Tennessee at Colts
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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The Indianapolis Colts look for their ninth win of the season at home against their AFC South rival Tennessee Titans. A win wouldn't clinch a playoff berth but would move the Colts extremely close to the goal. Here are five pivotal factors:
The Colts have done a great job so far of “respecting the process,” as interim coach Bruce Arians calls it. He's talking about keeping their focus on the task at hand, from weekday practices to game day. The Colts have had some weaker performances (at Jets, at Patriots), but they haven't come from looking ahead. The challenge this week remains not to be content. With road games left, they need this home win. Expect the newly elected permanent captains (especially Robert Mathis and Cory Redding) to deliver the motivational speeches.
The Colts don't have to stop Chris Johnson in order to succeed defensively. They just need to limit the times he rips off a big run. Johnson rushed for 99 yards in the Colts' 19-13 overtime win at Tennessee on Oct. 28, but his longest run was 14 yards and he didn't get in the end zone. “The plan stays the same,” Mathis said. “You just try and control him. You can't let him get to that edge because if he gets loose, he'll make you pay for it.”
Andrew Luck has done a much better job of avoiding turnovers with the offense at home, throwing only three of his 16 interceptions at Lucas Oil Stadium. He needs to continue that, delivering and finishing off drives in both halves. If there's one thing the Colts have lacked at home, it's a complete game. They often seem to have stretches where the offense stagnates. It's much easier for the defense to play with a lead, so the Colts need to thrive early and play from ahead. It'd be nice to have a secure lead so they don't need the usual late-game heroics.
Luck has done a nice job of mixing up his targets in the passing game. Reggie Wayne is his favorite target (88 catches, 1,156 yards), but eight players have caught touchdown passes, including first-time scorers Coby Fleener and LaVon Brazill against the Lions. The return of Fleener to health adds another layer of effectiveness to the passing game. Of course, the banged-up line needs to come through no matter who's manning what position this time around.
Two players stand out as pivotal. The first is kickoff/punt returner Darius Reynaud, who averages 24.5 yards per kickoff return, has one touchdown and averages 9.2 yards per punt return. The Colts need to avoid helping Jake Locker and the Titans offense by allowing strong field position. The other special-teams player to watch is Titans kicker Rob Bironas. He has kicked 26 field goals against the Colts, and he's 5-of-7 from 50-plus yards. It would help to build a lead that makes field goals irrelevant.