Colts vs. Titans: Takeaways from Tennessee's 30-27 Loss to Indianapolis
However, the second half was a different story. Andrew Luck led the Colts to 17 unanswered points, giving the Colts a lead they wouldn't relinquish for the rest of the game.
The Titans lost 30-27, dropping to 4-6, and putting playoff hopes almost entirely out of reach.
Here are some takeaways from this game.
1. Expect the Unexpected from Chris Johnson
Well, a week ago, I was thinking Chris Johnson's Week 9 performance was a fluke. At home, against a meager Jaguars defense, Johnson only managed a paltry 30 yards in the entire game.
Against the Colts, he had double that and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone.
After that, I (and I'm sure many others) expected Johnson to have a huge game, but for some reason, he disappeared in the second half, only getting four carries in the entire second half.
Now during part of the game, Johnson wasn't getting carries because the Titans were behind and wanted to pass the ball primarily, but the biggest lead the Colts had over the Titans was 10 points near the end of the fourth quarter, so Johnson's disappearing act is a bit perplexing.
I don't know why Johnson exploded in Week 9, only to disappear a week later against the Jaguars, then burst out again against the Colts.
All I can predict for Johnson going forward is that he'll be unpredictable. Don't rest your hopes on him if you've got him on your fantasy team, but do not count him out.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick Has to Spread the Ball More
For some reason, Ryan Fitzpatrick's first 17 passes all went to either Delanie Walker or Kendall Wright. I don't mean all of his completions, I mean all of his targets. In other words, the only players he even attempted to get the ball to were Wright and Walker.
There is something fundamentally wrong with that. Not only do the Titans have one of the deeper receiver rosters in the NFL, but there's also the fact that a quarterback should never send his passes to just two targets.
Now, in Fitzpatrick's defense, he was completing almost every pass he threw. But still, there are other playmakers on the Titans roster who I'm sure were open. A couple of screens to Chris Johnson might have helped the offense when it was sputtering in the third quarter as well.
Luckily, the Colts don't have a very good defense. If they did, they would've taken advantage of that immediately. Going forward, Fitzpatrick can't afford to be that predictable.
3. Mike Munchak Isn't Being Wise with His Challenges
I think I've seen Mike Munchak win one challenge all season.
He's not hesitated to use challenges though. In fact, he's used them rather frequently, but he hasn't had a lot of luck.
One reason is just that: luck. Another reason is that he hasn't been using his challenges very wisely.
The game against the Colts was a perfect example. When Andrew Luck ran a quarterback sneak, it appeared the Titans defense had kept him from the first-down marker. Every replay seemed to suggest that was true as well.
However, the refs gave Luck the first down, and Munchak challenged. Now, like I said, every replay angle seemed to suggest Luck didn't make it to the first down, but the play collapsed with 14 or 15 players around the ball in a very small area.
To overturn the ruling on the field, there must be irrefutable evidence that the call was wrong. It certainly looked like the call was wrong to me, but with that many people piled on and around the ball, there's never going to be a clear enough angle to get the evidence needed to overturn the play.
The play stood, meaning that on replay, there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it. No one should've been surprised by that result.
When you lose a challenge, you also lose a timeout, and in the second half of a game, those are critical. Munchak has to learn to be wiser with his challenges.
4. The Defensive Line Is Legit
The Titans have one of the fiercest defensive lines in the league right now. And it isn't just Jurrell Casey (although he certainly helps a lot).
Derrick Morgan hasn't made the splash plays that were expected of him this season, but he's been solid all around. Ropati Pitoitua has been a better addition than anyone thought, and the trough of defensive tackles have all been playing well.
The Titans are winning in the trenches pretty consistently now, which is what Munchak wants to do. Unfortunately, the team has a lot of problems outside of the trenches that need to be fixed before the Titans are a real playoff threat.
5. The Linebackers Are the Weak Link in the Defense
This may seem weird, because two of the linebackers are Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, but it seems to be the case.
Over the past few weeks, Colin McCarthy has had the best play among the Titans' linebackers, which no one would've expected at the start of the season.
Ayers has been one of the Titans' most consistently good players in his first two years in the league, but he's been off this season. He hasn't been bad, but he's made way more mistakes than he used to, and those have been costly.
Brown started the season strong, but he's been lacking in the big plays that marked his rookie season. He's still been very good, but no interceptions and three sacks are a lot less than what was expected of him.
McCarthy has been struggling at times in pass coverage as well. He has some splash plays at the middle position, but even though he's been playing fairly well, his injury history makes him a bit unreliable.
I don't know why a linebacker corps that looks so good on paper has been struggling, but the defensive coaches need to try to figure out what's holding them back. Two of the Titans' most talented players are in that group. If they aren't producing like they should, it really hurts the team.
6. Running Backs and Tight Ends Continue to Give the Titans Trouble
The Titans have had some trouble against the run this season, and that continued against the Colts.
Donald Brown had 14 carries for a whopping 80 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. For comparison, Brown had only had 243 rushing yards and one touchdown in the entire season before that.
Coby Fleener gave the Titans some trouble, too. Fleener had 10 passes come his way, and he caught eight of them for 107 yards. He didn't see the end zone, but he tore the Titans defense up in every other area.
Now, the Titans struggling against tight ends is nothing new, but their inability to fix their problems against tight ends is concerning.
When they're struggling with both of those things this late in the season, don't expect those struggles to end this year.
7. Mike Munchak Will Need a Miracle to Keep His Job
Now at six losses, the Titans could theoretically still make the playoffs. Even with another loss, they could qualify at 9-7. However, their remaining matchups include away games against the Broncos, Colts, Jaguars and Raiders.
If, with backups playing center, quarterback, kick returner and middle linebacker, the Titans manage to come out of that group of games with only one loss, they have a very good chance at making the playoffs, but otherwise, they're on the outside.
For Munchak, missing the playoffs likely means getting fired, ending his 32-year career with the Oilers/Titans franchise.
With away games against two teams that beat them at home, along with the Broncos, I just don't see the Titans making the playoffs, and I don't see Munchak keeping his job.