Indianapolis Colts: Tennessee Titans

Titans vs. Colts preview

September, 25, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts got off to a slow start, losing their first two games of the season until the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars helped them get their first victory Sunday. The Tennessee Titans opened the season with a victory, but have dropped their last two games while being outscored 59-17.

The Colts and Titans meet at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday to see which team can even its record to .500. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky discuss this AFC South matchup.

Wells: At the start of the season, there were some questions about whether Jake Locker was the right guy to quarterback the Titans. Now he’s dealing with a wrist injury. At what point do the Titans determine if he’s truly their quarterback of the future?

Kuharsky: Soon. They want to give him a thorough look and a fair chance. He played a great game in Kansas City, a terrible first half against Dallas and a terrible game in Cincinnati. But coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t appear to be shaping his offense around Locker’s skill set. Locker simply isn't capable of doing what Kurt Warner or Philip Rivers did with Whisenhunt as the playcaller. This is Locker’s final year under contact.

At some point, if he still isn’t playing well, they have to decide he’s not the future and then get a look at sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger to find out whether he’s the answer. Otherwise, they'll need to spend a high draft pick to compete with Mettenberger and Charlie Whitehurst in 2015.

How have the Colts failed, again, to fix the offensive line? How does it rate at this point?

Wells: It appeared it would be another long season for the Colts along the offensive line before they even played their first game of the season. Starting guard Donald Thomas was lost for the season in training camp, and center Khaled Holmes suffered a high ankle sprain on the opening series in the first preseason game. But the pieces have come together along the line for Indianapolis. Rookie Jack Mewhort has slid into Thomas’ spot at guard, and the Colts claimed center A.Q. Shipley off waivers from Baltimore a week before the season opener at Denver. The Colts are averaging 122 yards rushing per game, and quarterback Andrew Luck is on pace to be sacked a career-low 25 times this season.

Chris Johnson rushed for at least 1,000 yards in his six seasons with the Titans. He’s with the Jets now. How have the Titans gone about replacing him in the backfield?

Kuharsky: They’ve run the ball well, really. They are averaging 5 yards per carry; CJ averaged 3.9 last year. The committee of Shonn Greene, Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster has a nice skill-set combination. And they were deployed unpredictably in the season-opening win at Arrowhead Stadium. In the two losses, their usage has produced more questions. Considering the ground gains and the resources dedicated to the offensive line, they should be running more.

And I’m surprised how far the Titans have strayed from play-action, which could help the run-game success have more of a bearing on Locker and the passing game.

Is there any hope for the Colts' pass rush without Robert Mathis? How’s replacing safety Antoine Bethea going?

Wells: Let’s just say replacing Bethea has been easier -- and that’s been a challenge -- than getting a consistent pass rush without Mathis. Veteran Mike Adams, who played in Denver last season, is starting alongside LaRon Landry at safety.

About the pass rush? That’s a completely different story. Let’s get this out of the way: There is no replacing Robert Mathis. Everybody inside the organization knows that. They’re trying to do it as an entire unit. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is sending Landry on a lot of safety blitzes. Second-year linebacker Bjoern Werner is starting in place of Mathis, but he has yet to make an impact. He has only five tackles, no sacks and just one quarterback hit through the first three weeks. The Colts came alive defensively against the Jaguars last weekend. They had four sacks and hit Jacksonville’s quarterbacks seven times. Now they have to be consistent with their pressure.

Passing the ball against the Titans is a challenge, as they’re giving up only 170 yards per game through the air. What makes them so tough in that area?

Kuharsky: The Titans gave up 220 yards rushing to the Cowboys and set the Bengals up inside the red zone with a bad pick. (And Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu found it a great pass defense to throw against, since he found Andy Dalton with an 18-yard trick-play scoring pass.) In those two blowouts, it was not so much that the Titans played great pass defense, it was that the opponents didn’t need to throw it very much or very effectively to win. Dez Bryant and A.J. Green each gained more than 100 yards receiving.

At least against Kansas City and Dallas, the Titans created pass pressure. They had four sacks in each of those games. They didn’t really threaten Dalton. To have any chance of upsetting the Colts, they’ll need to get to Luck.

Luck is coming off a fantastic game. A lot of analysts predicted a big jump for him to MVP-caliber this season. How much better has he gotten since the last time the Titans saw him?

Wells: Last weekend, the Colts laid out their blueprint for success this season against the Jaguars. Luck completed passes to nine receivers, and a solid running game allowed them to run play-action. Luck was 6-of-6 on passes of at least 20 yards and completed 12 passes on play-action calls. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton told me after the game that they’ll be a tough team to stop this season as long as they spread the ball around. The Colts need Luck to continue to be that effective this season because, as I noted earlier, their defense is suspect because of an inconsistent pass rush.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC South

March, 10, 2014
With the 2014 free-agency period starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, here is a look at top free agents in the AFC South as compiled by reporters Tania Ganguli, Paul Kuharsky, Michael DiRocco and Mike Wells. The top seven free agents are on defense, led by cornerback Vontae Davis of the Colts. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a fixture in Jacksonville for the past eight years, is looking for a new team. Is this the end of Antoine Bethea's run in Indianapolis?

1. Vontae Davis, Colts CB: Indianapolis needs a top cornerback to help a defense that finished 20th in the league last season. Davis has shown he has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He just needs to work on his consistency.

2. Alterraun Verner, Titans CB: A smart, aware corner with a knack for getting to the ball, he just lacks top speed and size.

3. Antoine Bethea, Colts S: A reliable player, having started every game he played during his eight years with the Colts. Finished with at least 100 tackles in five of those seasons.

4. Earl Mitchell, Texans NT: Solid player at the point of attack and has shown the ability to get consistent penetration. He had 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season.

5. Bernard Pollard, Titans S: Played well as an in-the-box safety and provided the sort of standard-setting leadership the Titans lacked previously. Update: Signed one-year, $2 million deal to remain with Titans.

6. Darryl Sharpton, Texans LB: Led the Texans with 87 tackles but is not as good in coverage as he is against the run.

7. Antonio Smith, Texans DE: He is more of a run-stuffing defensive end than a pass-rusher, although he did record five sacks in 2013.

8. Ben Tate, Texans RB: He led the Texans with 771 yards rushing. He has been somewhat injury-prone but has produced when needed as Arian Foster's backup.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB: Jones-Drew started 15 games and led the Jaguars with 803 yards and five touchdowns rushing. He also caught 43 passes (third on the team) for 314 yards. He got off to a slow start then battled through ankle, hamstring and knee issues and averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.

10. Donald Brown, Colts RB:
Brown was the Colts’ third running back twice in 2013 only to end the season as the starter. He has the speed but was too inconsistent during his five seasons in Indianapolis.

11. Garrett Graham, Texans TE: He’s not Owen Daniels, but he can line up tight or as a flex tight end. He came into his own as a receiver last season with 49 catches for 545 yards and five TDs.

12. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts RB: A neck injury limited Bradshaw to only three games last season. It took just those three games for him to show he was the Colts' most effective running back.

13. Ropati Pitoitua, Titans DE: A giant, run-stuffing end who would be a solid, flexible piece in the hybrid front. Update: Signed 3-year, deal for $9.6 million to remain with Titans.

14. Adam Vinatieri, Colts K: The 41-year-old Vinatieri was 35-of-40 on field goals and a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points in 2013.

15. Samson Satele, Colts C: Was released by the team on March 6 after a disappointing 2013 season. He has started 98 of 102 games during his seven-year career.
Give the Indianapolis Colts credit, they’re not waiting around to talk to players who could potentially help their team.

The Colts are scheduled to meet with former Cleveland Browns inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The Browns released Jackson last week, which means he’s able to talk to teams now.

Inside linebacker is a position of need for the Colts to go with Robert Mathis, Jerrell Freeman and Erik Walden in their 3-4 defense. Pat Angerer joined them in the starting lineup most of the season before eventually losing his job to Kelvin Sheppard. Angerer, who is recovering from knee surgery, will become a free agent next week and likely won’t return.

The Colts finished 20th in the league in total defense last season.

Jackson, 30, has already met with the Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins.

The opportunity to start is there for Jackson if he decides to sign with the Colts. Jackson, a 2006 second-round draft pick, had at least 100 tackles in five seasons.

It also helps that the Colts added former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski to the staff to be head coach Chuck Pagano’s special assistant last month. Jackson was upset when the Browns fired Chudzinski.

I caught up with NFL scout Matt Williamson to talk about Jackson.

“He is better than anyone (the Colts) have now at inside linebacker for sure,” Williamson said. “I like Jackson, but also think he is a bit overrated. A good quality player that racks up numbers, but needs to be protected and doesn't excel in one particular area. He has played in both a 3-4 and 4-3, never has to come off the field and is considered a strong leader.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The AFC South will have two new head coaches next season: Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee and Bill O’Brien in Houston.

O’Brien is returning to the NFL after spending the past two seasons as the coach at Penn State. Whisenhunt, on the other hand, has fresh memory of teams in the AFC South.

The San Diego Chargers, where Whisenhunt was the team’s offensive coordinator, played teams from the AFC South last season.

The Chargers ran for 147 yards and were 7-of-14 on third down in their 19-9 victory over the Colts last October.

Whisenhunt is taking over a Tennessee team that finished 7-9 last season, including going 0-2 against Indianapolis. The Colts, who have the longest-tenured coach in the division in Chuck Pagano, won the division with an 11-5 record.

“If you look at what happened in Kansas City last year, you never know how things are going to change from year to year,” Whisenhunt said Thursday at the scouting combine. “I have a lot of respect for this division. I’ve played teams a number of times here. I’m excited about being in this division and competing.”

The Chiefs went from 2-14 in 2012 to having a complete turnaround by going 11-5 last season.

Video: Titans-Colts review

December, 2, 2013
AM ET bloggers Mike Wells and Paul Kuharsky shared some final thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts win over the Tennessee Titans and the state of the AFC South.

Live blog: Titans at Colts

December, 1, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Tennessee Titans' visit to the Indianapolis Colts. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The opponent doesn’t have the same hype or record as teams like Denver, San Francisco or Seattle. But the pressure to win is right there for the Indianapolis Colts.

Just ask owner Jim Irsay if you need further proof.

[+] Enlarge Andrew Luck
AP Photo/Darron CummingsAndrew Luck and the Colts have their work cut out for them in their December slate of games.
It was only a few weeks ago that it looked like the Colts were going to be able to cruise the AFC South title. Two blowout losses in the past three games has made things a little more interesting.

It’s actually caused some uneasiness for the Colts.

Things can be righted some with a victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Win and the Colts will have a three-game lead in the division with four games to go. Lose and palms become increasingly sweaty because the division race gets even tighter.

“That's the way we approached it from a preparation standpoint," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We have a chance to seal the division, put a nail in the coffin. However you want to put it. We’ve got to play, just from a confidence standpoint. Someone is going to get hot in the league. Somebody is going to get hot going down the stretch. Win this football game and be 8-4 with four games to go. We need to play well in all three phases. This game is huge.”

Quarterback Andrew Luck has yet to lose back-to-back games as a Colt. The Colts are 34-14 in December games since 2002, which is the second-highest winning percentage in the NFL.

Those numbers won’t mean anything if the vulnerable Colts can’t shore up a number of areas.

• The Colts have been outscored 93-12 in the first half of their last four games.

• Indianapolis' running backs rushed for only 49 yards against the Arizona Cardinals.

• Receiver T.Y. Hilton has 10 catches for 82 yards in the past two games after going for 14 catches, 251 yards and three touchdowns in the two games prior to that.

• The defense has given up at least 340 total yards, including two games of at least 410 yards, in the past four games.

• The Colts are 24-of-78 on third down in their past six games.

"We'll turn every stone and exhaust all resources, but at the end of the day, no matter what you do, what wrinkles you throw in there, you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to do it better. You’ve got to play better. You've got to coach better," Pagano said.

"We're not going to beat people with gimmicks and this, that and the other. You beat people with sound football -- tough, hard-nosed, physical, disciplined. Play with great fundamentals, great technique, great effort, all those things. I know our guys are tough and physical and they’re going to play with great effort, just got to play more consistent for 60 minutes.”

The Titans, who are 0-3 in divisional games, have just as much on the line as the Colts. Tennessee wants to close the gap on the Colts in the division and its currently the sixth seed in the AFC. A Titans' victory moves them to within a game of teh Colts in the division.

Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown for 806 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 71.8 percent of his attempts in the past three games.

"This a divisional game," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "Again, this is a tough team that we know and they know us. This is going to be a fight. We all know the fastest way to get into the playoffs is to control your division. We have that two-game lead and we got to maintain that lead. We have to do all that we can to fight and scrap for the place that we’re in. We worked our butts off to get where we’re at and we got to stay there."

Double Coverage: Titans at Colts

November, 29, 2013
Fitzpatrick/Jean FrancoisGetty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick, left, and the Titans can tighten the AFC South race vs. Ricky Jean Francois' Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts want to remove the bad taste in their mouths from their 29-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Tennessee Titans want to make the AFC South race intriguing.

Something will have to give when the teams meet Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts can basically lock up their first division title since 2010 with a victory, because they would have a three-game lead on the Titans with four remaining. A win by the Titans would cut Indianapolis' lead to one game. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down the matchup.

Wells: The Titans made things in the division a little more interesting when they came from behind to beat Oakland last weekend. But they will be without a key player this weekend. How much will losing safety Michael Griffin impact the Titans' defense this weekend?

Kuharsky: They are OK without him, as George Wilson is a capable veteran safety who will start in his spot. Wilson played for an injured Griffin in St. Louis, which was a bad game for Tennessee, but not because of that switch. Wilson has covered tight ends in a heavy nickel set and the dime package for much of the season, and the Titans have been better against tight ends after having huge problems in 2012. The Titans didn’t use Wilson against Coby Fleener two weeks ago. Wilson played only one defensive snap in that game, and the Titans let their base defenders deal with Fleener. They didn’t fare well, as he caught eight passes for a game-high 107 yards. Using Wilson as they have against other teams is not an option now, since he’s in line to start.

Let’s stay in the secondary. Has Vontae Davis been consistent? And how is his health now?

Wells: Inconsistent is a better word to describe Davis. He looked like he was on his way to earning a nice offseason payday earlier this season. But he hasn’t been the same since Greg Toler, who starts opposite of him at cornerback, went down with a groin injury four games ago. It’s like Davis feeds off of Toler’s presence on the field. Houston's Andre Johnson, St. Louis' Tavon Austin, and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald all took turns getting the best of Davis at times in three of the past four weeks. Davis' groin injury isn’t severe, so he should be in the lineup this weekend. There is a chance that Toler could be back, too.

Running back Chris Johnson had a monster first half in the previous meeting against the Colts. But the Titans stopped handing the ball to him in the second half. Do you think the same thing will happen this weekend if Johnson has another strong first half?

Kuharsky: Well, the Colts came out and scored, collected Devon Wylie's kickoff fumble, and scored again, erasing the Titans' lead. I’m thinking Leon Washington, who was just signed to replace Wylie, will be more reliable, and the Titans won’t go so long without having the ball on offense. With Ryan Fitzpatrick finding a rhythm at quarterback, they are more likely to throw some short passes that function as runs. The Titans will certainly want to run it. But they don’t sustain it very well when they do manage to get it going some.

The Titans jumped out to that lead last time after the Colts were coming off getting blown out by 29. Now they draw the Colts after the Colts were blown out by Arizona. The Colts usually bounce back well, but I sense that the faith of those close to the team is waning. Is the team starting to doubt itself?

Wells: Faith better not start waning after owner Jim Irsay was, well, Jim Irsay and voiced his frustration Tuesday on Twitter about the team’s performance the past few weeks. The Colts have yet to lose back-to-back games with Andrew Luck as quarterback, but this was a different Colts’ team inside the locker room after the Arizona game. They normally talk among each other win or lose after the game. There was very little of that this time. Players showered and dressed rather quickly and headed toward the bus. The Colts are very vulnerable right now. The Titans have an excellent opportunity to come to Lucas Oil Stadium and win the game. All the pressure in the division race would shift to the Colts if that happens.

You mentioned that Fitzpatrick is finding his rhythm. Do you think this could lead to a quarterback controversy next season with him and Jake Locker?

Kuharsky: Well, we aren’t sure yet that the same coaching staff or regime will be in place. Presuming it is, and presuming Locker recovers fully and on schedule from his Lisfranc surgery, he’ll begin next year at the front of the line. The question isn’t so much about the possibility that Fitzpatrick surpasses him -- he’s very much a backup -- it’s about whether the Titans are compelled to deem Locker injury-prone and draft an alternative/possible replacement. Based on what they have seen so far, they can't execute a very expensive option in May for the 2015 season, so they also have to be looking ahead.

The Colts have had some serious injuries, too. Reggie Wayne was a terrible guy to lose. Would tight end Dwayne Allen rank a close second?

Wells: Don’t get me wrong, not having Allen is a significant blow to the Colts, but I’d say losing guard Donald Thomas is second on the list. The offensive line was abysmal last season, and the Colts went out and spent money to upgrade it during the offseason, with Thomas and tackle Gosdar Cherilus being the main pieces. The Colts went from starting Thomas, a veteran, to starting rookie Hugh Thornton. That’s a drastic drop-off, especially since Thornton shifted to left guard on the fly because he played right guard in college. The entire offensive line has been inconsistent with its run and pass protection this season.


Erik Walden deserves to be suspended

November, 18, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts still hadn’t heard about linebacker Erik Walden's one-game suspension when media reports surfaced Monday afternoon.

“I haven’t heard anything from the league,” coach Chuck Pagano said.

Pagano said last week that he expected the league to discipline Walden after he ripped off Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker's helmet and then head-butted him in the second quarter of the Nov. 14 game. Walden was penalized but not ejected for his actions.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Walden likely wouldn’t have been suspended if he had been ejected from the game.

To Walden’s credit, he stood up and answered every question asked about the incident after the game. He called his actions “selfish.”

At the same time, though, you can’t feel sorry for Walden because he’s getting suspended. The Colts were a different team at that point in the game. Walden's head-butt was the third straight unsportsmanlike penalty for Indianapolis. What he did to Walker was unsafe. Walden was standing face-to-face with the Titans tight end when head-butted him. Walden could have given Walker a concussion.

Yes, Walker threw a punch at Walden. But that was after the head-butt. Wouldn’t you react the same way if somebody with a helmet on head-butted you while you didn' t have a helmet on? The NFL is taking a stand in protecting its players.

Walden’s suspension will cost him about $191,000.

Walden has been talked about more over the past few days than he was talked about in the first nine games of the season.

That’s not a good thing when the Colts signed him to a four-year, $16-million contract during the offseason. Walden has only recorded 28 tackles and 2.0 sacks this season.

Rookie Bjoern Werner is the leading candidate to start in Walden’s place against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Werner missed three games this season with a torn plantar fascia.

“I’ll be ready if I’m starting, just like I was the whole time in case somebody goes down,” Werner said. “I’ll have to make the most of the opportunity. The injury earlier set me back a little bit, especially mentally, but I definitely feel more comfortable.”

Video: Colts-Titans review

November, 15, 2013

Before they left LP Field, Paul Kuharsky and Mike Wells shared their thoughts on the direction of the teams they cover.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. –- In the middle of what was a career-best day for Titans tight end Delanie Walker, he found himself face to face with Colts linebacker Erik Walden.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Delanie Walker
AP Photo/Wade PayneDelanie Walker is restrained by tackle Michael Roos after an altercation with Erik Walden.
In the middle of a bad penalty stretch for Indianapolis, Walden yanked off Walker's helmet and then head butted Walker.

Walker did not take it well.

“That’s dirty play, there is no need for stuff like that in the NFL,” Walker said. “If you’re getting your butt kicked, get your butt kicked. Don’t rip somebody’s helmet off and then head butt them. I’m surprised he didn’t get ejected. ...

“Dang, this is a sport we all play with each other, we’re all family, this is a fraternity. For you to do some senseless act like that, that just tells me what type of player you are. There is no need to talk. I’m going to see him in two weeks and I’m going to whoop his butt again.”

Walden was contrite after the game.

“It was a selfish act,” he said of the play that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty. “It could have cost my team bigger than I did. I lost my composure. It something that can’t happen. It wasn’t really something he did, it was ticky-tack. I can’t allow myself to take it that far.”

Live blog: Colts at Titans

November, 14, 2013
Join our NFL experts for Thursday night football between AFC South rivals the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.