Colts vs. Titans: Full Indianapolis Game Preview
Weeks 1 and 2 weren’t great for the Indianapolis Colts, but the embarrassing losses are supposedly in the rearview mirror as the team prepares for its most important game to date this season against AFC South rival Tennessee.
Having dominated the AFC South the last two seasons, this will be a true litmus test of where the Colts stand this season and if they are still good enough to run away with the division like they did in 2013 and 2014.
The Titans looked poor last weekend after beating up on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, so this will be a testing ground for them as well to see if rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is ready for the show already or if he still needs time to grow.
Things can’t get much worse for the Colts in Week 3, so let’s take a look at what the matchup has in store.
Location: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Ten.
Date: Sunday, Sept. 27
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Week 2 Results and Recap
Week 2 on Monday Night Football was supposed to be a huge moment in the Colts' 2015 season. With Super Bowl aspirations still floating through fans' heads, it was supposed to be the team's coming-out party.
It turned out to be a momentous occasion, but for all the wrong reasons.
From the word go it was clear something was still very wrong for Indianapolis. Despite sporting some of the flashiest weapons the NFL has to offer as support to Andrew Luck, the offense looked lost and was held scoreless in the first half for the second consecutive game.
Things turned around in the second half, but a Frank Gore fumble at the goal line was a momentum killer. Even a late touchdown to Donte Moncrief wasn’t enough to get the sour taste out of people’s mouths following another surprising and embarrassing defeat.
Now, sitting winless through two contests, the Colts are tied for last place in the division with the Houston Texans and are looking up at the Jacksonville Jaguars and Week 3’s opponent, the Tennessee Titans.
It's only the third game of the year, so the contest against the Titans isn’t quite at must-win status, but it is approaching that territory as Indianapolis needs to find its footing for what could be a long season ahead.
News and Notes
Andrew Luck continues to struggle
This season was supposed to be the year Andrew Luck went over the top. MVP talks, Super Bowl discussions, he was at the center of it all heading into the season, and rightfully so after his huge start in the league.
But after games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, Luck looks a far cry from the player who has destroyed AFC South defenses for the past three seasons, and he's seen pundits go from singing his praises to denouncing him.
Even head coach Chuck Pagano semi-called out Luck after the disastrous Monday night defeat, even though he would later backtrack slightly in claims that the Colts are incredibly glad to have Luck, per Mike Wells of ESPN.com:
Really it was complimenting our quarterback is what I was doing there. You guys know how many different lineups we’ve had because of injuries and this, that and another. That’s well documented over the last three years and the way he’s been able to perform and lead this football team. Eleven wins three straight years and playoff wins. We have one hell of a quarterback. We have a great player and a great leader there. But again, it was more like, ‘Hey we’re lucky we have Andrew.’
However he cleared it up later, the drama in the Colts locker room is visible for all the world to see, and it all hinges on the play of Luck. If there is another bad performance against Tennessee, things might get worse before they get better.
Donte Moncrief turning into a star
There hasn’t been a lot going right for the Colts offensively so far. As noted above, Luck is struggling to find the form that has taken the league by storm the past few years, Frank Gore barely touches the ball, the offensive line is in shambles and Andre Johnson looks really, really old.
But amid all the struggles and poor performances, there has been at least one bright spot for the unit, and that has been young wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Expected to take a smaller role after the offseason acquisitions of Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, the second-year receiver has instead taken a huge step forward and looks like the perfect partner for T.Y. Hilton.
Through two games, Moncrief has 13 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns, all of which are on pace to fly past his totals from his rookie season. He isn’t Calvin Johnson, but the third-round pick is coming into his own without Luck playing well. Imagine what he is capable of if the offense starts clicking again.
Colts defensive line continues to impress
There weren’t high hopes for the Colts defensive line heading into the season, especially not when compared to some of the other units in Indianapolis.
But through two games, rookie starters Henry Anderson and David Parry have been revelations alongside veteran Kendall Langford. Pagano noted Wednesday that the line has been one of the highlights of the season so far, per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com.
"I think our defensive line is doing a really good job," Pagano said. "The play of those young defensive linemen, (Kendall) Langford…(they are) controlling the line of scrimmage."
The secondary behind them has been injured and the linebackers remain relatively anonymous, but the young defensive line's success has been a bright spot in an otherwise poor start to the season in Indianapolis.
Latest Injury News
All injury reports via Colts.com.
By far the biggest injury news of the week comes in the secondary, with each of the team's top three cornerbacks limited or not practicing. Indianapolis’ depth at cornerback was on full display after Vontae Davis was sent to the locker room in the first half against the Jets, and unless one of the three top players at the position can return against the Titans, odds are that isn’t changing anytime soon.
T.Y. Hilton made his return last week after bruising his knee in Week 1. However, he wasn’t the only big name to return for Week 2, as All-Pro linebacker Robert Mathis made his triumphant return to the field as well. Even though he is back and playing, it is in a limited role, so a limited practice isn’t anything to stress about.
At tight end, Dwayne Allen still hasn’t quite reached the levels expected of him when he was drafted in 2012, but he has been all right to start the season in what has been a poor offensive landscape. But with an ankle injury keeping him out of practice, any progress he made to start the season could be stopped, which isn’t a good sign for the Colts.
Already thin on the offensive line as well, Lance Louis missing practice with a shoulder injury could be another blow to a unit that already has enough issues heading into Week 3 against the Titans.
Titans wide receivers vs. Colts secondary
This may come as a surprise, but it turns out the Colts' incredibly injured and perpetually struggling secondary is a huge factor week in and week out. After suffering through a tough matchup and another serious injury—a concussion to superstar Vontae Davis this time—Indianapolis is gifted with a much easier matchup this week against the Titans.
Tennessee isn’t quite as bad in the wide receiver department as it has been for the past couple of seasons. Kendall Wright has improved, Harry Douglas is underrated and Dorial Green-Beckham has the potential to be a red-zone monster, but this is a very beatable unit. The Colts secondary could really use a win right now.
It remains to be seen if the Colts can find success against Tennessee, but blessed with a much easier matchup and the possible return of any of their top three cornerbacks, things are going to improve after the first-half nightmare from Monday night.
Colts wide receivers vs. Titans secondary
On the other side of the field, we have the inverse of the Colts secondary vs. the Titans wide receivers, but this time around there is a pretty clear advantage in favor of Indianapolis.
Andre Johnson has really showed his age through the first two games and has been largely irrelevant, but beyond that, the Colts have one of the strongest units in the league and are capable of exploding at any time.
With the combo of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief tearing defenses apart, Andrew Luck should have plenty of targets around the field as long as he receives a fraction more time in the pocket than he has been receiving. The Titans secondary isn’t nearly what the Colts faced last week against the Jets and should be an easier group for the young star receivers to take advantage of.
Colts X-Factor of the week: CB Jalil Brown
As was noted a little bit earlier, the Colts are thin—desperately so—at cornerback right now. Making a number of roster moves since the Monday night defeat to the Jets were signs of desperation as things have gone from bad to worse in the Indianapolis secondary.
Whether or not any of Vontae Davis, Greg Toler or Darius Butler can return against the Titans, odds are they won’t be 100 percent. That means the Colts are going to have to rely on some parlor tricks and interesting coverages to make up for any shortcomings at cornerback.
Jalil Brown got the start opposite Davis last week against the Jets, and after being clowned by Eric Decker and a decent New York receiving corps, actually didn’t look half-bad after the team switched to a zone coverage in the second half without their superstar.
Brown isn’t quite at the level of an NFL starter, and in his fifth year in the league, he probably never will be. But the Colts only have so much to work with right now, so he gets the job by default. Even if he doesn’t start, expect to see Brown play a role to limit the snaps the trio of injured corners will potentially take.
Fortunately for Brown and the Colts though, no matter how good Marcus Mariota looked against the Bucs in Week 1, the Titans receivers don’t inspire much fear. They're are a far cry from the pair of Decker and Brandon Marshall.
Prediction: Colts 27, Titans 17
There is a time and a place for panicking when it comes to the NFL, and after two brutal defeats at the hands of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, the Indianapolis Colts are on the verge of hitting that point.
The offense is inept, the defense can’t stop the pass at all and even the ever-reliable Adam Vinatieri is struggling mightily. Indianapolis isn’t in a good place two games into the year, but despite all the negatives, it isn’t quite time to give up on the season.
Last year the Colts started 0-2 only to bounce back and win 11 games for the third consecutive season, and while things look significantly bleaker now than they did a year ago, this is still a team quarterbacked by Andrew Luck. If there was ever a time to panic, it would be following a potential loss to the Tennessee Titans this week.
For some time now the prevailing thought has been that it didn’t matter how far the Colts fell because the AFC South was such mess. However, if the Titans are up to the task Sunday and pull off another upset of the division favorites, things could get really hairy in Indianapolis.
Tennessee has a decent pass rush and should put pressure on Luck like the Bills and Jets did, but without the secondary to cope with the Colts receivers and with Marcus Mariota still very much learning the speed of the NFL, this looks to be the week Indy finally gets back on track.
Prediction: Colts 27, Titans 17