INDIANAPOLIS – In a week where the Colts (3-3) will need to "do a little more" to earn their first road win of the season, Indianapolis will travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans (3-4) for a 1 p.m. kickoff at LP Field.
Colts interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is a 20-year veteran of the NFL and knows what it takes to capture a victory away from home.
Even though the Colts are seven weeks into the season and have had just two chances to record a road win, if this team wants to continue to stay "in the hunt" in the AFC, victories will have to come while wearing the white jerseys.
"It's hard," Arians said of winning on the road. "Especially when you're going against two premier defenses like we have, in Chicago and New York, one with great players and one with really good schemes.
"This one is another challenge, but it's not as difficult I don't think because we've been there now. We've got experience at it. We should be better at it, not to take anything away from the Titans. They're an excellent team, but we should be better at it, and we should know what to expect. We've got to create more plays. You've got to finish the game when you're on the road. You've got to learn how to win on the road by finishing it and making plays, not just doing your job."
The difficulty facing the Colts' second game against the AFC South this weekend begins with trying to stop Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson.
After dealing with power backs for the early part of the season, Johnson will bring speed that the Indianapolis defense has not seen much of this year.
Since week four, Johnson leads the NFL with 451 yards rushing and is coming off an 18-carry, 195-yard effort in the Titans' 35-34 win over the Bills last week.
The home run ability of Johnson is something on which the Colts will be keying. Johnson now has four career games of 190 yards rushing and set an NFL record last week with his fourth career touchdown run of at least 80 yards.
Along with his 195-yard performance against Bills, Johnson has had games of 141 yards and 91 yards rushing over the last four weeks.
"Everybody is executing what we have to do," Johnson said of run game's success. "Guys are getting up on their guys and again giving them a chance to continue to run the ball. Not making the game one-sided, we get to continue to run the ball and through, that you get better and better throughout the game."
The Colts have had their success in neutralizing Johnson as he has averaged 43 yards rushing on 16 carries over the last three meetings between the teams.
Arians knows this is a new Colts defense, and the task of containing such a big-play back always presents a challenge.
"They look like they hit their stride pretty good as far as the running game this past weekend, and he's always a challenge. He's as much a challenge on the check down as he is on a stretch play," Arians said.
"You've got to corral him. You can't let him loose in space because no one is going to catch him. He's always been a speed matchup problem for every team he's ever played."
The added production in the run game has helped the offense led by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Starting quarterback Jake Locker injured his shoulder in a week four loss against the Texans, and Hasselbeck has led the team to back-to-back wins.
"I think we are heading in the right direction which is good news, especially after the last two weeks," Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak said. "Again, that's why this game is so big for us, for them. Division games always are. This gets us kind of back to even if we can play well here at home and then win a huge division game."
Sunday's matchup will pit two of the nine AFC teams with a 3-3 or 3-4 record.
The halfway point of the 2012 NFL season is nearing but as of now, Arians loves seeing the Colts' name in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
"I think it's a terrible feeling not to be in it," Arians said. "Now you're just judging, 'Are you getting better each week?' We want to do both. We want to get better each week with these young guys and offensively and get healthy defensively. I think we're going to be a pretty solid football team coming down the stretch."
Colts 27, Titans 13 – December 18, 2011
In the hopes of getting their first win of 2011, the Colts put together a complete effort in front of their home fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. The teams traded punts on each of their first two possessions before the Colts got on the board on the final play of the first quarter. A combination of running backs Donald Brown and Delone Carter helped carve out a drive that ended in a 47-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. The second quarter was filled with more punts to open up the frame before the Titans got on the board with a 53-yard field goal by Rob Bironas. The theme of trading punts would continue for the rest of the first half, but a late turnover would give Tennessee the halftime lead. Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon fumbled at the Indianapolis 31-yard line with just under three minutes to play and Titans cornerback Chris Hope recovered the loose ball. The Titans took advantage with a 21-yard Bironas field goal for a 6-3 halftime lead. The Colts would come out of halftime firing, scoring on their first drive of the third quarter. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dan Orlovsky to give the Colts a 13-10 lead. It was time for the Indianapolis defense to make a big play, and that happened on the following possession. Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey picked off a Matt Hasselbeck pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. With a 17-6 lead, Brown ripped off a 39-yard run late in the third quarter to set up a 40-yard field goal by Vinatieri. The Colts led, 20-6, with 12:53 to go in the fourth quarter, but finishing off their first victory would not be easy. The Indianapolis defense forced turnovers on the next two possessions, but the club was not able to convert either into points. With 6:13 left, quarterback Jake Locker took over and drove the Titans 69 yards in 2:30, hitting wide receiver Nate Washington on a seven-yard touchdown pass. The Colts put the finishing touches on the victory with Brown rumbling 80 yards for a touchdown, thanks to a vital block by Orlovsky. The touchdown gave the Colts a 27-13 lead, and the defense forced a turnover on downs to preserve the victory.
Titans running back Chris Johnson versus the Colts defense: Johnson has had an up-and-down start to the season but is coming off a 195-yard effort on just 18 carries this past weekend. The Colts defense has held Johnson to an average of 43 yards on 16 carries over the last three games between the teams. The Colts' defense, however, looks a bit different than it did the last time these teams met. The return of 2011 leading tackler Pat Angerer to the middle of the defense should only help a unit hoping to get more injured players back in the front seven.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck versus the Titans secondary: Luck is not afraid to address his subpar numbers on the road this season and realizes that he must protect the ball better this weekend. The Colts offense knows the importance of getting off to a strong start on the road in an effort to take the home crowd at LP Field out of the equation. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne is expected to get a lot of attention from the Titans secondary, perhaps opening the door for Donnie Avery, who played for the Titans in 2011.
-The Colts have won six of their past nine games at Tennessee.
-Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is one of three rookies in NFL history with at least three 300-yard passing games (Peyton Manning 4 in 1998 and Cam Newton 3 in 2011).
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne is averaging an AFC-best 111 receiving yards per game.
-Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is the only rookie wide receiver with a 100-yard receiving game.
-Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney has 13 career sacks against the Titans, which is the second-most against any opponent.
-Colts wide receiver Donnie Avery played for the Titans in 2011.
-Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has a 90.5 passer rating in three career starts against the Colts.
-Titans running back Chris Johnson has 30 career 100-yard rushing games. The Titans are 22-8 in those games.
-Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright leads all NFL rookies with 36 receptions.
-Titans tight end Jared Cook had a career-high nine receptions, along with 103 receiving yards, in the last meeting with the Colts.
-Titans cornerback Jason McCourty is looking for his third straight game with an interception.
-Titans defensive end Keyunta Dawson (injured reserve) played for the Colts from 2007-2010.
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on if you do anything differently on the road this week):
"We have to do more than our job. Doing your job doesn't win (on the road). (If) both teams do their job, the home team wins. That's the nature of the beast. We have to do more than our job. We have to create some turnovers. We have to protect the football. We have seven turnovers on the road and one takeaway. We have to protect the football. We have to take it away. We have to get something out of our return game, and we cannot let their returners do anything. We're facing a great returner (in Darius Reynard). He already has a 105-yard (kickoff) return. It's a good challenge. We have to get that done. On the other hand, we need to make something happen."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on if you think the defensive side will start to come together with the potential for getting some starters back):
"Hopefully. We'll get as many back as we can and start building that cohesiveness. It's obviously showing up on the offensive line when you start playing with the same guys week after week. Hopefully, knock on wood, we've been through the (injury) bug and we can stay healthy and keep them out on the field and get as many back this week and then add a few next week, add a few next week and see how good we can become."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on using the phrase 'in the hunt' and how important it is to keep that discussion alive):
"That's why we're here. We're here to get in the playoffs and play the game and go. We're with a bunch of teams right now, and it's time to start stringing some wins together and adding to the excitement. There's nothing like getting in the playoff hunt and coming to practices with a bit more verve and ready to go every Wednesday. I think our guys will show up Wednesday extremely excited."
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck(on the importance of preaching team is "in the hunt"):
"I think you have to have a purpose for going out and playing the game. You have to have a purpose to win football games. Big picture, making it into the playoffs and then, hopefully, you have a chance to win the big one. But yeah, to have a purpose to win the big one, understand why you are trying to win games. I agree with (Arians') sentiment."
Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney(on message from Coach Arians for team to do a little bit more on the road this weekend):
"When you're on the road, just 'OK' is not good enough. Sometimes a team has to step up and make a big play – interception, caused fumble, sack. What he means is when you're at home, you have homefield advantage. Everything bounces your way when you're at home. When you're away, you need a little extra (something). Somewhere, you don't know where, but a (turnover). He means within the framework (of your job). He doesn't mean just run around and do whatever. It's in the framework of your responsibility, 'I have my gap. Here comes the running back. Instead of just making the tackle, maybe I can tackle him and cause a fumble.' "
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak(on if Chris Johnson has found his rhythm):
"We think so. We feel that again, our season has been kind of strange with getting behind in games like we have. We've kind of abandoned the running game early in the season, in the first four games or so. The last three weeks, three or four weeks, we've run the ball much more. When you get him more opportunities, he's going to have a chance to do more with the ball. He's obviously had a real good game last week. We thought in the Pittsburgh game he ran well as well and it's not just him. I think we are blocking better. We are staying in the games and being competitive, and I think that's allowed us to not be so one-dimensional. Playing against Indianapolis, that's the same thing. If that keeps us in the game, then we feel we can use all of our weapons."
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak(on the amount of points the team has given up especially late in games):
"I think a lot of what in the games that we lost in the fourth quarter, games got away from us. Turnovers on the road I think have really hurt us. We've given up about 30 points on turnovers, some on special teams, so it hasn't all been on the defensive side of the ball. We've been giving short fields and have had three interceptions returned for touchdowns over that stretch, so that's kind of made things get out of hand. You are taking more risks obviously when you are losing games and you're trying to get back in them in the fourth quarter, so you put your defense in some bad spots and that led to some of the scores. Even in the games we lost, we felt there was a window in the third quarters where we could have got back in the game and we didn't. We think we are working towards fixing that and we know we have to, to win football games. We know this weekend is another challenge against a team that is playing pretty well."
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak(on Andrew Luck):
"Very impressed with him, always have been. I'm actually rooting for him most games except for this one. I was roommates with his dad when we came into the Houston Oilers back in '82 together. We were in the same rookie class and we were roommates our rookie year. Oliver and I were good friends, and obviously I followed his son when he was in Houston and Katy, when he started to develop into a really special quarterback, and obviously at Stanford. He's someone I've kept a real close eye on and have rooted for. I got real excited when he got drafted with the first pick. I was hoping he wouldn't be in our division. He's going to be special. Just watching him on tape, he's already playing beyond a rookie. He's got eyes down the field all the time. He's making throws. He's not just throwing short passes to get the ball out of his hand. He's throwing the ball down the field, making plays and he can run. I think that's when he's at his best. He feels pressure and he knows when to run. He scored touchdowns last week, and that's tough on a defense when you not only have to watch where he's throwing, you have to be aware of the fact that he can take off and run. Indianapolis was very fortunate to lose one great quarterback and gain another."
Titans running back Chris Johnson(on how the team has put together back-to-back wins):
"Basically just as a team working hard and buying into what the coaches were saying and staying together to give ourselves a chance in the game instead of just standing to the side and having a blowout game, believing in each other and giving each other a chance to win."
Titans running back Chris Johnson(on if he feels has back to old self):
"I never felt like I left. It was a situation where I didn't have many chances to actually run the ball and things like that. More and more we're in the game. We have a chance to continue to run the ball and get better and better throughout the game."