3TFO: Colts @ Titans, Week 11
The 6-3 Colts sit atop the AFC South with a two-game lead over this Thursday’s opponent, the Tennessee Titans. By losing to the previously 0-8 Jaguars, as well as losing Jake Locker for the season on Sunday, the Titans have quickly seen their playoff hopes become dim. However, they have a golden opportunity to get right back to a game out of first place if Ryan Fitzpatrick and company can come up with a strong performance. After this pivotal matchup, the Colts could have a clear path to the division title, or have Tennessee bearing down on them for the stretch run. Here are some of the key areas to keep an eye on during this edition of Thursday Night Football.
Andrew Luck vs. Titans Secondary
Coming off of his lowest-graded performance of the season, Andrew Luck (-4.5) needs to start showing that he can still put up points without Reggie Wayne in the lineup. A big factor in the Colts’ stalled drives has been Luck’s accuracy. To this point in the season, Luck has an Accuracy Percentage of just 69.8. That puts him below players like Chad Henne, Mike Glennon, Christian Ponder, and Terrelle Pryor. Not what you’d expect from the future of a franchise. Luck particularly could benefit from more accuracy on deep passes. He has connected on 13-of-37 deep balls for 476 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT. Only two deep balls were dropped, and with a burner like T.Y. Hilton, better ball placement could easily translate to huge chunks of yardage and quick-strike touchdowns.
Luck faces a difficult matchup against a very underrated Tennessee secondary. If you look at our Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet, they’ve got both starting corners on the roster right now. Alterraun Verner picked up his fifth interception of the season last weekend, and he has still yet to give up a touchdown this year. Jason McCourty doesn’t do as many things that show up on the stat sheet, but he handles his assignments well, rarely gives up big plays, and is a reliable tackler. Michael Griffin has enjoyed a resurgent year so far, and although much of his damage has been done against the run, Griffin has more than held his own in coverage as well. Opposing quarterbacks have only thrown into Griffin’s coverage 10 times the entire year, which is once for every 27.4 cover snaps. Next, we have Bernard Pollard, who has been pretty average on the year, but can also hold his own. Throw in solid slot corner Coty Sensabaugh, and you’ve got a very respectable unit with no glaring weaknesses. This Titans’ pass defense has allowed just seven touchdowns through the air all season, tied for best in the league. Luck will have to be on point with his passes if he’s going to do damage against the Titans.
Underperforming Running Backs
Would you believe that Chris Johnson and Trent Richardson are currently ranked 49th and 50th respectively among running backs (55 qualifiers) by our grading? Well, if you’ve been watching them, or if you have either on your fantasy team, the answer is probably ‘yes’. Johnson has averaged only 3.6 yards per carry, and it hasn’t been for lack of running room. His 14.1 Elusive Rating is second-lowest in the NFL right now, and his 1.63 yards after contact ranks 45th of 48 qualifiers. Johnson still has excellent speed, but it won’t do him much good if he can’t break into the open field more often.
Richardson has been quite the enigma this year as well. With a solid passing offense around him, it would seem that he’s a perfect fit for Indy. The Colts have had some very poor run blocking, especially on the interior, and that has played a large role. Richardson has averaged just 2.2 yards per carry over the past three games, including just 0.33 yards before contact. Fullback Stanley Havili hasn’t provided much as a lead blocker, and at this point the Colts need to do something to get Richardson some room to run. For a bit more depth you can always check out this bonus edition of Sam Monson’s Analysis Notebook from the game against the Broncos. The team that can establish a consistent running attack should be in prime position to win this game.
Robert Mathis vs. Michael Roos
If you enjoy seeing two of the best players at their positions face off, look no further than outside linebacker Robert Mathis against left tackle Michael Roos. Mathis has been one of the top pass rushers in the league for years, and, despite getting on in age, he’s having one of his best seasons yet. He officially leads the NFL in sacks with 13.5, putting Michael Strahan’s record in jeopardy, and Mathis also ranks sixth among 3-4 outside backers in Pass Rushing Productivity at 12.7. Not typically known for his run defense, Mathis also boasts a respectable 8.5 Run Stop Percentage this year.
Roos has actually achieved the bulk of his +14.6 overall grade through his run blocking. He’ll look to set the edge against Mathis and help Chris Johnson get on track. He’s no slouch in pass protection either, as last week Roos did not give up a single bit of pressure against the Jaguars, and he gave up only a hurry the week prior against St. Louis. Expect an intense battle between Roos and Mathis all night, with each likely to make his fair share of plays.
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