A column by Reggie Hayes, email@example.com
Saturday, November 19, 2016 12:42 AM
There will be no excuses for the Indianapolis Colts if they lose to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, unless we go with “not enough talent.”
For the first time in a long time, the injury report is as thin as the Colts’ margin of error for making the playoffs. The only players who did not participate in practice at week’s end were defensive end Kendall Langford and cornerback Patrick Robinson.
Everyone else is healthy.
Everyone else is rested after a bye week.
Everyone else is confident coming off a road win.
What could go wrong? Nothing, unless there’s a confirmation that the Titans (5-5) are for real and the Colts (4-5) are not when the AFC South rivals meet at 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium (CBS broadcast).
“Everything is right there, we have a great opportunity,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “The race is on, if you will, these are all playoff games as far as we are concerned.”
The Colts, who have yet to win consecutive games this season, will have plenty of challenges to beat the Titans for a second time this season. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is playing his best football of the season, and perhaps his career. He has a warrior running back in DeMarco Murray and other effective weapons. The Titans defense is coming off a five-sack day of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
But, again, the Colts are expected to be their healthiest this season, with Jack Mewhort back on the offensive line, Donte Moncrief continuing to improve after returning at wide receiver, tight end Dwayne Allen strong again and Mike Adams back in the groove at safety.
“Right now is where you have to win the games at home,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Right now, we have an advantage when we play at home and we have to take full advantage of it.”
Colts fans should be in full-noise mode with the 2006 championship team being honored on its 10-year anniversary. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark, Tarik Glenn, Ryan Diem, Marlin Jackson, Joseph Addai, Dominic Rhodes and Brandon Stokley will be in the house, among many others. Bad news: None of them are playing in the game.
As usual, the Colts will need a strong performance from quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck directed a win over the Titans earlier this season when Moncrief, Allen and receiver Phillip Dorsett were injured.
“I don’t think the mindset has changed,” Luck said. “It’s great to have everybody healthy. You still have to go out there and make plays, and make plays against a really good Titans defense.”
The Colts offense was energized by its ability to put the win away against the Packers two weeks ago after a huge lead had been sliced by Rodgers in a hurry. It took bold play calls and execution to run the clock out, including some on-target reads and throws by Luck.
In the first Tennessee game, Luck completed 27 of 39 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns, relying on T.Y. Hilton (seven catches, 133 yards), Jack Doyle (nine for 78) and a host of others, including Erik Swoope, Chester Rogers and Devin Street.
Having a healthy receiving corps this time around should make it even better, in theory.
“It allows you to open up your playbook a little more,” Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said.
The Titans defense has 28 sacks and eight interceptions this season. Brian Orakpo leads the way with nine sacks, Derrick Morgan has 6.5 and Jurrell Casey has three. Titans cornerback Perrich Cox has three interceptions and 11 passed defensed. He’ll likely be trying to limit Hilton.
“Chud does a great job of keeping defenses on their toes and attacking from different ways, whether it’s through the air or the ground or whether it is with five guys protecting to eight guys protecting,” Luck said. “It’s a balance, but I think Chud does a great job of striking that.”
As for the Colts defense, they face the likelihood of a smash-mouth approach with Murray, but with Mariota’s blossoming passing game ready to take advantage if the Colts focus too much on the run.
Tennessee has scored at least 35 points in each of its last three games.
“I liked (Mariota) coming out, I see the progression,” Adams said. “But, again, us as a defense, we’re going to worry about us. Not what they do. They do a lot of things well. We’re going to minimize that and hopefully we come out with this W.”
The Colts are healthy and ready. If they end up losing to the Titans, and seeing their playoff hopes all but evaporate, they might have some reasons, but they’ll have no excuses.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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