The Titans face off against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, a venue where they have never won a game, coming off two convincing losses that have the fan-base turning on its head...not a good place to start this one. Below I break down the game by position groups, as per usual, and take a look at some of the more important match-ups that you'd be worth keeping track of on game day.
With Jake Locker's wrist still swollen, he has been kept out of practice this week so far, and it looks like the Titans might have to roll with backup Charlie Whitehurst. We all hoped this day would never come...Whoever is starting will have some advantages to work with. The Indianapolis Colts pass rush has been close to non-existent (until last week vs the Jaguars, anyway). Whitehurst/Locker should have plenty of time to find his targets. I expect Whisenhunt to put a strong emphasis on the short timing routes early on, as he has done with Locker so far with mixed results.
The Titans have talent out wide, but it has failed to show in the past two contests. Nate Washington has not been his usual self; struggling to create separation and, more importantly, fight to secure the ball. Justin Hunter is still not yet a reliable weapon to utilize. Kendall Wright might just have the best match-up of the day, lined up against Colts corner Greg Toler. Despite a few impressive interceptions, Greg Toler has been inconsistent at best, and his penalties have compromised the Colts secondary at times. Kendall Wright needs to take advantage of that favorable match-up if the Titans are going to move the ball through the air.
Another important piece will be the play of tight end Delanie Walker, who has been Tennessee's offensive MVP thus far. Walker has been a consistent competitor, and he will likely present match-up problems for the Colts linebackers like D'Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman. It won't be prettier if they put Bjoern Werner or Erik Walden on him either. Walker torched the latter last season.
The Titans offensive line have been coming together amidst the fire and brimstone behind them the last two weeks. They should have the edge over a Colts front seven that has failed to generate a lot of pressure. DT Arthur Jones and OLB Erik Walden will be guys to watch, as both have the potential to disrupt the backfield. Andy Levitre and Michael Oher will need to play up to their potential.
The Titans saw a ray of light last week despite the dismantling. Rookie Bishop Sankey ran hard and effectively, making cuts, getting downfield, and fighting for extra yardage. He also put his excellent vision on display more than once. I expect the Titans to continue rolling with their running game, maybe more so than in the past two weeks, with Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey taking a solid split between them. Against a suspect Colts defense, I am hoping that Whisenhunt utilized McCluster a little more creatively this time around.
The Titans can't go in underestimating the Colts, especially on the offensive line. While they have been relatively poor in run blocking department, the Colts O-Line ranks 1st in pass protection per PFF, through the league's first three weeks. They will rely heavily on their passing game, with Andrew Luck targeting guys like Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks more often than not.
The Titans linebackers will have their hands full. While I don't imagine Trent Richardson will be too much to handle, the Colts will utilize Ahmad Bradshaw out of the backfield, both on the ground and in the air. His lateral ability will make things tough on the Titans defense. The Titans should consider giving rookie linebacker Avery Williamson some added time. He was solid on the inside last week on limited snaps; showing that he can play down hill and maintain his gap integrity. Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley will need to have resurgent games; they were part of an offensive effort that registered only a single hurry on Andy Dalton last week.
Tennessee's secondary will also need to be up to the task. The Colts are used to leaning on their passing attack, and Luck is deadly with time on the pocket. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is coming off a dreadful performance in Cincinnati, so he'll be a guy to watch. The Colts are almost sure to pick on him as much as possible.
The safeties had a quiet game last week, and I expect them to be much more involved with the Colts bringing an more vertically oriented offense to the table. Hopefully Bernard Pollard doesn't become a liability in the deep secondary.
The Titans have a ways to go before they can be considered a "finish product" under Ken Whisenhunt, but if they want a shot at the post season at year's end, they are going to have to make their mark in these divisional match-ups. With the Titans now likely rolling out with Charlie Whitehurst at QB, it will be up to the rest of the team to rally and make plays. At this point, it looks like that might be too tall an order.