A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Showdown against the Titans
Tennessee Titans (6-9) vs. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
Sunday, January 2, 2011 (4:15 p.m. ET)
Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Indiana
Television/Radio: CBS Sports, SportsUSA Radio and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
THE GAMEIt is easy to know what will motivate the Colts this coming Sunday. A win over division foe Tennessee gives the Colts their seventh AFC South Division title in eight seasons and secures them their ninth consecutive playoff berth.
But a win, despite the Titans' recent struggles, will not come easy.
"I expect great effort out of both teams," Tennessee Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. "I think it will be a great ballgame. (They) say our guys have nothing to play for, but I'd say there's a lot more to play for than just playoffs. That became a dead issue for us last weekend, and now we're going to bounce back and play hard."
Fisher said he has been impressed this season with the way the Colts have been able to bounce back from many different injuries and still put themselves in position to win the AFC South.
"You can't help but be impressed with the great job they've done," Fisher said. "The great job Bill (Polian) and his staff have done through the draft, plugging people in and playing. Their defense is once again playing with tremendous speed and intensity. They are tackling very, very well. They are well coached. That gives them a chance, I think, in the playoffs. You can't help but be impressed with the job they've done, how they've just plugged people in. People thought the loss of Dallas (Clark) would set them back, but, no, (Jacob Tamme) steps in and he has 60 catches and has been very, very productive."
The Titans enter the game 6-9 on the season and know Sunday will be their final game of the 2010 NFL season. Despite the Colts having everything to play for and the Titans playing without post-season aspirations, Colts players and coaches know they will get Tennessee's best shot.
"I can't speak for that (on Tennessee having less to play for on Sunday than the Colts)," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "I know how important it is for us to prepare for a good team. We had a real close game with them last time in Nashville. It's a division opponent. Both teams are very familiar with each other. We've always had close games in Tennessee and here in Indy."
When pressed on the issue this week, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said he would not concern himself with Tennessee's state of mind because he knows the Titans will give their best come Sunday. Instead, his focus remains on the Colts.
"I do not spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out what they are thinking because first of all, more often than not I am probably going to be wrong," Caldwell said. "Besides that, even if I knew, what could I do about it? We spend more time on what we do, what we can do, what we can control. We know they will be excited about playing us. We know they will be tough and it is going to be a hard-nosed game. We know that obviously we can expect anything in the ballgame. We have had an experience similar to this a few years back. So history tells you that you'd better be ready for any and everything. Our job is to play well and certainly rely on our fundamentals and techniques to get us into position to win."
Sunday's game comes just three weeks since the two teams met on December 9 in Nashville. The Colts jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and hung on for a 30-28 win over the Titans to start their current three-game winning streak.
"Obviously, they are a bit more fresh in your mind simply because you did prepare not too long ago, but also there are so many things that change in terms of team dynamics within a couple of weeks around here," Caldwell said. "It is week-to-week sometimes in this league. It is day-to-day, I should say in this league, actually. We still are going to have to go about it in the same way in terms of our preparation. We are still going to have to study them, but we know for a fact that they will be well prepared. They will come in and play extremely hard, and it has always been competitive games against us. That's the way it is. It is a huge rivalry year in and year out. I do not think that will ever change."
FOCUS ON THE COLTS The Colts have gotten a big boost on offense the past two weeks from their running game. In the past two games combined, the Colts have rushed for 346 yards on 63 carries (5.5 yards per carry).
"I think the big thing is that we are not using any different plays," Caldwell said. "We are not doing anything different from a schematic standpoint, but I do think we have gotten better week in and week out just in terms of fundamentals and techniques. I think we are doing a better job just controlling the line of scrimmage. I think the guys up front are communicating very well. They have finally gotten to the point where you have roughly the same group that has played together for a fairly decent length of time, and so I think you are starting to see some of the benefits of that."
One of the Colts' offensive goals before every game is balance between the run and pass. For the past two weeks, the team has been very balanced between run and pass. Last week against Oakland, for the first since Sept. 30, 2007 against Denver, the offense had more yards rushing (191) than passing (179).
"I can say this, it has been a good balance because it's worked for us," Caldwell said. "We've run the ball better and we have not had to rely on the pass as much. I think that's good. I think every week dictates a little different requirement from your unit because of the fact in which the way a defense plays. Our offense is still based on what we see. The old Tom Moore-ism of, 'I don't care what you play as long as I have the chalk last,' that's how we function. There are games where we will throw a little bit more. There are games where we will run a little bit more. It just depends on what we see, but I will not deny the fact that our balance has been pretty good over the last couple of weeks."
The offensive line says it has been motivated by the coaches stressing the importance of an effective running game.
"Every week I think it is part of our job as coaches to make certain we emphasize what we think are some of the most important factors in a particular game or a situation," Caldwell said. "That's what we try to do from time to time. There is nothing unusual or out of the ordinary, nothing special, but I do think we have a group of guys who do respond, particularly when they know something has to change in terms of getting us to the point where we are better in some areas. Our offensive line did a tremendous job over the last few weeks of taking it upon themselves to find a way to be very consistent in that phase. I would attribute most of it to those guys playing together well. They have good, solid leadership, and I think we are seeing some of the results of their hard work."
Another factor in the renewed success of the run game could be the return of running back Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes was with the Colts from 2001-06 and again in 2008. Last week, Rhodes led the team with 98 yards rushing. Coaches and teammates say having Rhodes back around is great on and off the field.
"Dom has a real infectious personality," Caldwell said. "He is very, very passionate about what he does. As a matter of fact, you heard him before you saw him. That's just the way he is. He can come in and light up a locker room, and guys love to be around him. He is a great, great teammate and it's infectious, his enthusiasm. He has one of those engaging personalities, and he has really added a spark along with (the fact) he knows the system and that makes it even better. He did not have to feel his way to be a contributor. He has helped us quite a bit."
Fisher says he has not seen the Colts run the football like they have the past two games in a long time.
"There's definitely a commitment to it," Fisher said. "You can see what's taken place. You're playing against two pretty good run defenses over the last two weeks, and they've made a lot of plays on the ground. That's kept them in the ballgame, kept the defenses off-balanced and allowed Peyton to make his plays.
"They are doing a great job up front. They are doing as good a job as I've seen them on the football in a long time with different runs. As usual, Peyton is putting them in the perfect position."
Manning is pleased the offense has achieved the sought-after balance in the last two games, but he is not ready to offer any summaries or declarations.
"I really think what we try to do is not to divide the offense," Manning said. "Just like you don't divide a team. The offense's execution has been better the past two weeks. I'm not going to give any summary. There is no question our balance has been better the past couple of weeks.
"I just think it makes your offense better overall. I think that's pretty obvious."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE TITANSTennessee enters Sunday's game with a record of 6-9 on the season, having lost seven of their last eight games.
"Every year is a challenge," Fisher said. "We had high expectations. We got off to a decent start, not the start we were looking for, but you just have to adjust. You come to work each day, you put plans in, you do the best you can, you get your players ready to play and you hope you can make enough plays on the weekend to win the ballgame."
The Titans, who were 13-3 just two seasons ago, started the season at 5-2, but when injuries at the quarterback position started to pile up, the team could not recover.
"I think we got to the bye week feeling pretty good about ourselves at 5-3, but two weeks before that was when Vince (Young) was injured in the Jacksonville game and tried to come back, couldn't and reinjured himself against San Diego," Fisher said. "Kerry (Collins) hurt the calf in Miami after the bye week. I think for the most part we were unsettled at the quarterback position because of injury. When that happens, you become one-dimensional, and when you're one-dimensional in this league you're easy to defend. That was the case for three or four weeks. When Kerry started healing up a little bit, we got things going. We were able to keep that going the next week against Houston, but things fell apart for us last week. Basically what happens, I think, when you become one-dimensional and teams take things away, then your defense is on the field for a long time and that's basically what happened to us."
The injuries at quarterback and the resulting difficulties the Titans have had on offense has highlighted how important the quarterback position is in the NFL.
"It clearly is," Fisher said. "You talk about the opportunities to score, I think the Colts (offense) has had had 200 more plays (Colts: 1,021, Titans: 843) than we've had leading into this week. At 5.6 yards per play you're going to make things happen. That was basically the difficulty right in the middle of the season."
On defense, the Titans have mixed some new players in, but they are still the same aggressive, fast defense Manning and the offense are used to seeing.
"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 tough to run the ball against. It is going to be a challenge."
In the secondary, the Titans are led by cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan has only two interceptions on the season, but he is considered to be one of the most aggressive defensive backs in the NFL.
"I don't really know what everybody's idea of me is," Finnegan said. "I just play football. It is what it is. I'm not really worried about that. I just go out there and try to play the way we were taught to play, and that's fast and physical."
In the first matchup of the season, Finnegan covered Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne on most plays. Wayne only had four catches in the game, but he managed 106 yards and a touchdown on those catches.
"I enjoy going up against the best receivers each and every week. It in turn makes me better. I'm not where I need to be or want to be, but at the same time, it makes me better."
Manning respects Finnegan's ability and said he will be cognizant of where he is at all times.
"He's a very aggressive player," Manning said. "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."
QUOTABLES"It starts with Peyton and the offensive line. They are always in sync. They are going to avoid long down-and-distance situations. When they do get to third down, the third downs are manageable. People take advantage of third-and-long situations and try to pressure Peyton, and time after time after time he completes the pass for a first down. I think it all starts there. The threat of the run and his accuracy as a passer and the timing and the entire offense's understanding of opposing defenses gives them a chance to stay on the field."
*- Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher on the Colts' ability to sustain drives.
*"He's excellent. He's a future Hall-of-Famer. Peyton Manning is the most accurate quarterback to ever play the game, but Reggie Wayne is the real deal. He makes the first 10 yards look the same on every route. He's always tough to cover. They have a great one-two combo. The first time I slipped, but that happens and he made a great play. The second time, I just sort of started laughing because it was like, 'Man, these two right here are an excellent combination.' It's always an honor to get to play against Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne."
*- Titans DB-Cortland Finnegan on Colts WR-Reggie Wayne and QB-Peyton Manning and his performance against the two in the team's first meeting of the season on December 9.
*"I think he has every right to be disappointed. He is a Pro Bowl safety. He is a complete safety. He makes plays on the ball. He's a tremendous open-field tackler. He is a very smart player."
*- Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher on Colts DB-Antoine Bethea.
*STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR… 1. Manning wrapping up the 2010 regular seasonThe 2010 regular season ends Sunday with Manning wrapping up another successful regular season.
This season, Manning already has set new career-highs for attempts (638) and completions (423), surpassing his former marks of 591 attempts (2002) and 393 completions (2009).
The 13th-year veteran also has a chance to establish a new career-high for passing yards. Manning's current career-high for passing yards in a season is 4,557, which he set in 2004. Manning needs throw for 122 yards on Sunday to set a new career-high.
Manning enters Sunday's season-finale against Tennessee needing just three touchdown passes to reach 400 for his career. When he reaches 400 touchdown passes, Manning will become just the third quarterback in NFL history (Brett Favre and Dan Marino) to reach that mark. Manning could reach the mark in his 208th career game, the fastest pace in NFL history. Marino reached 400 touchdown passes in 227 games, while Favre took 228 games.
If Manning throws two or more touchdown passes on Sunday it would mark the 13th time this season Manning has had multiple-touchdown passes in a game. This season is only the fourth time in his career, Manning has thrown for multiple-touchdowns in 10 or more games. He also accomplished the feat in 2000 (10), 2004 (14) and 2005 (10).
The next time Manning throws for more than 300 yards also will set a new NFL record. Manning has thrown for 300 yards or more in seven games this season, which gives him 63 career 300 -yard games, tying him with Dan Marino for the most in NFL history.
Also on Sunday, Manning will make his 208th consecutive start since starting his career. Sunday's start will break former Oakland Raiders' OG-Gene Upshaw for the most consecutive starts to begin a career.
2. Colts looking to win AFC South for seventh time in eight seasonsThe Colts enter Sunday's game with an all-time record of 41-12 in the AFC South. A win over Tennessee would give the Colts their seventh AFC South title in eight seasons. The team has 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 122 of the 152 weeks of the division's existence.
This season, the Colts lost their first two division games, at Houston and at Jacksonville, but have rallied to win their last three AFC South games to put themselves in position to win the division title.
COLTS RECORD IN AFC SOUTH Year Record2010 3-2
3. Colts defensive ends getting the job doneDwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have combined for 20 sacks this season, including 2.5 last weekend in the Colts victory over Oakland.
The two players, who were named the AFC's starting defensive ends in next month's Pro Bowl, have combined to record 10 of the club's 16 double-digit sack seasons.
Mathis leads the team with 11 sacks and 19 quarterback hurries this season and also leads all Colts defensive linemen with 56 tackles. The eighth-year veteran has recorded a sack in nine of 15 games this season and has recorded more than one sack three times. Mathis had a sack in each of the first three games of 2010, earning him AFC Defensive Player-of-the-Month honors for September. This is Mathis' fourth career double-digit sack season, and he needs just one more sack to set a new career-high for sacks in a season.
Freeney leads the team with five forced fumbles this season and is second on the team with nine sacks and 17 quarterback hurries. Freeney earned AFC Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors after recording two sacks and a forced fumble against Houston on November 1. The ninth-year veteran is the Colts' career sack leader with 93, and with one more sack this season, Freeney would extend his franchise record with a seventh career double-digit sack season. Since he entered the league in 2002, Freeney leads all NFL players in sacks (93) and forced fumbles (41).