The Indianapolis Colts have been here before — sort of. The Colts started 0-2 in 2014 as well. But this 0-2 feels different, very different. The 2015 Colts have been thoroughly manhandled by teams quarterbacked by Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick — it's that bad.
But these Colts are mostly struggling because of their own shortcomings, starting with the atrocious offensive line that has been tragically overwhelmed since Andrew Luck’s rookie season. Since Luck’s rookie season, he has been hit more than any other quarterback in the league. The failure to address this faux pas falls on one man, Colts GM Ryan Grigson. Grigson’s idea of shoring up a leaky offensive live is signing guard and 10-year vet Todd Herremans after he was cut by the Eagles and drafting guard Denzelle Good from Mars Hill University in the seventh round. I had to Google “Mars Hill University” to make sure it was —ya know, a real school with a real football team.
But the offensive line and Grigson aren’t the only ones worthy of blame. A lot of blame belongs to Luck, whose 58.9 QBR is dead last in the NFL. Five of the Colts’ eight turnovers have been Luck interceptions, which are the products of a soft front line and Luck trying to force the ball down field into heavy coverage.
On the opposite end of the QBR spectrum is Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota’s 129.9 QBR is tops in the league and is the highest in history for any starting rookie quarterback after two weeks. Mariota’s debut was something to behold as he threw for four first-half touchdowns against the Buccaneers in Week 1.
Week 2 was a reality check for both Mariota and the Titans as the rookie was sacked seven times and lost two fumbles. The Titans' offensive line was thought to be a building block for the franchise, but underperforming top draft picks are leaving Titan coaches and fans frustrated. Even though the offensive line is a work in progress, Mariota —albeit after only two games, seems like he could be the real deal, giving Titans fans a legitimate reason to be excited for their football future.
Indianapolis at Tennessee
Time: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Line: Tennessee +3
Three Things To Watch
1. Rebounding Quarterbacks
Both starting quarterbacks are in similar situations. Both Luck and Mariota have shoddy offensive lines and are facing defenses that struggle to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Mariota showed last week against the Browns that he is going to struggle against blitzing defenses. Lucky for him the Colts don’t have anyone that can pressure the quarterback. Blitz specialist, OLB/DE Bjoern Werner has been the complete opposite of special in his two-plus seasons as a Colt and actual blitz specialist Robert Mathis is still recovering from a torn achilles that sidelined him for all of 2014. Mariota will look to throw to whomever Colts shutdown corner Vontae Davis isn’t covering. Davis, who suffered a shoulder injury on Monday night against the Jets, is the only healthy-ish starting cornerback on the Colts' depth chart as fellow CBs Greg Toler and Darius Butler are still questionable for Sunday’s game. The banged up Colts secondary could mean big days for Titans receivers Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham.
Andrew Luck has to look at what Browns QB Johnny Manziel did last week against the Titans secondary and be licking his chops. Manziel hit wideout Travis Benjamin on two long scoring passes that shut down any chance of a Titans comeback. Luck loves stretching the field, but his willingness to go down field so quickly has gotten him in turnover trouble early this year. Look for Luck to finally use his tight end tandem of Colby Fleener and Dwight Allen frequently. Also, this week would be a perfect opportunity to get free agent signee, WR Andre Johnson, and budding star Donte Moncrief going with routes underneath zone coverage.
2. Titans' Offensive Line vs. Colts' Defensive Line
No young quarterback can be successful unless the big bodies in front of him can protect him. Marcus Mariota is learning this the hard way. In Week Two, Mariota had his “welcome to the NFL, rook” moments: having trouble reading coverages, struggling to check down to second options, getting sacked seven times, and losing two fumbles. The bottom line from the Browns game was that the offensive line played very poorly. Too many times Mariota would take a three or five step drop and have a Browns defender in his face before he was set to throw.
Titans head coach Ken Wisenhunt should be willing to test the banged up Colts secondary, especially since the Colts defensive front has been playing so well against the run. The three man front consisting of vet Kendall Langford and rookies David Parry and Henry Anderson have played exceptionally well, especially for a defense that lacks playmakers in the linebacking core. The Colts kept both the Jets’ Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory under 60 yards rushing on Monday night and stuffed the Bills’ LeSean McCoy for 41 yards on 17 carries two weeks ago. The Titans will surely look to run the ball to keep Mariota from throwing too many times, and that is exactly what the Colts front line is hoping for.
3. Something To Play For
The Titans finally have a spark, a hope for a brighter future with Mariota at quarterback. The days of less than half-full home games could be over forever if momentum keeps rolling in the Titans favor. And what a way to turn the next page in the franchise’s history than beating the division bully at home for the first time in seven tries? If the Titans beat the Colts this Sunday there won’t be a Mariota jersey available within Nashville city limits for months.
It seems the past three years the Colts have over-achieved in a sense, from just making the playoffs, to coming from behind to win playoff games, to winning on the road in playoff games — only to get rocked in the end by New England. But this season was supposed to be different. The Colts were no longer the dark horse, but one of the favorites in what was supposed to be a wide open AFC. Indy made the playoffs last season after starting 0-2, thanks in large part to a very bad AFC South. Lucky for the Colts, the AFC South is still bad, or at least very unproven. The Colts have the opportunity to come into a division opponent's house on Sunday and prove they are still the leader of the pack in the AFC South.
Marcus Mariota has been a great story thus far, and I have no doubt that he will be a fantastic NFL player for many years. But I believe that Andrew Luck and the Colts have too much to play for. The Titans are still figuring out their identity as a team and as a franchise, while the Colts know that they belong at the top of the AFC mountain. The question is, can the Colts offense make the necessary adjustment schematically to be a successful team with a bad offensive line? My gut tells me that Andrew Luck exploits a weak Titans secondary, and establishes a running game with Frank Gore to find a way to get the job done in Nashville on Sunday.
Prediction: Colts 28, Titans 21
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.