AFC South: Colts-Titans 101109

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

Bill Polian said the Colts did well taking what the Titans gave in a rather conservative defensive approach. Tennessee relied on its rushers overpowering the Colts' offensive line, and for the most part they did not.

Hear him reflect on that, the emergence of Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, the work of receivers coach Clyde Christensen and the progress of the defense in this interview on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis.

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

By the count of ESPN Stats & Information, the Titans didn’t blitz Peyton Manning once Sunday night.

The Titans’ defense has given up most of its touchdowns when it brings standard pressure. Against the Colts, Tennessee used standard pressure on all 44 of Peyton Manning’s pass attempts -- with standard pressure for 4-3 defense defined as rushing with four down linemen.
Pressure on Pass Plays in 2009
-- Standard Extra
Plays 163 45
Pct. of plays 78.4 21.6
Yds/plays 7.2 7.1
TD allowed 11* 2
3 TD Sunday

It’s a lose-lose when you’re a bad defense playing against Manning. Blitz, he’s going to get rid of it before he gets hit and the coverage is weakened.

Still, being completely predictable is a death wish against Manning and the Colts, and I am guessing no extra pressure got pretty predictable.

Looking inside the Colts' blowout win

October, 12, 2009
 AP Photo/Wade Payne
 Things are not looking up for Sen'Derrick Marks and the Titans. Indianapolis and Tennessee are franchises headed in opposite directions.

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Five games is hardly all the distance between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans after the visitors' 31-9 Sunday night rout. These rivals heading in opposite directions don’t have a gap, but a gulf between them.

Here’s one man's look at five elements from a game that showed us the difference between the AFC's elite and a squad might be jostling for a top 10 draft slot.

1. Last season in an Oct. 27 victory on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," the Titans didn’t sack Peyton Manning. That didn't seem to matter then, as Tennessee ensured the Colts couldn’t catch up in the AFC South race. Less than a year later, Manning remained unsackable. When the Titans got close, they paid the price. Roughing the passer penalties on Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jacob Ford provided 30 of 93 yards the Colts traversed in a 47-second drive before halftime en route to the touchdown that made it 21-9.
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The high-motor Vanden Bosch doesn’t have a sack this season. While he got the better of Colts tackle Tony Ugoh on many snaps, that didn’t change. KVB doesn’t currently make the list with Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Mario Williams as the division’s premier pass rushers. He had an offsides and facemask penalties, too.

As for the roughing call against him, where he lunged at Manning and referee Walt Anderson said he made contact with the quarterbacks knees, Vanden Bosch said: “The officials’ job is to protect the quarterback, my job is to sack the quarterback.”

Manning wanted to differentiate himself from how New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacted in light of a similar, but softer, call in a Week 4 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

“I’ve never asked for a call, I’ve never clapped when they’ve made a call,” he said. “I clap when we get the yards because of execution. The first one, I’ve had that hit before to the knee. I don’t know if I have to validate it or not, but I’ve got to see the doctor after this and get treatment. Obviously when you plant that left knee it’s in a vulnerable position, I wear that brace for that reason alone, hopefully it protects me there.”

2. The Colts (5-0) were without injured cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, their two best veterans at the spot. They unhesitatingly started rookies Jerraud Powers (third round) and Jacob Lacey (undrafted) while using fourth-year man Tim Jennings as their nickel. Jennings got their lone turnover, wrestling position from Nate Washington to intercept a Kerry Collins pass.

“The way we gain trust in [the young guys] is that they perform,” Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said. “In order for us to feel real comfortable with them, they have to do well in terms of a practice session and they have been doing just that.”

The Titans (0-5) started without Cortland Finnegan and nickel Vincent Fuller and lost Nick Harper (broken right forearm) along the way. They worked super hard to hide rookie Jason McCourty (sixth round). Before Ryan Mouton took over for Harper the Titans avoided using a nickel package where Mouton would have occupied the slot receiver.

Did Tennessee really think a base defense with a linebacker on inside receiver Austin Collie (eight catches for a game-high 97 yards and two touchdowns) was preferable?

“Our personnel in our secondary right now is obviously a little tough,” linebacker David Thornton said. “You look at those things and you may have to make some adjustments on the fly and that’s what the coach decided to do.

“Whatever the coaches call, players have to go out there and execute. Of course, typically you don’t see too many linebackers on receivers but if that’s what we have to do we have to go out and do it.”

3. The Colts averaged only 2.5 yards per carry. But factor in the steady diet of throws to halfbacks Joseph Addai and a couple to rookie understudy Donald Brown and all those touches boosted the average to 3.2. That’s still not great, but it’s more palatable and clearly enough to win with as a supplement to Manning throwing to receivers and tight ends.

“One thing we are doing well, we’ve done well all year, we are catching short passes and getting yards after the catch,” Manning said. “Sometimes it’s long ones. But when you take a three-yard catch and turn it into a seven-yard game, I think that’s a win for the offense, that can be deflating for a defense: A short pass, all a sudden it’s second-and-three and you can get a first down.”

4. Jeff Fisher said the benching of a healthy Jevon Kearse boiled down to the Titans head coach wanting to see Dave Ball. But pushing Kearse aside moved William Hayes into a starting role with Ball working as part of the rotation. Quite frankly, it’s the least Fisher could have done to indicate a willingness to make some changes -- beyond altering the practice schedule during the week -- in seeking to provide a spark.

But who’s next? A roster that once seemed deep doesn’t have a lot of alternatives at positions where production is down. Harper said he hopes he’s only out four to six weeks while his forearm heals, but the alternatives beyond him weren’t appealing if he’s healthy. (See No. 2 above.)

I’m not expecting the members of the next generation to find their way into the starting lineup soon. Don’t hold your breath for the next move like this, looking for Leroy Harris or Jared Cook/Craig Stevens or Gerald McRath. I don’t believe the team sees the production of Kevin Mawae, Alge Crumpler or Thornton is nearly the question Kearse’s is.

And while Collins has been bad, Fisher said he was merely putting backup Vince Young into a blowout.

5. Indy’s not a top run defense, but it’s plenty good enough when working with the team’s pass rush and secondary. Even as the Titans have been losing, Chris Johnson got at least 15 carries in each of the first four games. He got only nine against the Colts, for a season-low 35 yards.

Johnson did too much East-West running and not enough North-South and then fell victim to the traditional Colts run defense -- a big lead that needed to be addressed by passes.

“I think our defense was able to keep him contained and didn’t get him loose,” he said. “If he finds a crack, he can take it to the house. They played well [against him].”

Rapid Reaction: Colts 31, Titans 9

October, 11, 2009

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- To the Colts’ delight and the Titans’ chagrin, this one came out that way most people expected it would.

Indianapolis is 5-0 following a 31-9 victory and stands with the best teams in the league. Tennessee is 0-5 and grouped with the worst.

Despite some early misplays, the Colts continued to roll. The Titans couldn’t turn two first turnovers into more than six points. The Titans needed big things off those chances and didn't get them.

Midway through the fourth quarter, with things well in hand, Jeff Fisher finally turned to Vince Young in relief of Kerry Collins. Young got an ovation before throwing three incompletions.

The team with the league’s best current quarterback can hardly remember a time when it had any such concerns. Peyton Manning topped 300 yards, becoming the third quarterback in league history to start the season with five consecutive 300-yard games.

Following the Colts’ bye they’ll head for St. Louis, where Manning will be in position to match Kurt Warner and Steve Young’s record of six 300-yard games to start a season.

These two teams will see each other the second time this season at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 6, when the Colts will likely be looking forward to prime playoff seeding and the Titans will be looking to merely influence it.

Titans turn to Young

October, 11, 2009

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For better or worse -- and let’s be honest, how could he be worse -- Vince Young is taking over at quarterback for the Titans.

Indy leads 31-9 midway through the fourth quarter and the Titans are on track to be the first team since the merger to start one season 10-0 and the next 0-5.

Let’s see what he can do.

Halftime thoughts from Colts-Titans

October, 11, 2009

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Halftime thoughts from LP Field:
  • Two personal foul penalties, one against Kyle Vanden Bosch for contact with the quarterback’s knees and the other against Jacob Ford, are likely to set off the next round of debate about protecting precious quarterbacks. Last week Tom Brady was the beneficiary of an especially soft call against the Ravens. Was this more of the same of reasonable enforcement on Peyton Manning's behalf? I expect you’ll debate it thoroughly here, and I may explore it after the game. They helped in a big way as the Colts drove to make it 21-9 with a touchdown just before the half.
  • The Colts have gotten solid play, again, out of their rookie corners, Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey. Lacey made a great play to break up a too-late throw from Kerry Collins for Justin Gage in the end zone. Those two are far between than the Titans’ two rookie DBs in action Sunday night, Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty. The Titans seem wary of going into nickel where they are both on the field, choosing to keep three linebackers in instead of bringing on Mouton.
  • I understand why you play Cover-2 against Manning. But standing safeties Michael Griffin and Chris Hope this deep at the snaps just invites a slow death instead of risking a quicker one.
  • The Titans second swing at Code Blue is weaker than the first, and not likely to sweep up the city what it’s in support of an 0-4 team. But last year for the occasion the fake building fronts in both end zones were pained light blue. This year they aren’t. If you’re going to go, go all the way.
  • I hit on it earlier, but Tennessee has to get more than six points out of two takeaways in the first half if they want to make the Colts sweat.

Colts yield little after turnovers

October, 11, 2009

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Titans stand a chance against the Colts, they’re going to have to do more with prime opportunities.

Off two Colts turnovers, a punt muff and a Peyton Manning interception where which he was hit as he let go, here’s what the Titans did before kicking field goals:
  • Five plays for six yards.
  • Four plays for nine yards.

Six points and a 7-6 deficit.

Considering their status coming in, I suppose it feels like things are going well for Tennessee, not so well for Indianapolis.

But the Colts have to be pleased not to have paid a bigger price.

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans tight end Craig Stevens took a crushing hit to the head on the game’s opening kickoff, on which Titans safety Michael Griffin was also injured on the tackle of T.J. Rushing.

Stevens and Griffin collided with each other.

Griffin walked off in short order and Stevens went off under his own power after a long delay. Griffin was with the defense for the opening series.