Five to Watch: Titans at Colts

CB Kelvin Hayden (AP Photo/David J. Philip)

This week the Indianapolis Colts face the revitalized, Vince Young-led Tennessee Titans. The Titans are on a five-game winning streak and continue fighting to make it into the playoff hunt.

There is little doubt that the rivalry between Tennessee and Indianapolis will make this a game the Titans will really want to win. In one game they can upset their biggest division rivals, end the Colts regular-season winning streak, and set themselves up for a chance to make the playoffs.

The key to stopping the Titans offense is keeping Vince Young from running the ball downfield, while also limiting Chris Johnson's game on the ground.

The problem is, in order to stop Johnson, a team really needs to focus on him and be ready for a handoff each down. If the Colts do focus on Johnson enough to potentially take him out of the game, or limit his impact, they cannot ignore Young who can just as quickly gain chunks of yards and keep the Tennessee offense rolling.

Two seasons ago the Colts were extremely effective at limiting Vince Young's in-game impact by placing Bob Sanders on Young for the entire game. Now Sanders on the injured reserve and the Colts will need to find another way to keep an eye on the elusive quarterback.

The following players could be key to taking away the Titans weapons and ensuring the Colts offense can do enough to make Tennessee's job difficult:


Bullitt will have to keep a close eye on both Young and Johnson Sunday
Getty Images

1. S Melvin Bullitt: Melvin Bullitt has replaced Bob Sanders as the starter at strong safety for the vast majority of the last two seasons. In that time, he has played great football, and has proven that he is capable of starting for any team in the NFL. He has not faced Vince Young yet, and he may be called upon to replace Sanders by keeping his eye on Young throughout the game.

One may remember the infamous fourth-and-two call Bill Belicheck made in the fourth quarter of the Colts' game against the Patriots. On that play Bullitt was assigned to running back Kevin Faulk, the recipient of Tom Brady's pass, and kept Faulk from fielding the pass cleanly, while also pushing him back behind the first-down marker.

Bullitt will need to show this kind of effort, awareness, speed, and tackling in order to have the same effect on Young. Instead of attacking the line of scrimmage against a target that is waiting for an incoming pass, Bullitt will be attacking the line against one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL. How he fairs in that matchup, or at least in contributing to stopping Young, could determine the outcome of the game.

2. CB Kelvin Hayden: Kelvin Hayden is returning to the lineup for the first time in four weeks. It is unclear how he will be used at this time, as he may start or fill in only as a nickel corner, but his impact on the game could be drastic.

For much of the season, the Colts have relied upon rookies Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey to hold down the secondary. When the Colts moved to a nickel package and brought in an extra defensive back, veteran Tim Jennings took the field. There is little doubt that Hayden is a better cornerback than Jennings, in man-to-man, zone, and in run support.

This could make the Colts' secondary one of the best in the league heading into the playoffs. Hayden has failed to stay healthy this season, however, and has not been able to play his way into shape.

Hayden's season starts over against Tennessee and he has to hope he will stay healthy enough to play the remaining four games and get to a mid-season level before the Colts first post-season contest.

How healthy he looks, how much he runs around, and how involved he is in the defense will not only help determine how one dimensional the Titans offense will be in this game, but could have long-term implications for the Colts.


Session is looking to improve upon his already-breakout season
Harry How/Getty Images

3. LB Clint Session: Clint Session has really stepped up his play in 2009. A first-year starter last season, Session now leads the team in tackles (81), has collected two interceptions, has four quarterback hurries, and half a sack.

As the weak-side linebacker, Session is called upon to make plays on all areas of the field, covering a lot of ground to knock down passes, stop running backs, and get to the edge to help out the defensive line when plays go to the outside.

The role Session plays in limiting Chris Johnson, specifically, will have a big impact on the outcome of the game. In the first meeting between the two teams, Session led the team with nine total tackles, and one pass defended. He will need to have a similar game on Sunday if the Colts are to be effective handling the tandem of Johnson and Young.

4a. DE Dwight Freeney and b. Robert Mathis: If Dwight Freeney returns to the active roster when the Colts face the Titans, he will have the biggest impact in what Vince Young has to do with the football. Young likes to sit behind the offensive line, scanning his targets (when not handing off to Johnson), allowing the defense to spread out vertically to provide him with running room.

The key to keeping Young from doing this, and forcing him into making mistakes, is to keep him running laterally before he can make decisions with the football. If Freeney and Robert Mathis are able to get into the backfield with regularity, they can dictate Young's initial movement and expose him to the Colts' defender that draws him as an assignment.

If Young is forced into space early enough, the field will be shorter for the Colts defense, the chance that the Colts can jump a route to intercept passes Young throws while under duress will increase, and Young's ability to run for long gains will be reduced as the Colts fast defense will remain close to the line of scrimmage. The pass rush from the edges will be key, and Freeney and Mathis will set the tone.

5. WR Austin Collie: Austin Collie has had a tremendous rookie season to this point, hauling in 43 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. Over the last two weeks, however he has shared time on the field with second-year tight end Tom Santi, who has brought a new look to the Colts offense.

Collie had the best game of his career in the matchup with the Titans earlier in the season, catching eight passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. If the Colts still feel that the Titans matchup poorly against their slot receiver, it is possible that Collie will go a long way in allowing the Colts offense to stretch the field, get first downs, and punish any soft spots the Titans present to Peyton Manning.


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