Scouting the Titans: Offense

QB Kerry Collins (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Will the Colts be able to stop Chris Johnson and the Titans offense in a game they need to clinch a playoff spot? Brad Keller takes a look.

Offensive Line:

Although they have a reputation for having a tough, physical offensive line, the Titans are not as big up front as the Raiders or Jaguars and prefer to rely on their speed and guile to get them by.  Former Colt Jake Scott tips the scales at a "lean" 292 pounds, left guard Leroy Harris is listed at 303 pounds, and left tackle Michael Roos is a largest player on the front five at 320 pounds. Tennessee relies more on speed and sealing the edges, so discipline and technique will be more important for the four down linemen for the Colts than brawn and endurance. 

Indianapolis has been softer up the middle without Daniel Muir in the lineup the past few games, but Fili Moala has not been too much of a detriment to the run defense and Antonio Johnson has been holding up well at the point of attack.  Center Eugene Amano was injured in the Week 14 game and has been placed on injured reserve.

His replacement — second-year man Fernando Velasco — was limited this week in practice and is lean on experience.  Scott and Harris will need to step up to give Tennessee a solid push between the tackles in order to maintain balance in the running game, but they may not be able to get the job done well enough for the Titans to pile up tons of yardage running the ball up the middle.

Chris Johnson — who had 111 yards rushing and 85 yards receiving in the first game — has been most effective where Indianapolis has been least effective on run defense.  The Titans are averaging 7.08 yards per carry around left end and 6.34 yards per attempt off left guard and the Colts have allowed an average of 5.82 yards per carry around left end and 5.25 yards per carry off left guard.  Johnson was able to pile on the yardage later in the game in Week 14 and most of that productivity came running to the left.

Indianapolis was able to contain Chris Johnson in the first half of their Week 14 match-up, holding him to 50 yards on 13 carries for a respectable average of 3.8 yards per attempt.  He ran wild in the second half after the Colts either took their foot off the gas or lost interest, rushing for 60 yards on nine attempts and catching seven passes for another 60 yards.  The key in this game will be for the Indianapolis defenders to hustle for the full 60 minutes and make sure the Titans don't get their second wind in the second half.

But a fast start is also important, which is where Pro Bowl ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis come in.  They are responsible for two thirds of the sacks this team has produced and will need to build their numbers — and prove their Pro Bowl status — by getting to the quarterback when the run defense forces the Titans into third and long situations.  This was mostly accomplished in the Week 14 matchup, at least early on, and needs to be duplicated on Sunday, possibly with some blitzes and sacks added in.

Wide Receivers:

Kenny Britt had his triumphant return spoiled in Week 14, as he caught only four passes for 38 yards on eight targets and lost a fumble.  His numbers have improved since then — it's possible that he wasn't fully recovered from a hamstring injury — but he has mostly performed well against favorable matchups.

The Indianapolis secondary has overcome numerous injuries and has generally held up well against more potent passing attacks throughout the season.  They do not represent a favorable match-up for Britt, but that does not mean that the Colts defensive backs can shut down Britt and Nate Washington simply by showing up.  The Indianapolis cornerbacks need to stay physical at the line, stay in their zones, stay aggressive, and continue to trust their help over the top from the safeties, who have played exceptionally well given injuries and circumstances.

The stars in the passing game in Week 14 were not the receivers — Randy Moss was held off the stat sheet and Washington had only 48 yards and three receptions on seven targets — but rather tight end Bo Scaife and running back Chris Johnson.  Collins isolated on Scaife in the short passing game and continually checked down to Johnson throughout the game.

That means that the linebackers need to do a better job of reading, reacting, and pursuing the ball carrier and Pat Angerer needs to make sure that he doesn't bail out early in an attempt to cover the deep zone.  Clint Session participated in practice this week and should also bolster the pass defense in the short area, as well as adding some much-needed attitude in run defense.

Running Backs:

Johnson is — and has been — the most explosive, dangerous player in this offense.  It could be argued that he's been the most explosive, dangerous offensive player in the league since the start of the 2008 season.

But, the Colts have been able to contain Johnson in the past through their speed on defense, discipline, and the fact that they tend to not overcommit to the run, usually leaving Antoine Bethea trailing the play.  If Freeney and Mathis can stay at home — and this would be a good opportunity to give Eric Foster some snaps at end on running downs now that he has shown some pass rushing ability as well — then Session, Angerer, Gary Brackett, or Tyjuan Hagler will be able to chase the ball and clean up in pursuit.

Stopping Johnson has been and will be the key to stopping this offense — particularly given their current struggles in the passing game — but it is not an insurmountable task and is certainly something the Indianapolis defense is up for.  If they can stay in their gaps, open up pursuit lanes, and bring Johnson to the turf, then the Titans will play right into their hands and the game will be put in the hands of Collins.

Again, this needs to be a 60-minute effort by the defense.  The Colts were able to bottle up Johnson for the most part in Week 14, but seemed to think that they had taken Tennessee's most valuable offensive player out of the game simply because they built a big lead.  They need to remember that the Titans are well aware of the fact that Johnson is their best player by far and will feed him the ball as often as possible.

Quarterback:

Kerry Collins still looks the part of an NFL quarterback when he suits up.  He has the size and presence that gives the appearance of full capability.  But, he can still be pressured, he can still be rattled, and he still has a tendency to make more mistakes than big plays.  Collins has always had an impressive arm and still puts the proper amount of zip on the 15-yard out and the deep post. 

His timing just seems to be off and he is starting to process his decisions slower.  That would ordinarily be the mark of an older, more experienced, more patient quarterback, but Collins often waits too long before pulling the trigger.  It is in those moments when the Indianapolis defense needs to strike.  They may not be able to sack Collins, but they can certainly hit him within the bounds of the rules.  Any hesitation or pause that Collins shows will be a victory for the Colts. 

Collins has thrown eight touchdown passes but also has 12 interceptions.  He is averaging only 6.4 yards per attempt and completing only 55.2 percent of his passes.  Unlike many quarterbacks of a certain age, Collins can be forced into incompletions, poor throws, and bad decisions.  The Indianapolis defense just needs to push him to that point.

They were able to make him rush his throws and throw some ill-advised passes in the first half of the Week 14 game by bringing extra defenders in to blitz. Collins rallied in the second half to post his best quarterback rating of the season, but the last-second touchdown was beyond padding stats in garbage time and most of his success came when the Colts jumped to a two touchdown lead and turned down the heat on defense.

They need to continue pressuring Collins, keep dialing up blitzes, and keep the heat turned up.  If The Waterboy taught us nothing else, it's that this is the last game of the season and you can't hold anything back. 

This is a must-win situation for Indianapolis and they are facing a proud Tennessee team, but they are still facing a team that has nothing left to play for in the last game of the season.  They need to take care of business on Sunday and stay sharp on offense and defense in order to prepare for — and make it into — the playoffs.


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