A Capsule Look at Sunday's Colts-Titans Game
COLTS (3-3) vs. TITANS (6-0)
Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EDT
Surface: Natural Grass
Colts – Tony Dungy, seventh season as Colts Head Coach (76-26, 83-31 including playoffs) and 12th season as NFL Head Coach (130-68, 139-77 including playoffs).
Titans – Jeff Fisher, 15th season as Titans and NFL Head Coach (120-99, 125-103 including playoffs).
Colts – 3-3, T-2nd in AFC South.
Titans – 6-0, 1st in AFC South.
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS
Colts – 2007.
Titans – 2007.
2008 NFL RANKINGS
Offense – Overall, 19th (314.8 yards per game); Rushing, 32nd (70.0 ypg); Passing, 7th (244.8 ypg); Defense – Overall, 16th (329.0 yards per game); Rushing, 29th (153.5 ypg); Passing, 3rd (175.5 ypg).
Offense – Overall, 20th (314.5 yards per game); Rushing, 4th (154.5 ypg); Passing, 26th (160.0 ypg); Defense – Overall, 3rd (268.5 yards per game); Rushing, 8th (89.5 ypg); Passing, 5th (179.0 ypg).
Colts – Peyton Manning (136-224 completions, 1,531 yards, 60.7 pct., 8 TD, 7 INT, 80.0 passer rating).
Titans – Kerry Collins (75-133 completions, 863 yards, 56.4 pct., 3 TD, 3 INT, 74.2 passer rating).
Colts – Joseph Addai (62 carries, 216 yards, 4 TD); Dominic Rhodes (52 carries, 177 yards, 3 TD).
Titans – Chris Johnson (103 carries, 549 yards, 3 TD), LenDale White (80 carries, 314 yards, 8 TD).
Colts – Reggie Wayne (35 receptions, 492 yards, 4 TD); Anthony Gonzalez (26 receptions, 330 yards, 0 TD); Marvin Harrison (22 receptions, 258 yards, 3 TD).
Titans – Bo Scaife (23 receptions, 274 yards, 1 TD), Chris Johnson (14 receptions, 73 yards, 1 TD), Justin Gage (12 receptions, 176 yards, 1 TD), Brandon Jones (11 receptions, 140 yards, 0 TD).
Colts – Robert Mathis (5), Dwight Freeney (3).
Titans – Albert Haynesworth (6).
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY?
Colts – The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, won two consecutive games – rallying from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 31-27 victory over Houston and beating Baltimore 31-3 – after a Week 4 bye week before losing, 34-14, to the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday.
Titans – The Titans, who have won their first six games and are the NFL's only remaining unbeaten team, have been one of the league's most consistent teams this season, too. They have yet to allow more than 17 points in a game, and their closest game of the season was a come-from-behind victory over Baltimore three weeks ago in which they scored on a touchdown pass just after the two-minute warning. They followed that 13-10 victory in Baltimore with a Week 6 bye week before dominating Kansas City in Kansas City this past Sunday.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"They run the ball extremely well. (Quarterback) Kerry (Collins) is protecting the ball real well, so we know our defense will have a challenge. When you get the ball it's your job to do something with it, no matter how many times it is or for how many minutes, is to try to get into the end zone. That's what we're aware of going into the game, and that's your job no matter who you're playing and when you're playing them."
--- Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning
"Obviously, we've gotten off to a good start. It's been a pretty simple formula. Being able to run the ball, playing good defense, making a few plays in the passing game and taking care of the football has given us a chance in every ballgame and it has allowed us to get off to a good start."
--- Titans Quarterback Kerry Collins
The Titans, a year after qualifying for the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, lead the AFC South by three games.
They're also a team primed and ready for the team that has dominated the division over the last half-decade.
"A lot of people still don't respect us, and feel like we haven't played top-notch talent in the league yet," Titans safety Chris Hope told the Associated Press this week. "They're still not sure how good we are, and what better way to show them than on Monday Night Football against Peyton Manning and the Colts, one of the premier teams in the league?"
While Colts President Bill Polian said this week the Colts haven't played like one of the NFL's premier teams – "we're a mediocre, .500 football team and we have a lot of work to do to get better," Polian said – he said the opposite is true of Tennessee.
"No one should be surprised that they're 6-0," Polian said.
The Titans, after making the playoffs in 2002 and 2003, have built a solid offense featuring one of the NFL's top running back combinations in rookie Chris Johnson and third-year veteran LenDale White.
Johnson, a first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from East Carolina, and White – who played collegiately at Southern California – have combined for 863 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, and the Titans rank fourth in the NFL in rushing. Johnson was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. White and Johnson became the first tandem to each rush for more than 100 yards in the same game for the Titans franchise since 1977.
Quarterback Kerry Collins, a 14-year veteran, has taken over as the starter, replacing Vince Young – the No. 3 selection in the 2006 NFL Draft – and is 5-0 as a starter this season.
"Kerry Collins is three things," Polian said. "One, he's among the toughest quarterbacks in the NFL. You can take two jet planes, two F-16s, rush them off the edge and it wouldn't bother Kerry Collins one iota. Secondly, he can make every throw. Third, he's a winner. He has the soul and the heart of a winner. He's going to find a way to win. There is no obstacle too big for Kerry Collins to overcome.
"On top of that, he is now an extremely veteran presence who lends not only great talent, but great wisdom and leadership to this team. He's sort of the missing piece, if you will."
Defensively, tackle Albert Haynesworth (six sacks) and end Kyle Vanden Bosch (three) form the core of one of the NFL's best lines, and the Titans re-signed end Jevon Kearse (1.5) – a former Pro Bowl player for Tennessee – in the offseason. Linebacker Keith Bulluck long has been one of the NFL's top players at his position, and remains an elite player in his ninth NFL season.
"Defensively, they're probably the best defense in the league," Polian said. "I don't know if they're up there statistically, but I would doubt there's a better defense than the one they have.
"It's no accident they are 6-0. They are that good. It's not a mirage by any means. They are a very, very good football team."
Three key head-to-heads . . .
• Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis versus Titans offensive tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart. Freeney and Mathis have gotten consistent pressure this season. Although their opunities to rush the passer have been limited at times with the team struggling at times against the run, Mathis has recorded five sacks and Freeney – a three-time Pro Bowl selection – has recorded three. Freeney has 12 quarterback pressures this season and Mathis has eight. Roos has started every game of a four-year NFL career, including the last two seasons at left tackle, and Stewart has not missed a start since moving into the lineup midway through the 2006 season. The Titans have not allowed a sack in the last four games.
• Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett versus Titans running backs LenDale White and Chris Johnson. Not a true one-on-one matchup, but how the Colts fare against the run could be particularly important against the Titans. The Colts enter the game ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing defense and the Titans are fourth in the NFL in passing offense. White a third-year veteran, and Johnson – a 2008 first-round draft selection – have combined to give Tennessee a potent, consistent backfield combination. Johnson is considered one of the fastest rookie runners to enter the league in several seasons and White – while a consistent short-yardage runner – also has speed to be a threat. The Colts have allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of six games this season.
• Colts center Jeff Saturday versus Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Not always a head-to-head matchup, but how the Colts' interior fares against Haynesworth likely will be critical Sunday. Haynesworth has six sacks this season, and continues to emerge as one of the NFL's dominant interior defensive players. Saturday has made the last three Pro Bowls, and he is key to a Colts offensive line that starts rookies at right and left guard. The Titans this season Haynesworth has nine quarterback pressures, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
TITANS IN REVIEW
The Titans have been the NFL's most-consistent, steady team in the early season, and are the NFL's only unbeaten team seven weeks into the season. Only once – in a 30-17 victory over Minnesota – have they allowed more than one touchdown in a game.
In the regular-season opener, the Titans won a big, AFC South game at home against Jacksonville, taking sole possession of first place in the division, a lead they held with a 24-7 victory at Cincinnati the following week. They then won back-to-back games over division rival Houston (31-12) and Minnesota before rallying for a 13-10 victory at Baltimore entering their bye week.
They dominated Kansas City, 34-10, this past week to move to 6-0 for the first time in franchise history.
Turnovers are key in the NFL no matter the game and no matter the team. That's particularly true in this matchup. The Titans are the NFL's last unbeaten team because they are a powerful running team and one of the league's best defenses, but they also protect the ball and take it away from opponents as well as any team in the NFL. They currently are tied with Green Bay for the NFL lead in turnover margin at plus-6, having created 14 turnovers and committed eight. The Colts, a season after ranking second in the in turnover margin en route to a 13-3 record, are 12th in the category at plus-2 and are .500 in October for the first time in six seasons.
The Titans franchise and the Colts have played 26 times, with the Colts leading the series, 15-11. That record includes an 8-4 Indianapolis advantage since the two teams became members of the AFC South in 2002. The Titans swept the Colts that season en route to winning the first AFC South title, and the Colts swept the Titans the next three seasons – 2003, 2004 and 2005 – en route to three consecutive division titles. The teams split the season series in 2006 and again last season, with the Colts winning, 22-20, in Nashville in September, and the Titans winning, 16-10, in the season finale. Tennessee clinched a playoff spot with the second victory, a game in which many Colts starters did not play in the second half. The Colts won the teams' first meeting, 24-20, in 1970, and they have met once in the playoffs. That was a 19-16 Titans victory in the RCA Dome in an AFC Divisional Playoff game following the 1999 season.
The Colts, with the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs long since secured, played mostly reserves in the 2007 regular-season finale, and still turned in a memorable performance. The Colts trailed early, then took a brief second-half lead before the Titans rallied for a 16-10 playoff-clinching victory in front of 57,202 in the final regular-season game at the RCA Dome. Rob Bironas, the Titans' Pro Bowl kicker, kicked second-half field goals of 40, 54 and 33 yards to rally the Titans for a victory that secured their first playoff appearance since 2003. Had Tennessee lost, the Cleveland Browns – who earlier in the day beat the San Francisco 49ers – would have made the playoffs. The Titans' victory meant the AFC South sent maximum number of teams – three – to the playoffs.