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Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Titans/Colts game
It's never pretty when you have a clash with the Titans
Usually, we start each week with a look back at last week's Eyes, but I wouldn't blame anyone who just flat wants to forget the debacle that was the Packers game. Unfortunately, things don't get any easier this week as the Colts head south to take on the Titans. Tennessee is undefeated this year, and everyone is curious to see just how good they can be. Indy is already three games behind the Titans and simply must win this game to have any hope at all of keeping the streak of division titles alive. This week be watching for:
1. The real Slim Shady to stand up. Who are these guys? Perhaps the answer is as simple as a look at the lengthy injury list this year, but at some point fans start to get tired of the obvious answers and grasp at straws. One week the team looks like world beaters and the next they are like refugees from 8 Mile. Which Colts team will show this week? I don't know but the whole mess makes want to bust a cap in someone. (Note to self: Rap is not your thing. Stick with what you know). On the Titans front, the story is the same. The Titans are 6-0 but still have a lot of doubters.
2. Watch for a Hero. We couldn't find one last week as both the offense and defense failed to come through, and Peyton played his worst game in years. The line couldn't figure out how to manipulate time and space; Reggie Wayne couldn't fly with guys grabbing him constantly; Joe Addai couldn't heal himself, and Peyton...he looked like he was trapped in someone else's body. If the Colts don't have a couple of players come up large this week, the only future I'll be painting will be someone else in the playoffs. (Note to self: Ah, much better).
3. Watch for rest vs work. The Titans worked hard last Wednesday, while the Colts took extra rest. Which is the right strategy? Probably both, given how banged up Indy is, rest might have been the best thing. Still, if the Colts come out soft on Monday night, fingers will be pointed. The Titans want this game very badly and see the chance to lock up a homefield playoff game.
4. Watch the sidelines. Monday night features two of the brightest coaches in football. Dungy has had far more success over the years, but Jeff Fischer is a master of putting his players to good use. Fischer is a daring coach who always tries to win, even if he's out manned. Dungy took deserved heat for a pair of incredibly passive decisions last week, and will be forced to impart a sense of desperation to his team. The coach whose team does a better job listening this week will come out victorious.
5. Watch the inbreeding. No, that's not a Nashville joke, and shame on you for thinking it. The Titans love to sign ex-Colts (Thornton, Scott, Harper), and they always play well against Indy. On the flip side, Bill Polian drafted Kerry Collins for Carolina a decade ago. Later Polian refused to trade the rights to the 1998 #1 pick for Collins and picks. That pick became Peyton Manning, the man after who half the 11 year olds present on Monday night are named.
6. Watch for Tony Ugoh. The early rumors that the coaches were sour on him have been tempered by word that he's only just now truly getting healthy. Dungy has implied that he could see some action this week. His return coupled with the banishment of Charlie Johnson to the bench could be the magic elixir the Colts O needs to get on a roll.
7. Watch for shallow analysis and easy answers. That's all the MNF crew is good for. The Tirico/Kornheiser/Jaws tandem has managed to make people hate collectively men who we all loved individually. Kornheiser will inevitably go off on some rant about how Manning is old or done, or bring up some nonsense about Tony Dungy, and the three guys will spend all night talking about Peyton's knee or Tom Brady's knee or Beverly Hills Chihuahua
8. Watch the game. Deshawn is finally going to see a Colts game live. Though he is still at least a week away from having his precious Sunday Ticket back, the game will be on ESPN International, thus allowing him to actually contribute something on game day, instead of bugging Demond with questions the whole time like a short kid who can't see over the big fence and onto the field at Ebbets.
9. Watch the boot. Rob Bironas has tortured the Colts for some time, and will likely get several opportunities on Monday. He has a huge leg, and the Titans will be very happy to put 4 field goals and a touchdown and hope their defense can hold. If he misses a kick, it could signal a huge play in the game.
10. Watch the real rival. In recent years, a myth has developed that Jacksonville is the chief rival of Indy in the South. The truth is that the real bad blood on the Colts side has always been with the Titans. They are the only team other than Indy to win the South. They beat Indy in a heartbreaker back in 2000. McNair won his bogus MVP award in a tie with Manning. For a long time, people wondered if Indy could beat Tennessee. In many ways the Titans are the anti-Jaguars. They are disciplined. They have a good coach. They are perpetually underrated, and their kicker always makes the big kicks.
11. Watch Vince. Oh, he'll be sitting on the sideline, but the spotlight will still be firmly on him. The MNF guys will make sure of it. His attitude could be the iceberg that sinks the Titans this year. If the Titans continue to roll, will he be happy sitting on the bench? If they struggle, will he start to wonder aloud why he isn't playing. The crucible of Monday night could ignite this fragile situation and undo the early success of the Titans.
12. Watch Chris Johnson. The rookie runner for the Titans is incredibly fast, and has added a big play component to the Titans that most teams try to obtain via the pass. He's in the top 5 in rushing and is averaging more than 5 yards a carry. The Colts must limit long gains from him if they have any hope of winning.
13. Watch Vanden Bosch vs Johnson. The Titans DE has been banged up, but many are expecting him to play Monday. He had 12 sacks last year, and with Charlie Johnson blocking him has to be licking his chops come Monday night. The Titans have posted a life size picture of Manning in the locker room and are gunning for him big time. Pressure from the blind side could make it a rough night for #18. At the very least, the Colts have to control the kind of false start penalties that are often generated by a mismatch.
14. Watch for flags...but look carefully. After a horrible performance penalty-wise last week, look for the Colts to play a clean game on Monday night. With a doubt the coaching staff has been working on technique with their players, especially Tim Jennings, so as to avoid the kind of foolishness that destroyed the team's chances of winning in Green Bay.
15. Watch the returns. Chris Carr and the Titans are second in the league in kickoff return average at 25.9 yards per return. Amazingly, the Colts are eighth in the league in fewest yards allowed per return (21.3). We can only imagine how bad Indy's record would be without the drastic improvement in this area.
18. Watch for a second chance. I've gone over and over this game not knowing if either team is really that good. In the end, I have to believe that Dungy will have the Colts angry and ready play. Manning will come through with three TDs and the D holds often enough to give the O time to work. Indy stays alive and cuts the head off Medusa 21-13.
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