A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Showdown Against the Titans
Indianapolis Colts (11-0) vs. Tennessee Titans (5-6)
Sunday, December 6, 2009 (1:00 p.m. EST)
Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Ind.
Television/Radio: CBS Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
One week after clinching the division, the Indianapolis Colts take on another AFC South challenge this Sunday when they face off with the Tennessee Titans for the second time this season.
After the Colts traveled to Nashville and delivered the Titans a 31-9 defeat two months ago, Tennessee comes to town this weekend as a team who has seen their fortunes shift dramatically since the last meeting.
Tennessee started the year a nightmarish 0-6, but are winners of their last five games and come to Indianapolis amidst a playoff race.
"They're a good team and they're playing very well right now, maybe playing as hot as any team in the league," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "It's a division opponent, it's a team we're familiar with and they are familiar with us. It's really hard to trick them. It comes down to execution. We're glad to have them here at home. I know our crowd will be into it. And I know it will be a tough game."
The Colts are coming off a 35-27 win at Houston, their league-record fifth consecutive fourth-quarter comeback victory. A win Sunday would improve Indianapolis to 12-0 and extend their regular-season winning streak to 21 games, tying the NFL all-time record.
But in order to do that, the Colts will have to defeat a revitalized Tennessee team, led by quarterback Vince Young, who has helped propel the team to a five-game winning streak since being re-named the starting signal-caller.
While Indianapolis owns a 17-12 advantage in the all-time series, the Colts and Titans have split their last four contests.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said while they have wrapped up the division, every game is still extremely important for the Colts, particularly this Sunday's.
"We've still got a lot to fight for, and this game for us will be no different than any one we've played up until this time," he said. "We still are going at it the same way in terms of our preparation, and we know that if we don't get better this week, we've got a problem on our hands. So, we've got to continue to get better."
After registering yet another comeback victory last Sunday in Houston, the Colts were on their team plane flying back to Indianapolis when they received some good news.
"We were actually in flight," Caldwell said. "We got word of the final score of the Jacksonville-San Francisco game and announced it on the airplane."
San Francisco's 20-3 victory over Jacksonville meant the Colts had accomplished their number one goal set before the season: win the AFC South.
"We had a brief celebration," Caldwell said. "(But) our team knows there still is a lot of work to do. There was not unmitigated pleasure on the plane. Nevertheless, they enjoyed themselves. They understand it's quite an accomplishment, but we still have a few more things to get done."
Still at stake this regular-season is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In addition, Caldwell said the Colts still have a lot of room for improvement.
"We have a lot to play for," the Colts coach said. "We are not pulling in the reins by any stretch of the imagination. We still have to forge ahead and continue to get better. We have to make certain we keep identifying our weaknesses and try to improve upon those.
"The important thing is you continue to improve throughout the season. We still are in the business of doing that. We try to concentrate more on our performance than we do on the results. The other things will take care of themselves."
Tight end Dallas Clark said the team is happy to already have accomplished one of its goals so early in the season.
"It is one of those things where sometimes it is the last week, sometimes it is Week 13 or whenever," Clark said. "We are just happy that we were able to accomplish that goal and put ourselves in a good situation."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE TITANS
An 0-6 start convinced the Titans to switch to Vince Young, their top draft choice back in 2006, under center.
But Young is not the only reason Tennessee has been able to rattle off five consecutive victories.
"There's a lot more to it," Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. "The first three games, at the start of the season, I really felt could have gone either way. Then we had the next three that didn't go well. I think we took real good advantage of the bye week. We got people back. We worked on some things, and we got away. We just came back and basically started over and tried to put it as far behind us as we possibly could."
Fisher said Young has been "outstanding" in five starts this season, but there are other players stepping up just as much.
"Our offensive line has been playing well, and C.J. (RB-Chris Johnson), as you can tell, is off to a great start. Getting DB-Cortland (Finnegan) back has helped. Getting DB-Vincent Fuller back has certainly helped. I think it's settled the defense down," he said. "It's just been a combination of things. Like anybody else, you stay close at the end and you have a chance to win, and we've done so in the past couple of weeks."
As Fisher mentioned, the Titans have several starters back they did not have against Indianapolis the first time around this season.
And when looking at the Titans, Caldwell said he sees the same team that won the division and went 13-3 last season.
"You'll see they have the same personnel they won all their games with last year," he said. "They were just a hair from doing some similar things they did last year. This roll they are on right now is pretty indicative of a Jeff Fisher-coached team. They are very talented. They are very capable. It doesn't surprise us at all that they are playing so well. They are a tough bunch."
Caldwell said the Colts would take a good, long look at the Titans' past five games as they prepare for Tennessee this Sunday. Especially with a new quarterback now running the offense.
"It's a different team than what we saw earlier this year," Caldwell said. "(Young) has added another dimension to it (Tennessee's offense)."
Colts rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey said the key to shutting down a mobile quarterback like Young is "effort."
"Everybody has to run to the ball," Lacey said. "It's going to be tough trying to guard him on third downs and whatnot, but if everyone runs to the ball we'll be okay."
But defensive end Raheem Brock said the Colts know there is more to stopping the Titans than containing Young.
"Their whole team is playing well," he said. "We already knew what kind of team they were, they just had some plays here and there that they missed. But Vince got in there and gave them the boost they needed. We just have to force them into making some mistakes."
The Colts issued the game status/injury report on Friday with the following players listed as probable for Sunday's game vs. Tennessee: RB-Joseph Addai (knee), LBs-Gary Brackett (foot) and Ramon Humber (calf), OGs-Kyle DeVan (shin) and Jamey Richard (shoulder), DBs-Kelvin Hayden (knee), Tim Jennings (ankle) and Jerraud Powers (knee), QB-Peyton Manning (glute), DE-Robert Mathis (neck), TE-Tom Santi (hand), C-Jeff Saturday (calf), OT-Tony Ugoh (knee/rested) and WR-Reggie Wayne (foot).
Listed as questionable are DE-Dwight Freeney (abdomen), OT-Charlie Johnson (foot) and QB-Jim Sorgi (right shoulder), while the following players are listed as out for Sunday: RB-Donald Brown (chest), DE-Keyunta Dawson (knee), DB-Aaron Francisco (ankle), WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee).
• "It's something we are going to assess if we achieve it. That's a big 'if'. We have to get it done first. I've been here for a few years. I've had an opportunity to look at what we've done previously. It's been assessed. When we have an opportunity to revisit it again, we will talk about it. There will be a number of us who will talk about the situation. We'll see where our team is in terms of our health. The most important thing is what best suits you to be as well as you possibly can in the post-season. That's how we'll look at it. That's how we'll make a determination. We probably won't deviate too far from what we've done previously." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on the opportunity to rest starters if the team clinches home-field advantage
• "Their defense, obviously, is playing well. I think they've done a terrific job, in personnel areas, replacing injured players. They all seem to be getting better. Their special teams are very, very solid. On offense, we all know what they are capable of doing. It's a very well-coached team. It's a talented team with great speed that is equipped to win every game, as we've found out." – Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher on the Colts
• "I saw that on the TV. That was hilarious. I hope he didn't get too ridiculed for it because he is a tremendous coach. I would hope that the Titans fans know exactly where his heart is and where his agenda is and all that. I think things like that when you talk about charities, I think it is great for players and coaches to kind of show their personality. I think it is a chance to really support causes as people and not as players or coaches. I think that lightened the atmosphere, especially with Coach (Tony) Dungy being there. I thought it was brilliant." – Colts tight end Dallas Clark on player feedback from Jeff Fisher putting on a Peyton Manning jersey
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) COLTS HOPE TO CONTAIN 'C.J.'
The Colts held the NFL's leading rusher to a season-low 34 yards on the ground in their first meeting. This Sunday, they will try and do it again.
But as the Colts know, it won't be easy.
Johnson is coming off an incredible month of November, in which he rushed for an NFL-record 800 yards. In his last six games, the running back has gained 120 yards or more on the ground in each contest and scored seven touchdowns.
Caldwell said stopping Johnson is "a tall order to even think about."
"He's on a tear right now. In great backs, you typically don't stop them. You may hold them down a little bit, but they are going to get their yards," Caldwell said. "He is going to get his yards. He's fast and quick, and right now he's on a dominant pace. What we have to do is play our techniques and fundamentals and tackle when we have an opportunity."
While defending a running back as dangerous as Johnson won't be easy, Fisher said the Colts do have a unique ability.
"The Colts are unique in that they have tremendous speed," he said. "So, when you match speed against speed, then you have the opportunity to eliminate the big plays, and that's what they did."
2) OWNING THE THIRD
Defensive adjustments at halftime have been key to the Colts' success this season.
Of the 184 points the defense has surrendered this year, only 17 points have come in the third quarter.
"It's very impressive," Fisher said. "They regroup and they come out and they come out with a great deal of emotion, regardless of whether they're at home or on the road. They're creating three-and-outs or turnovers."
Strong third quarters have led to five consecutive fourth-quarter comeback victories for the Colts.
Earlier this week, Caldwell credited the team's veteran coaching staff for having the ability to read opponents and make the right adjustments.
"They know how to fix problems," he said. "Our guys who are on the field respond to the things they have seen and execute it well. Sometimes it's a matter of settling in and doing what you have planned all along. I think that happens more often than not.
"It could also be a situation of your getting a heavier dose of a particular style of play that requires some slight adjustments. There are never wholesale changes. They (defense) do adjust well.
3) A FASTER START
As much fun as fourth-quarter comebacks are for fans, the Colts hope to get off to a faster start this Sunday than they have in recent weeks.
"It's something we would like to do a better job of, scoring early," Manning said. "You always want to try and get the lead and keep the lead. It's something we need to improve on. This week would be a great week to do it."
Manning said the Colts have made some uncharacteristic errors in the first half in recent weeks, himself included, and thinks the team just needs to tighten up in certain areas.
"Certainly, the points of emphasis are there, trying to protect the ball, trying to keep our defense out of tough situations, trying to have few penalties. All of those are part of our goals each week, and something we continue to stress," Manning said. "Obviously, we need to do a better job of executing and trying to reach those goals each week."
Manning, the NFL's leading passer, said the Colts will have their hands full with the Titans' defense this week.
"Every week you have to be prepared for different things," he said. "Especially here late in the season, you can see different things. Like I've always said, you prepare for what you see on film, and then always be prepared for the unexpected."