Titans vs. Colts: A Back-to-the-Future Matchup Preview
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While the Colts are still chugging toward the postseason, the Titans have seen their aspirations derailed.
The two teams meet again this week in Indianapolis.
In many ways, the Colts and Titans aren't just reprising their meeting from earlier this season, they are also two franchises rebuilding with quarterbacks that bear eerie similarities to great ones from their past.
The Titans feature Jake Locker, who in many ways resembles a young Steve McNair. He has a big arm and the ability to make dynamic plays out of the pocket, but also struggles with his accuracy.
Locker tantalizes fans with explosive runs and laser throws, but the Titans' offense hasn't blossomed with him under center.
That's not dissimilar from the mid-'90s Titans teams that hovered around .500. Those teams depended heavily on running the ball with Eddie George and a tight-end heavy passing offense.
The modern Titans have invested heavily in wide receivers, and until offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired were largely ignoring tight end Jared Cook.
McNair developed gradually and didn't fully blossom for five or six seasons. That's something for Titans fans to keep in mind when considering the career arc of Locker.
Meanwhile, in the Circle City no one can avoid comparing Andrew Luck to Peyton Manning.
While the two players have slightly different skill sets, they are more alike than different.
Luck's cerebral approach to the game, mastery of the no-huddle and penchant for ridiculous comebacks have already elicited more than one comparison to Indy's four-time MVP.
These two franchises will play twice a year, giving fans ample opportunity to track Locker and Luck against one another.
McNair and Manning served as a yin-yang for quarterback play in early 2000s. Though they didn't wind up in the same division until 2002, they are forever joined in collective memory thanks to their shared MVP award of 2003.
Obviously, Locker and Luck both have a ways to go before they are co-hoisting hardware, but the thought of a renewal of the fantastic rivalry between Tennessee and Indianapolis is attractive to say the least.
The challenge for the Titans will be finding the right scheme to maximize Locker's considerable talents, while minimizing the damage caused by his inevitable spurts of inaccuracy. His abilities are cobra-like, quiet and coiled until he strikes.
Indianapolis needs to develop a red zone offense to go with its big strike capability. The Colts move the ball as well as any team in football, but don't score in proportion to the yards they generate. They need to foster the kind of ruthless efficiency that marked the great Manning offenses of the last decade.
When the teams take the field this week, keep an eye on Luck's ability to read and react to blitzes. Watch Locker's escapability from the pocket as he's chased by Dwight Freeney.
It won't be hard to watch Reggie Wayne and Cook get target after target and remember that 10 years ago, these two franchises squared off twice a year in high-stakes games that determined division championships.
This weekend's game means far more to the Colts than to the Titans. In the long run, however, the division needs the spark that once defined the matchup to rekindle.
The old band isn't getting back together, but perhaps the new kids on the block will learn to cover some of their greatest hits.
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