INDIANAPOLIS – If the Indianapolis Colts are going to be real contenders and not just youthful dreamers, they'll have to win games on the road.
That's a tall order for a pieced together team full of rookie and first-year players.
“We've got to do more than our job,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “Doing your job doesn't win on the road. If both teams do their job, the home team wins. That's just the nature of the beast.”
The Colts (3-3) travel to Tennessee on Sunday to take on the Titans (3-4) in a game with double implications. Not only can the Colts win a road game after failing in their first two trips (to Chicago and the New York Jets), they can win an AFC South Division road game.
Yes, this is a big one, even if it lacks the marquee appeal of some of the NFL's most intriguing matchups.
Arians said part of the problem on the road against the Bears and Jets was the fact both teams have “premier” defenses.
“This one is another challenge, but it's not as difficult, I don't think, because we've been there now,” Arians said. “We've got experience at it. We should be better at it, not to take anything away from the Titans. They're an excellent team, but we should be better at it and we should know what to expect.”
The Colts have committed seven turnovers (including five of quarterback Andrew Luck's season total of seven interceptions) on the road while only getting one takeaway (Jerrell Freeman's pick-six against the Jay Cutler in the opener).
Obviously, Luck's play will be critical on the road, where crowd noise and unfamiliar surroundings can contribute to a sense of disorientation at times. Plus, when the Colts fall behind, teams are able to turn up the pressure knowing Indianapolis will have to rely on the passing game.
“When you're one-dimensional, bad things are going to happen,” Arians said. “You have to stay in a situation where you've got the game in close proximity to win it or ahead and then you can stay balanced and then win the football game.”
Luck made his first appearance on the 2012 injury report (knee) on Wednesday but was a full participant in practice. He said he has not necessarily been bothered by the crowds on the road.
If noise were an issue, there would be issues with calling plays, and that has not been the case, he said.
“I think we've communicated fine on the road,” Luck said. “We have played some good defenses, but I think we've also made some mistakes that we shouldn't have made. (We had) chances in both games to put some drives together and get some touchdowns. Hopefully, we'll be a little more focused down in Tennessee.”
Arians expects some of the Colts' injured players to return this week. Donald Brown had limited participation in practice Wednesday but four other starters sat out: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Fili Moala and Antonio Johnson.
“We want everybody as healthy as possible so we can make that run and stay in the hunt, so to speak,” said defensive end Cory Redding, who is returning from injury also.
Redding said earning that first road win is critical.
“If you don't win on the road, you don't make the playoffs, period,” Redding said. “You have to split on the road, 4-4, or win more than you lose on the road. At the end of the day, you have to stack up wins in this league and we can't let any go on the road.”