Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
The top two teams in the AFC South each look to right the ship after disheartening losses last Sunday.
In front of a national audience tonight on the NFL Network's "Thursday Night Football," Andrew Luck takes his division-leading 6-3 Colts to Nashville to take on Chris Johnson and the 4-5 Tennessee Titans at LP Field at 8:25 p.m. ET. Last week the Titans were upset at home by previously winless Jacksonville, losing three fumbles on their way to four total turnovers. Meanwhile, Indianapolis fared no better as they committed five turnovers in falling to St. Louis in lopsided fashion, 38-8.
This is the 37th all-time meeting between the two franchises, beginning when the Colts were in Baltimore and the Titans were in Houston as the Oilers. The Colts hold a 23-13 series advantage, including eight of the last nine highlighted by season sweeps in 2009, '10 and '12.
3 Things to Watch
Is the Trent Richardson trade officially a bust?
3.0 for a first-round pick. In essence that's what the Colts have acquired this season. 3.0 yards per carry from Trent Richardson. He has carried the ball 88 times for 250 yards for an average that has him topping only two backs with over 100 carries this year — Ray Rice's 2.51 yards per carry and Willis McGahee's 2.6. Richardson had five carries for two rushing yards last week and is clearly not the Colts' top halfback option in key situations. He has yet to post more than 60 yards rushing in any game this year and his longest run is 16 yards, one of only four runs over 10 yards on the season. With a poor showing against the Titans' 26th-ranked rush defense, it will probably be time to officially label the trade — and possibly Richardson — as a bust.
Can Andrew Luck return to form?
The second-year quarterback is averaging over 240 passing yards per game and has thrown 14 touchdowns to just six interceptions this year; however, three of those came last week against St. Louis. Luck has had a bit of trouble adjusting without Reggie Wayne, who was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL following the Denver game. Since Wayne exited the lineup, Luck has competed just 54 percent of his passes. His favorite targets have become T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener. Luck has targeted Hilton 20 times in the past two games and the second-year wide receiver has rewarded him with 251 yards and three touchdowns. On the other hand, Fleener has been targeted 15 times in this span, but has just made seven catches for 97 yards. As defenses begin to roll coverages toward Hilton, Luck will need to find a way to spread the ball to others as 45 percent of all his completions go to either Hilton or Fleener. The former Stanford Cardinal will have his hands full against the NFL's eighth-ranked pass defense. The Titans allow just 211.3 passing yards per game and have given up only seven touchdowns through the air, by far the fewest in the league. Expect Alterraun Verner to be hanging all over Hilton. Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard should be in position to be giving safety help over the top as the Titans won't have to load up the box to defend against the run.
No Jake Locker
After injuring his hip in Week 4 against the Jets, it was initially thought Locker would miss close to two months. Locker made a quick recovery and was in the middle of his third straight start this past Saturday when he went down with a foot injury early in the game. It was revealed to be a devastating Lisfranc injury, which puts an end to Locker's season and likely to his career as a Titan. When looking at the stats, it seems pretty obvious that the Titans have been worse under Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tennessee is 0-3 in the games where Fitzpatrick has seen a majority of the action. The Harvard grad threw two interceptions in each of his two starts. But let's remember that his two starts came against Kansas City and Seattle, teams who own two of the best defenses and best records in the entire league. Against Jacksonville, Fitzpatrick looked much better as he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, Fitzpatrick has gotten almost no help from his running game in the three games where he was the team's primary quarterback, as the Titans have averaged just 84.6 yards rushing in these games. That's nearly 26 yards away from their season average, which ranks them as the 11th-best rushing offense in the NFL.
Key Player for Indianapolis: Vontae Davis, CB
In the past two weeks Davis has been absolutely torched by Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and the Rams' Tavon Austin. Davis bit bad on a double-move by Johnson in the Week 9 game, as he was wide open for a 72-yard touchdown from Case Keenum. On Johnson's third touchdown of the first half he out-fought the 5-10 corner on a fade route in the back left corner of the end zone. Last week, Davis was burnt twice by the rookie Austin. First, Austin simply blew by him on a go route for a 57-yard touchdown, on a play where it looked like Davis must've been expecting some safety help over the top. Austin's final touchdown of the day, an 81-yarder, happened after Davis failed to keep up with Austin on a drag route across the middle. Even more concerning than all the touchdowns he's giving up is the explosive nature of the plays Davis is allowing. Allowing three 50+ yard touchdowns in a two-week span is not a recipe for success, especially when Davis hasn't even been close to the receiver on any of these occasions. Davis did hold Denver's Demaryius Thomas to just three catches for 51 yards, but that was three games ago. Kendall Wright, a receiver in the mold of Austin, and Nate Washington, who is averaging over 16 yards per catch, wait in the wings. A few big plays through the air may be too much for the Colts to overcome.
Key Player for Tennessee: Chris Johnson, RB
After it appeared he had turned the corner two weeks ago with his first 100-yard rushing performance against St. Louis, Johnson took a massive step back against the the NFL's worst rushing defense, which is surrendering 153 yards per game on the ground. Johnson rushed just 12 times for 30 yards, with a long of just six yards. For a back that was once a 2,000-yard rusher and an electric playmaker, neither 3.6 yards per carry nor two touchdowns isn't very impressive. If the Titans want to win they need to control the clock and keep Andrew Luck and a Colts offense that has scored at least 20 points in seven of its nine games off of the field.
Both teams have disappointed in that they haven't been able to run the football this year. The Colts should be able to win this game without a rushing attack, however, as Andrew Luck is capable of carrying this football team. On the other hand, the Titans must have a viable running game to be successful. This is especially true when you consider that Tennessee will be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick, its backup quarterback, and that, without any ground threat, Robert Mathis, the NFL's leading sacker, will pin his ears back and have a field day.
If Luck can avoid turnovers and keep the Tennessee defense honest by spreading the ball around to receivers not named T.Y. Hilton, then I think he will be able to pick apart this Titans defense. The Colts will need to get things going early as they are notoriously slow starters. They have been down in the first quarter by double digits against Miami, Seattle and Houston. Ultimately, however, the Colts will bounce back and improve their playoff resume, while a loss almost certainly ends Tennessee's postseason hopes.
Indianapolis 27, Tennessee 23