The Colts must make sure they don't forget about the run
Gary Horton knows what to pay attention to in the Colts-Titans MNF game.
This week's "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) features the struggling Colts on the road versus the undefeated Titans. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to watch in this AFC South showdown.
Set up play-action
The Colts must find a way to regain offensive balance, but it won't be easy. They throw the ball about 65 percent of the time; only the hapless Lions throw it more. You can make the excuse that a combination of injuries and playing from behind forces them to be one-dimensional, but it looks like they have lost a little bit of their commitment to run the ball. They are last in the league in rushing, and at times they seem to give up even trying to run. QB Peyton Manning is fabulous at play-action fakes, especially off the stretch play, but if defenses don't have to worry about the Colts running the ball they won't bite on the play-action.
It's up to the linebackers
The Colts' linebackers have a big job this week: stop the Titans' potent rushing attack. Both RBs LenDale White and Chris Johnson have power, but Johnson has excellent outside speed and elusiveness. He loves to start inside and break to the outside. Colts SS Bob Sanders is still out, so Indy must break down well on the second level and tackle in space. The Colts' front four are so pass-rush-conscious in their one-gap attacking techniques that it is up to the linebackers to make the majority of plays versus the run. The trio of Gary Brackett, Clint Session, and Freddy Keiaho must have their best games of the season or the Titans' run game will dominate them. The outside linebackers must fly to the edge and tackle well outside.
The Colts must avoid the press schemes by the Titans' DBs. WRs Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison are not great at getting off the jam, and last week they were totally frustrated by the Packers' tight coverages. The Colts have a timing offense, and everything is predicated on the receivers getting quick separation, while Manning gets the ball out as they come out of their break. When that doesn't happen, Manning is forced to hold on to the ball too long, and that leads to pressure and hits, which is a dangerous scenario versus the Titans' pass rush.
Keep the offense on the field
The biggest problem the Colts will face this week is their inability to control the clock. This usually dependable offense is ranked No. 30 in time of possession. This means that they are facing a lot of third-and-long situations, which are obvious passing situations. The Titans are devastating on defense when they can pass rush with their front four and jump routes on the backend. Plus, this lack of ball control will keep an undersized Colts defense on the field too long versus a Titans run game that will wear them down.
Unsung heroes of Titans' running game
When we think of the Titans' run game, we give most of the credit to the backs -- White and Johnson -- and a very good offensive line that doesn't receive a lot of publicity. However, there are a couple of things you may not realize, including FB Ahmard Hall is an excellent lead blocker, TEs Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler do a nice job of lining up at H-back and leading through the hole on inside runs or sealing the edge on outside runs, and even the wide receivers are active downfield blockers. It is apparent that every offensive player wants to contribute in the running game.
The Titans' secondary usually sits back in off coverages and zones, but that may change this week after watching the film of how successful the Packers' press schemes were. Green Bay's secondary did a great job of holding up Indianapolis' receivers at the line of scrimmage, and Tennessee may be tempted to do the same. CBs Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper are physical players on a defense that has produced 10 interceptions, but a lot of those are a result of a great pass rush. If the Titans do mix in some tight man-to-man coverages, they could hinder the timing of the Colts' pass offense, which is critical to their success.
Beware of the blitz
The Colts don't like to blitz a lot, but they face an excellent Titans offensive line that has only given up two sacks in six games. This may force them to bring a corner off the edge or a linebacker inside, because it is unlikely that the Colts' front four can apply constant pressure by themselves. However, this won't affect the Titans too much, because veteran QB Kerry Collins is steady in the pocket, and he recognizes blitzes very well. When he sees the Colts blitzing, he can go hot to one of his backs or tight ends on a short and safe, but effective, pass that could turn into a big gain after the catch.
The Titans are one of the most opportunistic teams in the NFL. They have 14 takeaways, 18 sacks, and they fly to the ball. They do an excellent job of funneling most offensive plays inside, where there is plenty of help. The Titans are also tied for the NFL lead in turnover ratio at plus-6. The Colts must play a clean game if they are to have any chance of winning.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.