*INDIANAPOLIS — *Fresh off their late-season bye week, the Indianapolis Colts hope to spark little run in the final stretch of the regular season starting Sunday, when they play host to the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts (3-7) on Sunday are looking to avenge their 36-22 Week 6 loss to the Titans in Nashville on Monday Night Football, in which Indianapolis led 19-15 going into the fourth quarter, but saw the Titans go on a 21-3 run the rest of the way to claim their first series win in 12 games.
The Colts had a similar storyline in their last game, a 20-17 loss to the AFC North Division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers, in which Indianapolis led 17-9 going into the fourth quarter before the Steelers reeled off 11 straight points — including a field goal in the final seconds — to escape with a 20-17 victory.
The Titans (6-4), meanwhile, will also be well-rested when they take on the Colts, as they last played Nov. 16 against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, a 40-17 blowout win for Pittsburgh in which Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota threw four interceptions.
So what should fans be looking for in this Colts/Titans Week 12 matchup on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium?
1. Fresh On Fresh
Sunday’s game will feature two well-rested teams, as the Colts are coming off their bye week, while the Titans will have gone 10 days between games when arrive at Lucas Oil Stadium for their AFC South Division rivalry matchup. The Colts were one of four teams with this season’s latest bye week, and it couldn’t have come soon enough, as several players headed into the few days off needing both a physical and a mental break from the grind of the season. But let’s not forget that not only are the Titans coming into the game well-rested, too, but they’re about as healthy as they’ve been all season. Already with just five players on Injured Reserve (compared to 12 for the Colts), the team has just one player, wide receiver Rishard Matthews, on its injury report this week, and he’s limited the last few days with a hamstring injury (and is questionable for Sunday’s game). The Colts, meanwhile, have 10 players on their injury report, four of whom did not practice on Thursday and another two that were limited, while two players — defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (shoulder) and tight end Darrell Daniels (hamstring) — have already been ruled out.2. Must. Finish.
It’s been a theme all season for the Colts, but their Week 6 game against the Titans was perhaps their most deflating second-half collapse of the year, as they had their division rivals on the ropes, in their house, on national TV, and before they knew it, the Colts went from leading by 10 points, 19-9, in the third quarter, to heading to the locker room at the end of the game with a 14-point loss, 36-22. While the Colts feel they’re playing better overall football than they were at that point of the season, head coach Chuck Pagano said some of the same issues remain, and, he hopes, his team can use its last six games, starting Sunday, to reverse that trend. “The whole idea is to get better every single week, and we’re seeing the byproducts of the way we’re practicing now, some things that we changed up, trying to simplify, trying to make it so guys can play fast. You’re starting to see that. Now, we haven’t finished. We’ve got to finish, and we’ve got to close out games. You’ve got to make a couple more plays than your opponent makes.”3. Defensive Boost
The Colts’ defense is expecting a major boost on the defensive side of the ball on Sunday, as outside linebacker John Simon and safety Clayton Geathers are expected to make their returns to the field. Simon has missed the last three games with a stinger in his neck, while Geathers had been on the PUP list since training camp after undergoing offseason neck surgery. Simon had been putting together perhaps the best all-around performance for the Indy defense at the time of his injury Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, collecting 38 tackles (with a team-best six tackles for loss) with 3.0 sacks, a team-best 12 quarterback hits, one pass defensed and one interception that he returned for a touchdown in that Week 6 game against Mariota and the Titans. Geathers, meanwhile, is expected to be on a “pitch count” Sunday, Pagano said, but the team is certainly excited to get one of its best overall playmakers back to patrol the secondary.4. Punch It In
One of the major pains for the Colts in their Week 6 matchup against the Titans was an inability to get touchdowns when their offense moved the ball into the red zone on multiple occasions. In fact, the Colts scored touchdowns on just 1-of-4 red zone opportunities in that game, and were just 1-for-2 in goal-to-goal situations. The Titans weren’t much better in that game, however, as they posted a 1-for-3 red zone efficiency figure, and were also 1-for-2 in goal-to-goal situations. The result was a combined eight field goals between the two teams — three by the Colts and five by the Titans. The red zone has actually been a sore spot for Indianapolis all season, as they rank last in the league with a 41.7 percent efficiency rating within their opponents’ 20-yard line. It’s another key area that Pagano wants to see improved by season’s end, but especially on Sunday. “It comes down to executing and going through your progressions and blocking guys and running and making plays,” he said. “We’ve got to produce down there. We’ve got to score touchdowns. You can’t settle for field goals.”5. Mariota’s Movin’
The last time the Colts and Titans met, Marcus Mariota was obviously not at 100 percent. After missing the previous game with a hamstring injury, Mariota was visibly limited in his mobility against the Colts, and really kept himself as close to the pocket as he could instead of having trying to use his speed to mix in some of his potentially dangerous read-option plays. That won’t be the case on Sunday, however, as Mariota has had plenty of time to fully recover from that injury, and has used his mobility to his advantage in the past couple weeks, running for 51 yards two weeks ago against the Cincinnati Bengals, and then adding a rushing touchdown last week against the Steelers. Pagano said Mariota’s mobility makes it a “totally different deal for us defensively.” “Now that he is 100 percent, the zone-read stuff, you can always hand it off, but now the second and third option are there to pull it. He’s a threat in the red area every time he drops back. It depends on how many you deploy into coverage. If you drop eight and you rush three, you’re rolling the dice on him taking off and scoring like he did against Pittsburgh. Extending plays on third down, the pass game, the bootleg – everything comes back into play.”6. Home Field Advantage
Tennessee was able to snap an 11-game losing streak to Indianapolis back in Week 6, but that game was in Nashville. The Colts hope they can stop the Titans from putting an end to another couple streak of futility on Sunday, as Tennessee has never won at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Titans haven’t swept the Colts since 2002. Yes, 2002, back when *8 Mile *was in theaters, and Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” was the biggest hit on the Billboard charts. Though Titans head coach Mike Mularkey isn’t usually fond of questions about breaking these various streaks against Indianapolis, he did have some very complimentary things to say about the Colts’ fanbase and how difficult they make it on opposing teams at Lucas Oil Stadium. “It’s a lot of families that are in that stadium. Bunch of kids, bunch of husbands and wives. It’s really a neat environment and it’s loud with that kind of crowd. It is, it’s tough to play there, it’s tough to hear. They definitely have an advantage with the crowd there.”7. Milestone Watch
Here are a few milestones to keep an eye on Sunday, courtesy of Colts PR:
• Quarterback Jacoby Brissett needs one touchdown pass of 60-plus yards to tie John Unitas (five in 1960) for the most such games in a single season in franchise history.
• With a start on Sunday, tackle Anthony Castonzo will have reached 100 for his career. He has also started all 99 career games in which he’s appeared.
• Tight end Jack Doyle needs eight receptions to set a new single-season career high in receptions (60), which would rank as the fourth-msot among a tight end in Colts history. Doyle registered 59 receptions in 2016.
• Running back Frank Gore needs one 100-yard rushing performance to tie O.J. Simpson (42) for the 16th-most in NFL history; he needs one rushing touchdown to tie Tony Dorsett (77) for 22nd on the NFL’s all-time list; he needs 89 rushing yards to pass Jerome Bettis (13,662) for sixth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list; and needs 111 rushing yards to pass LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684) for fifth on the all-time list.
• Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs two receptions to pass Bill Brooks (411) for the fifth-most in franchise history; he needs two receiving touchdowns to tie Marcus Pollard (35) for the ninth-most in Colts franchise history; and with one 150-plus-yard receiving game he will tie Marvin Harrison (11) for the most such games in franchise history.
• With an appearance on Sunday, outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard will reach 100 games played in his career.
• Kicker Adam Vinatieri, with one field goal from 30-39 yards, would tie John Carney (165) for the fourth-most made field goals from that distance in NFL history; if Vinatieri connects on one field goal from 50-plus yards, he’ll tie Jason Elam and Phil Dawson (39) for the sixth-most made field goals from that distance.