The Indianapolis Colts got back to their winning ways in Week 11 with a much-needed win over the Tennessee Titans. The win marked the Colts' fourth straight division win, dating back to their Week 17 victory over the Houston Texans last season. Indianapolis now holds a three-game lead in the AFC South and is sitting as the second seed in the AFC with the New England Patriots' loss on Monday night.
However, along with the win came familiar issues for Indianapolis, namely a slow start. The Titans opened up with a 17-3 lead before the Colts scored a field goal just before halftime. After the half, the Colts stormed back with 17 third-quarter points, but vulnerabilities continue to haunt the young team, especially in the first half.
Now the Colts travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals next Sunday in a game that, while of no particular importance in their playoff seeding, is still a big test for a Colts team that is trying to build some consistency.
With that in mind, here is what you need to know as the Colts prepare for their trip out west.
|Team||Wins||Losses||AFC Rank||Point Diff.|
The Colts' division title hopes were boosted by their win at Tennesee, but the rest of the division also lost on Sunday, as the AFC South continues to be one of the worst in the league.
The Houston Texans lost to former undrafted free-agent quarterback Matt McGloin and the Oakland Raiders 28-23 at home on Sunday, reaching a new low with an eight-game losing streak, the worst single-season streak in franchise history. The Texans complicated things by benching Case Keenum for Matt Schaub in the second half, making an already less-than-favorable quarterback situation even messier.
In Jacksonville, the Jaguars lost again, this time to the Cardinals, 27-14. The Jaguars actually started fast, and were up 14-7 after the first quarter. But the Cardinals scored 20 unanswered points as the Jaguars quickly looked more like the Jaguars of the first nine weeks than the Jaguars who beat the Titans last week.
The longer the season goes on, the more things look familiar in the AFC South. After a few seasons of strong play, the Texans have imploded. Jacksonville is as bad as ever, and Tennessee fills in their annual spot as a .500 team.
The Colts aren't facing many injuries this week that they haven't already been dealing with and should get a few defensive backs back this week that sat out the Tennessee game.
Greg Toler, Delano Howell and Josh Gordy should all return to the field after practicing on Monday, and Chuck Pagano mentioned in his Monday press conference that they anticipate having all three back on the field this week.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was held out of the second half of the Titans game with what was reported as an ankle injury, but it likely was more related to his poor play. Heyward-Bey has struggled for weeks now, and the Colts have tried desperately to get production from him, but to no avail. Pagano did not mention him at all, and he should be fine for Sunday's game.
Of course, the Colts may also be missing linebacker Erik Walden, who was not injured in the win over Tennessee but may have cost himself a game with his actions. Walden will appeal his one-game suspension.
What needs to improve
This list gets updated every week, and there is plenty that could be talked about in this space.
We could talk about the Colts' need to start faster, having been outscored 66-9 in the first half over the last three games.
We could talk about the Colts' recent struggles on third down, as the team has allowed a first down over 47 percent of the time on defense over the last three weeks but converted less than 35 percent on offense.
We could talk about a need to replace Reggie Wayne, as the Colts' offensive consistency has been nowhere to be found without him.
But all of those topics have been beaten to death over the last week, and really for the last month or so. I'd like to focus on a different area, one that has been mentioned, but not discussed nearly as much as the aforementioned issues.
The Colts have to stop allowing big plays defensively.
Over the last three weeks, the Colts have allowed 10 plays of 40 yards or more, the most in the league over that time period. Outside of those big plays, the defense has actually done a decent job.
|Titans||1||11:43||30||Chris Johnson run, TD|
|Titans||4||2:26||4||Nate Washington catch|
|Rams||2||15:00||35||Chris Givens catch|
|Rams||2||7:06||57||Tavon Austin catch, TD|
|Rams||3||14:08||81||Tavon Austin catch, TD|
|Rams||4||3:29||56||Benny Cunningham run|
|Texans||1||14:10||62||Andre Johnson catch, TD|
|Texans||1||4:22||41||Andrew Johnson catch, TD|
|Texans||2||2:00||30||Andre Johnson catch|
|Texans||4||14:19||3||DeAndre Hopkins catch|
When the defense has allowed these big plays, namely at the beginning of the game, the Colts have gotten down early and been forced to abandon their run game early, which can have unintended consequences with the Colts' "balanced" offense.
Cornerback Vontae Davis was a big part of the problem against the Texans and St. Louis Rams, as Davis got beat by Andre Johnson and Tavon Austin in consecutive weeks for long touchdowns. But Davis was great against Tennessee, as he allowed just nine yards on three catches.
One issues is the safeties' play with cornerback Greg Toler out. Cassius Vaughn starting has put an unfortunate strain on the safeties, who have given Vaughn extra help. This is what happened on Tavon Austin's first touchdown in Week 10, as you can see LaRon Landry making a beeline for the far sideline (Vaughn's side) before quarterback Kellen Clemens launches a bomb for Austin down the near sideline.
Without any safety help on the play, Davis was susceptible to a double move by the speedy Austin, and was beat for the 57-yard touchdown.
The safeties were also responsible for Chris Johnson's 30-yard touchdown run this past Thursday, as Landry took a poor angle to Johnson and was burned because of it.
All of the mistakes are correctable, and should be improved with Toler back in the lineup, but it's something that is critical against Arizona. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians' offensive system is reliant on big plays, especially in the passing game. Davis will have his hands full with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and the safeties will need to be extra aware of the big-play potential.