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18 Things to Watch for During Sunday’s Titans/Colts Game

There’s no picture this week because I googled “Hot” and “Young” and don’t think that the results are appropriate

Last week, the Colts stormed back over the Houston Texans, but there is never any rest in the NFL (except for bye weeks, but whatever).  This week they play yet another desperate divisional rival.  The left-for-dead Titans visit the Luke this Sunday and bring with them the artist formerly known as Vince Young, currently known as, well…Vince Young, but a better version of Vince Young.  Be sure to be on the watch for:

1.  Watch the Man and the Myth.  I freely admit I stole that headline from Fox sports about 5 years ago when Manning stomped Vick and the Falcons, but it’s perhaps never been more accurate.  This game is suddenly the most attractive match-up of the early Sunday games, and all the focus will be on Vince Young and Peyton Manning.  I’ve freely admitted that Young has played better than Kerry Collins and had a hand in the Titans winning games.  That is a far cry from declaring him to be an elite NFL QB.  Peyton Manning on the other hand?  Well, you know all about him.  There will be a lot of QB hype on Sunday, but only one of the two men playing will have earned it.

2.  Watch for less than 200 yards.  Vince Young has thrown for 210 yards or less in four of his five starts.  This week he’s playing a tough Colts’ passing defense.  As the Titans seek to control the clock, the odds are good that they won’t be trying to throw the ball often or downfield.  VY has excelled in his return as a starter by completing a high percentage of reasonably short throws.  That is exactly what the Colts defense allows.  Young may well complete 80% of his passes on Sunday, but he’s not likely to generate much yardage in the process.

3.  Watch for the corner market.  The Colts corners have been good this year, but the secondary is about to get a major boost. Kelvin Hayden has practiced all week and should return to the starting lineup on Sunday.  This has excellent ramifications for the Colts defense.  Suddenly, Jacob Lacey, who has been stead all year, can play in nickle situations and Tim Jennings will see less field time and under more advantageous circumstances.  If the Colts D has another gear to find, the return of Hayden could help them locate it.

4.  Watch for Hart. With Don Brown already ruled out for Sunday, the Colts #2 back will likely be a combination of Chad Simpson and Mike Hart.  Simpson has busted a couple of nice runs in garbage time, and Hart is a fan favorite for his bruising running style.  The Colts desperately need Brown to get healthy down the stretch as they’ll want to save Joe Addai’s legs for the playoffs.  This is an excellent opportunity for Hart to prove he belongs in the NFL.  This might well be his last real shot.  If the two young backs struggle, the Colts might be forced to bring back Dom Rhodes for the stretch run, especially if Brown doesn’t recover quickly.

5.  Watch for the boom.  Chris Johnson is as explosive a player as there is in the NFL right now.  His three 85 yard TDs runs this season are more than any player has had in his whole career. The incredible thing is that Johnson has also has a 69 yard TD catch, and two other TD runs longer than 50 yards APART from his three ‘big’ runs.  The Colts D has only allowed TWO TDs of longer than 15 yards all season (the big run by Gore and the deep ball to Moss).  Johnson loves to spring the long run, but the Colts are specifically built to deny such plays.  This doesn’t bode well for the Titans.

6. Watch for the bust. Chris Johnson has a success rate of only 42% on the season.  That means that while a lot of his carries wind up for big yards, he throws in a lot of short runs as well.  This is a terrible sign for the Titans against the Colts. Johnson may rip a run or two, but Tennessee will also be looking at a lot of second and third and longs.  This plays right into the Indy pass rush.  Watch for the Colts to force Vince Young into throwing situations.

7.  Watch the throw away.  With Charlie Johnson ailing all week, there’s a good chance the Colts will have to go with a backup at left tackle.  Tony Ugoh is also nursing a knee injury which means Manning could be depending on Dan Federkeil to protect his blindside.  The Titans’ pass rush has done a good job getting to the QB in recent weeks, so expect plenty of heat on Manning who has to be ready to get rid of the ball quickly in order to avoid sacks.  UPDATE:  Ok, so the official roster led me astray and I forgot that Federkeil had been put on IR last week.  Now I’m really worried, because Indy has no designated fourth tackle.  There’s Johnson and Diem, Ugoh and the wind.  The Colts must be counting on both Ugoh and CJ to be healthy enough to be active Sunday.  This team is scary thing at tackle.

8.  Watch the spy.  In week 2 of 2007, the Colts assigned Bob Sanders to shadow Vince Young.  He had a ‘do it all’ kind of game, and Indy won a tight, close game on the road.  Once again, Young is back and the Colts will have to account for him.  Watch for Melvin Bullitt or Gary Brackett to come down and have the responsibility of making sure that Young doesn’t escape the pocket.  Young has had some effective games against the Colts rushing the football, and if he breaks off big runs it could be trouble.

9.  Watch for a train-wreck.  Just a few weeks ago, Cris Collinsworth was telling us how no one in the Titans’ locker room was particularly convinced that Young should be the QB.  Jeff Fischer didn’t even go to him until the owner demanded it.  After winning a few games, everyone is back in love with Young, but if he hasn’t actually improved and reverts back to his old form, it remains to be seen how everyone will handle the situation.  The Titans have to make a decision on Young after the season, and erratic play from him could make that a difficult call.  Young has the potential to be a polarizing figure who could fracture the franchise.  He needs to play well or things could go south in a hurry in Nashville.

10.  Watch for motivation.  One of the themes of the wonks covering this game is that the Colts “don’t have anything to play for”.  They apparently don’t realize that Indy hasn’t clinched the 1 seed, and that Indy hasn’t had anything to play for for weeks now.  The Colts have won 20 consecutive games because they never have let downs.  Indy never falls for trap games.  They show up every week focused on one thing:  winning the game in front of them.  Anyone who argues that the Colts will come out slow or flat because they are looking ahead to the playoffs doesn’t know the Colts.

11.  Watch for domination.  Since 2003, the Colts are 5-1 against the Titans in Indianapolis, with the only Titans’ win coming in the last game of the 2007 season when they had to rally to beat Jim Sorgi and his merry band of backups.  The Colts have won by an average score of 28-11.  The Colts and Titans have played some tight games, but most of them have taken place down in Nashville.  It’s just not true that the Colts and Titans always place close games.  In Indy, the Colts usually stomp Tennessee.

12.  Watch for 70.5.  The single season accuracy record in the NFL was set by Ken Anderson at 70.5%.  Peyton Manning currently boasts a completion percentage of 70.4%  Peyton has real shot of of scoring one of the longest standing passing marks on the books.  Manning has topped 70% passing in 5 of 11 games this year and has not had a game lower than 60.9% completions (Miami).  His accuracy has been astounding all year, and especially with Pierre Garcon pulling his catch rate up, it’s reasonable to think Peyton could hit the coveted mark. He completed better than 80% of his passes in the first meeting.

13.  Watch the rookies.  Kenny Britt was a first round pick for the Titans.  He has had a nice season with 33 catches for 521 yards.  Austin Collie for the Colts was a fourth round pick and leads all rookie WRs with 43 catches.  The big difference of course, is that Britt leads the Titans in catches and Collie is third on the Colts.  Britt had a huge game last week, but has struggled since Young became QB catching just 7 balls in his other three games with Young.

14. Watch the ball boy.  Jeff Fisher has already tried to dress in a Peyton Manning jersey to ‘look like a winner’.  Around halftime on Sunday, watch for him to slip quietly away from the Titans’ sidelines and change clothes.  The pressure losing will be too much for him, as he dons Colts’ attire and takes up shagging kicks for Pat McAfee.  He realizes this is as close as he’ll ever come to being with an organization that fields a real life NFL quarterback.

15.  Watch the fake blitz.  In the last two games, the Colts have managed key interceptions by their linebackers by faking blitzes and dropping players back into coverage.  First Brackett baited Flacco, and last week Session duped Schaub into throwing a pick 6.  The Colts won’t necessarily blitz Young heavily because they WANT him to throw the ball.  When they do come, it will be set up the fake blitz later in hopes that he’ll miss a read and make a bad throw.  Mostly, they want to keep him in the pocket and force him to make plays downfield.  Bethea has been salivating all week.

16.  Watch Freeney.  It certainly looks like he’ll play on Sunday, although there are no guarantees.  Dwight Freeney’s health is the key to the rest of the Colts’ season.  Robert Mathis is an incredible player, but the Colts D is formidable when there is a serious rush from both ends.  The status of Freeney is actually a bigger deal than the outcome of the game itself.

17.  Watch for career highs.  Dallas Clark needs just four catches and 14 yards to set career highs for receptions and yards. He’s had big games against the Titans recently. In his last four ‘real’ games against Tennessee, he’s posted 29 catches for 299 yards receiving and three TDs.  He already burned the Titans for 9 catches and 77 yards in the first game this season.  Look for Clark to further bolster his Pro Bowl credentials with a big game this week. Should he get the 15 yards, he’ll break his own franchise record for receiving yards by a TE on the season.

18.  Watch for the better team to win.  It’s admirable that the Titans are rallying, but the Colts are a big boy team that never takes a week off from their business of winning. Indy ties the consecutive wins mark this week. DZ sees the Colts cruising 27-19  Demond likes the Colts by a similar score of 28-18.