- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Barring a scoreless overtime, the Colts' appearance at LP Field guarantees that one AFC South team will end a losing streak Thursday night.
As they brace for the first of two head-to-head matchups in the final month of the season, the Colts (6-6) and Titans (5-7) have combined to lose eight straight.
Somebody gets to leave the stadium tonight feeling a lot better. Here are five questions to consider before we see who that is.
1. Will Peyton Manning break out of his funk? He has 11 interceptions in his past three games. But the Titans have only three interceptions during their five consecutive losses. Look for corner Cortland Finnegan to draw the difficult Reggie Wayne assignment, but to have plenty of help as the Titans show themselves more willing to take chances with Pierre Garcon, Jacob Tamme and especially Blair White.
Rookie Alterraun Verner is the second starting corner and will face Manning for the first time, and second-year man Jason McCourty will work in the nickel. McCourty started last season in a loss to the Colts when the Titans gave up 309 passing yards and three passing touchdowns to Manning with only one pick.
Tennessee has been getting crushed in time of possession -- it hasn’t held the ball for 21 minutes in its past two losses. Manning will be content to take what’s given and string together long drives if he can.
2. Who’s playing in the Colts' secondary? The Colts' starting cornerbacks are out -- Jerraud Powers is finished for the season after surgery to repair a broken forearm and Kelvin Hayden is not recovered from a neck injury. That means Jacob Lacey and Justin Tryon are in line to work as the top two corners with rookie Cornelius Brown as the nickel.
The Titans have hardly been slinging it. They haven’t scored an offensive touchdown since Nov. 21. But Kerry Collins will have receiver Kenny Britt back after a four-game layoff with a hamstring injury and surely Tennessee will finally throw a jump ball to Randy Moss, right?
A drop-off at corner can mean extra strain on safeties Antoine Bethea and Aaron Francisco. Unless, of course, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are regularly able to hurry Collins and shorten the clock for all the guys in coverage.
3. How many catches will Tamme have? While the tight end has been productive, he’s not Dallas Clark. But the Titans' defense has given up significant yardage to tight ends far less talented than Clark this season.
I don’t know that anything has changed for the Titans' linebackers, who are most responsible for those issues, and I look for the Colts to be primed to attack the soft underbelly of the Tennessee defense until Stephen Tulloch or Will Witherspoon or Gerald McRath prove things are any different.
Heck, watch the banged-up Brody Eldridge make a couple of key catches.
4. How much will Indy even try to run it? The Colts would like to show some semblance of balance and some effective runs would help keep the play-action believable -- though everyone seems to bite on it even when they can’t run. It will be interesting to see how coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen deploy Donald Brown, Javarris James and Dominic Rhodes.
“They won’t run on us if we play Titans’ defense, to tell you the truth,” defensive tackle Jovan Haye said. “If we have somewhat of a repeat performance from Sunday, then they will. They utilize it in their offense, but they’re not a big run team. If we play like we did [surrendering 258 rushing yards in the loss to Jacksonville], they’ll run the ball.”
5. Can Chris Johnson get something going? He wants more carries and the Titans are desperate to get him going to help elongate drives, keep the defense off the field and alter the time of possession trend. But last year the Colts didn’t allow him a carry longer than 11 yards in two games while holding him to a 4.1-yard average.
The Titans need to show a willingness to throw deep to Britt and Moss to keep the Colts honest and buy a bit of extra space and time for Johnson.
“He is an outstanding back with outstanding numbers,” Caldwell said. “I think what happens just like anything else, people get spoiled. He is a talented guy and I think he has been performing well. We have to get ready to handle him because he is a heck of a back.”