3TFO: Titans @ Colts, Week 14
In a game that has traditionally featured a pair of veteran quarterbacks in the AFC South, this time youth takes center stage. Rookie Andrew Luck will take on fellow youngster Jake Locker in a look at what both teams hope will be a fixture within the division for years to come.
For the Titans the game is largely meaningless — as meaningless as division games get — but the Colts still harbor playoff aspirations in the first season under the new regime, and they need the win to keep themselves in position in the AFC.
Looking beyond the playoff aspirations of the Colts, and the relative lack of implications for the Titans, there are some great individual matchups, or specific areas, to watch in this game.
Dwight Freeney vs. Michael Roos
This is one that hasn’t changed in years, but both players are on the back half of their careers and have had struggled at times this season. In recent weeks we have seen some displays of the vintage Freeney, and he comes into this game off the back of his best two games of the season by a distance. Though he doesn’t have a sack in either of those games, he has knocked the quarterback down three times and hurried him another nine, showing the kind of explosiveness and spin moves we’ve been used to seeing from him. But for a couple of blips early in the season, Roos has once again been the model of consistence at left tackle. He has two games this season where he has completely blanked the opposition in terms of pass-rush, and over the past three games he has allowed a total of three pressures, none of which were sacks.
It looks like we might just see a battle between these two that will be every bit as good as the ones they have waged down the years.
Andrew Luck vs. Jake Locker
OK, so they won’t actually play each other directly, but this game for both teams is about their young franchise signal-callers. Luck is already the man in Indianapolis, having been anointed the successor to Peyton Manning immediately and gone about justifying the hype, but Locker still has some work to do.
Locker was once thought of as the next top draft pick, but his stock suffered during his final year in college and he didn’t enter the league with the same hype. In truth, he hasn’t shown as much positive as Luck has in his short career, but it would be a mistake to claim either player has been fantastic without flaws. Luck is currently our 20th graded QB, actually four spots below Locker, and though he has shown up big in critical situations, and displayed a fantastic awareness in the pocket at times, he has also thrown some horrible passes, and currently has 16 interceptions on the season. Locker’s numbers (accounting for playing time) are actually remarkably similar to Luck’s, with a marginal passer rating and throwing just one more touchdown than interception — so this game will likely be about not just which quarterback steps up when needed, but which player can avoid putting his team in a hole from the outset.
Slowing Reggie Wayne
If you want to put Andrew Luck in a bind then you need to take away Reggie Wayne. The seasoned veteran has been reborn with Luck at quarterback and is having a career year. However, Luck relies on him to carry the load of that offense, and will force the ball to him even when covered. The Titans need to dedicate extra resources to Wayne and force Luck to look elsewhere. Wayne has been targeted 141 times this season, with only Megatron thrown at more often (143). Consequently, Wayne leads the NFL in terms of interceptions thrown when aiming at him, with nine of Luck’s 16 picks coming when targeting his top receiver.
The Colts need to force Luck to look elsewhere, but also be careful they contain speedster T.Y. Hilton because he has the kind of explosion to take advantage of sparse coverage and make a big play that can break open the game. Luck’s passer rating when aiming at Hilton this year is 98.2, a big step up from either Wayne or Donnie Avery, and he has thrown five touchdowns to him vs. three each to the others.
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