Colts at Tennessee
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday at LP Field
TV: WANE, Ch. 15
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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Still searching for that first road win, the Indianapolis Colts travel to Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday to take on the AFC South rival Titans. Here are five pivotal factors that could pivot the game in the Colts' favor:
There is no more important player to the Colts' success on the road than rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. He has been vastly more effective at home than on the road, where he's thrown five of his seven interceptions. He said this week that he doesn't feel communication has been a problem. A common assumption is crowd noise comes into play in front of loud, hostile crowds. It seems, perhaps, the problem is more internal for Luck. He rushes a little more on the road. Good news this week: The Titans secondary has been suspect at best.
In order to exploit the Titans' defensive backs, the Colts need another big day from their main man in the receiving corps, Reggie Wayne. The Jets focused in on slowing Wayne and held him to a season-low five catches. Tennessee doesn't have the type of corner who can smother Wayne. If Luck is able to mix things up, with continued use of tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and spot use of Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton, that should give Wayne more room to operate. Look for Luck to lean on his favorite target.
One of the positives in the Cleveland win was the Colts' ability to mount long scoring drive in the first half and early in the third quarter. There are a couple of benefits to that, naturally. Not only do the long drives build confidence in the offense and wear on the defense, it takes pressure off the Colts' defense, which remains the shakiest part of the team. If the Colts could build on a strong running effort last week (and it's possible Donald Brown could be back in the mix), that would set up long drives and help Luck's passing game immensely.
Colts linebacker Pat Angerer made an instant impact in limited playing time returning to the lineup after a foot injury. He has a level of playing intensity and drive that can be contagious. It looks like the Colts could be leaning toward a linebacker scenario where Angerer and the man who replaced him, Jerrell Freeman, play side by side. Kavell Conner would be the odd man out. For now, Angerer comes off the bench and his energy will be needed to defend Titans running back Chris Johnson. The Colts have had some success against Johnson in the past, but he looks to be playing his best in some time.
The Colts' inability to get much pressure on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden resulted in Weeden having a stellar day and nearly hitting a game-winning touchdown pass. Colts defensive end Cory Redding is expected back, which should help. Robert Mathis is questionable and he would obviously be an even bigger help. The team's (and the NFL's) highest-paid sack artist, Dwight Freeney, needs to step up his play and deliver some big hits on Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.