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne says in order to get ready for a Thursday game, a player must put the previous game behind by the time he pulls out of the parking lot leaving the stadium.
"You don't have time to mope around," Wayne said. "We just have to keep swinging the bat. We don't have time. We play Thursday night against a divisional opponent. We have to come up and make something happen ASAP."
Fisher said the Titans also must put their disappointing 17-6 loss to Jacksonville behind them quickly and get focused on the Colts.
"We addressed things very, very briefly and quickly, as far as bringing closure to Sunday's game, which was of course a loss for us also, and then you get right on to the next challenge," Fisher said. "That's kind of how we handled it, and I'm sure that's how the Colts handled it as well."
Having to put the loss behind quickly actually is a positive thing according to Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell.
"Sometimes I think it is better because you get it behind you," Caldwell said. "You do not have that extra day to think about it. Most of us when we have had something happen to us and we can get back to work and get back at it, you tend to move it behind you more quickly rather than linger on it another day. So I look at that oftentimes as a plus and not a minus."
The short week does change up the usually rigid weekly schedule though.
"Typically, Mondays we go out and go through our corrections," Caldwell said. "We watch the film, jog through them and get them straightened away. Then, you get that behind you and move on to the next one. In this particular case you do not have a mistake period. You get right in certainly to focusing in on your next opponent because you have so little time to do so. It really cuts that out. So you have to verbalize it. You have to talk about it. You try to get them to do it mentally and make your corrections that way, which is certainly doable. We do it on 'Victory Mondays' when obviously we have won a game and we come back on Wednesday and do the same thing. That is not unusual, just a shortened day. Instead of starting on Wednesday, we start on Tuesday, which certainly cuts into your day of preparation."
While Caldwell prefers to think of the positive development a Thursday game presents, Colts linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett admits he prefers to play on Sunday.
"(I'm) never glad to be playing in four days," Brackett said. "This is still the NFL. Obviously, you still need a couple of days to recover, but it is what it is. That's what we have to do, so we have to get ourselves ready to go out to Tennessee and hopefully get a victory."
Thursday games may not be something the players enjoy seeing on the schedule, but in past seasons it has not slowed down the Colts. The team has won all four of its Thursday appearances since 2004.
COLTS THURSDAY NIGHT GAMES SINCE 2004
YEAR OPPONENT RESULT
2009 at Jacksonville W, 35-31
2008 at Jacksonville W, 31-24
2007 at Atlanta W, 31-13
2004 at Detroit W, 41-9
FOCUS ON THE COLTS
The Colts pride themselves on offense of taking care of the ball and on defense of taking the ball away from the opposition. Since 2004, the Colts' plus-61 turnover margin is the best in the league and the offense's 137 giveaways in the same time span is the lowest among the 32 teams.
This season, the team, which has finished no lower than sixth in the league in turnover margin since 2004, is struggling on both sides of the ball in that category. The offense, which says even one turnover is too many, has had some turnover problems this season, and the defense, normally at the top of the league in forcing turnovers, has struggled to make those game-changing plays.
While the Colts do not use injuries as an excuse for the turnover problem on offense, the lack of cohesion on the unit, which has not had the same starting lineup in consecutive games all season, has not helped the team.
"There are so many things that go into it, it's just not one issue," Caldwell said. "It would be fairly easy if it was to get it solved. There are a lot of various factors that go into it, but the bottom line is you lessen yourself, in terms of an opportunity to score because you're giving it back to the defense. That's what we have to stop doing, obviously. That's one of the areas we have to make certain we continue to get some results in. We've gone through a pretty incredible stretch, but the fact of the matter is in our six wins we have, I think we had one turnover. We just have to get back to doing what we've been doing and get back to doing what we usually are really good at. That's just not in one area. When you talk about turnovers, oftentimes people are going to try to point to the fact that it's an interception and think it's our quarterback's fault, but that's not all that goes into it. There are a lot of things that happen; it's pass protection, it's route-running, it's communication and making certain you're on the same page. All of those things, I think, contribute to that. That's an area we have to get straightened out. We get that area straightened out and our opportunities increase."
Despite the turnovers, Caldwell wants the offense to stay aggressive.
"You better believe it," Caldwell said. "That is one of the things we talk about. We play loose and aggressive around here. Tom Moore always had this old statement he always made, 'Let's play smart, but not scared,' and I think that's always been one of our major tenets. We don't want guys that play cautious and apprehensive. We want you to do what you do, and we have always been an aggressive group in that particular area."
The defense has been quick to accept responsibility for the team's problems in turnover margin this season, saying it needs to create more short fields for Manning and the offense.
"It's kind of disheartening defensive-wise," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "You've got to get turnovers. We've got to help our offense out. That's one of our mottos; fly around, have fun, get turnovers, but we haven't been able to do that. You have to pass the blame around."
One of the easiest ways to see the impact turnovers have on a game is to look at the Colts' turnover margin in their six wins and six losses. In the six wins, the team has a plus-10 turnover margin. In the six losses, the team has a minus-16 turnover margin, and the defense has only forced one turnover in those six games.
"That's a big part of it as well," Caldwell said. "When you take the ball away, you give your offensive unit a short field in most cases, where you have an opportunity to flip the field. You take a scoring opportunity away from the opposition. We haven't been doing that. We haven't been getting turnovers, and we have to find a way to do it. We've had some opportunities. We had an opportunity (Sunday against Dallas) with the ball on the ground, but we have to get those balls."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE TITANS
The Titans come into Thursday's clash with the Colts trying to get back on the winning side of the ledger. Tennessee was at the top of the division alongside the Colts with a 5-2 record in Week Eight, but have lost five consecutive games as the team has battled injuries at the quarterback position.
In the last three games, the team has had three different starting quarterbacks. The instability at the quarterback position has allowed opposing teams to focus on last season's NFL rushing leader, Chris Johnson.
"It has been (difficult)," Fisher said. "The difficulties with the injuries at the quarterback position has not allowed us to take advantage of that. As of late, we've had trouble hanging onto the football, not necessarily turnovers, but just maintaining position. Our third-down efficiency has not been good and our time of possession has not been good, so as a result CJ has not been getting the opportunities."
Johnson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, but in the last two games he has had just 20 carries for 60 yards. While Johnson admits he would by lying if he said he doesn't care about his numbers, it is because he feels if he gets his numbers it probably means the team is winning. And, he said, he cares first and foremost about winning.
"He'll show up," Fisher said. "What's most important to him is winning football games. He set his sights very, very high, obviously. He's got 1,000 yards, and we've got a few games left. We're hoping we can get him back on track and get back to where we were early in the season."
On defense, the Titans rank eighth in the league, allowing only 19.6 points per game.
"Their defense is good, like always," Manning said. "A lot of the same players, although some new players with (LB-Will) Witherspoon and (CB-Alterraun) Verner, but a similar system. The defensive front is really active and (they have) an active secondary. They are playing good, number one in the red zone. They are tough to run the ball against. It is going to be a challenge. Like I said, they have a lot of pride, too. I know Jacksonville came in there and won, (and) I know they will be ready to respond."
One person to watch out for on the Titans defense is Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan is tied for the team lead in interceptions, and also has the team's only interception return for a touchdown. In past seasons, Finnegan usually has lined up directly across from Colts All-Pro wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
"It will be interesting to see if he follows Reggie or not," Manning said. "He's really kind of moved to the other side, but he followed (Houston) WR-Andre Johnson (earlier this season). In years past, he's played on our left side, which has been on Reggie. This year, he's been on the right side, so it will be interesting to see if he follows Reggie. He's that kind of guy that usually will go to a team's top receiver, which he did in Houston. He's a very aggressive player. He's a very good player. He's smart. He's one of those guys that takes chances, but he's right most of the time. I think that's not being risky, that's being smart. (CB-Alterraun) Verner on the other side that they drafted has good skills. Their two safeties, I think, from an experience standpoint and an athletic standpoint are kind of like our safeties here, kind of like (DB-Antoine) Bethea. They are both active and smart players. (Their) secondary is good."
Overall, Manning knows the Colts are in for a battle Thursday when they face the Titans.
"It's been a great rivalry," Manning said. "It's always been a good game, especially in Nashville. There is a lot of familiarity between the systems and the coaches. (Tennessee Head Coach) Coach (Jeff) Fisher has been in the NFL for a long time. I think he and (Philadelphia Head Coach) Andy Reid are the only coaches that have been there the entire time I've been playing. Our system has basically been the same since 2002. A lot of familiarity between the systems, teams have had some turnover as of late, but it's a competitive rivalry."
"Our backs are against the wall, and what it's going to do is show everybody what kind of men we've got in our locker room. I can guarantee you this, we are not going to give up. We are going to continue to fight, and we are going to fight hard because that is what we do. We're going to play Colts football, and we're going to fight hard."- Colts DT-Dan Muir on the team's mindset.
"That's the nature of the beast, though. When everything is good, everything is great, the sky is blue, the sun is shining. When things are a little rough it is, 'Oh, it's over, write them off,' and that's what happens every year, though."- Colts DE-Dwight Freeney on people writing off the Colts.
"We've lost three games, guys. I don't know what 'anything like this' means. It's a tough stretch. It's a three-game losing streak. I know you guys probably aren't used to having to ask these questions, but it's football and that's the way it is. Like I said, it's how you respond to it. I really do feel that the Thursday night (game), being a short week is good medicine. I'm sure the Titans feel the same way. I can assure you that we are continuing to work hard and prepare hard. I've really worked hard in our short period of time to get my studying done for the Titans. Hopefully, that can transfer to the playing field."- Colts QB-Peyton Manning on if he has ever gone through anything like this in his career before.
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1. Manning holds NFL road record for 300-yard passing games
Peyton Manning has thrown for 300 yards in 33 road games in his career, the most all-time by any quarterback in NFL history.
This season, Manning has thrown for at least 300 yards in five of the team's six road games while completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,107 yards and 15 touchdowns. The yards and touchdowns are the most of any quarterback in road games this season.
MOST 300-YARD PASSING GAMES ON ROAD IN NFL HISTORY
PLAYER # OF GAMES
Peyton Manning 33
Brett Favre 29
Dan Marino 27
Joe Montana 25
Kurt Warner 25
2. Colts looking to win AFC South for seventh time in eight seasons
The Colts entered the 2010 season with an all-time record of 38-10 in the AFC South. The team had won the division six of the eight years of its existence, been wire-to-wire leaders four times and owned or shared the lead in the division in 112 of the 136 weeks of the division's existence.
But so far in 2010, the Colts are 1-2 against division opponents after dropping their season-opener at Houston, 34-24, and losing at Jacksonville, 31-28, before defeating Houston at home, 30-17. Three of the Colts' final four games of the season are against division opponents, including two games against Tennessee starting with this week's Thursday night tilt in Nashville.
The Colts' worst AFC South record was 3-3 in 2006. That year, the Colts won their first three games in the division, but lost the final three meetings, all road games in December, to finish 3-3. In an example of the numbers not always meaning everything, the Colts' worst year in the AFC South, 2006, also happened to be the year the Colts won the Super Bowl.
COLTS RECORD IN AFC SOUTH
3. Colts run defense will be put to the test in final four games
Thursday's game at Tennessee is the first of two times in the final four games the defense will go up against the 2009 NFL's leading rusher, Titans running back Chris Johnson.
Last season, the Colts held Johnson to 34 rushing yards in their visit to Nashville. It was the lowest rushing total of the year for Johnson as he rushed for 2,006 yards. In three career games against the Colts, Johnson has rushed for more than 100 yards only once and has averaged 4.1 yards per carry, down from his career average of 5.0 yards per carry.
The defense will get no relief from the gauntlet of good running backs between meetings with Tennessee, as the defense also will face Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Oakland's duo of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush in their remaining games.