Colts-Titans preview: Indy aims to end skid

The winless Colts have a 13-game winning streak against AFC South Division foes entering Sunday's important road trip to Tennessee.

Trent Cole insists the Indianapolis Colts are far better than they have shown in an ugly 0-2 start.

The outside linebacker echoed the opinions of several teammates this week in assuring the Colts will bounce back.

But it needs to begin Sunday on the road against the Tennessee Titans (1-1) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. While the Colts have dominated AFC South Division foes with a 13-game winning streak, another loss digs a deeper hole.

“I’m telling you that we have a good team,” Cole said Wednesday. “The only thing you can do is just improve on the positives that came from the game. Just correct the negatives. I don’t really have to say too much because you all know that we have a good team. All we’ve got to do is just fix a couple of things and then, hey, we’re going to be on the rebound and get this thing rolling.”

There’s a lot to fix after losing 27-14 at Buffalo and 20-7 at home against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.

The Colts have committed eight turnovers, including six by quarterback Andrew Luck, who has been under constant blitz pressure and taken 16 hits. The Titans, who have six sacks, are sure to send extra pass rushers until the Colts prove they can stop it.

“It is important to have a sense of urgency and realize where we stand,” Luck said. “I don’t think anybody has taken a laissez-faire approach in sitting back and waiting for something to happen. I think we realize we’ve got to create something. You’ve got to make it happen.”

On the other side of the ball, a Colts pass rush with only one sack goes up against a team that has allowed rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota to take nine sacks, including seven in a 28-14 loss at Cleveland Sunday. While Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, has shown resiliency and given the Titans every reason to believe he’s a franchise quarterback to build around, he like Luck can’t be effective if swarmed by defenders. He hasn’t thrown an interception yet but he’s lost two fumbles.

“He is as advertised,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said of Mariota. “He does not look like a rookie. He’s very poised. He’s managing the game for them. He’s making plays. Very, very athletic. He stands in the pocket. The first week he got off to, obviously, to a great start. Tampa didn’t get to him a whole lot. The next week Cleveland did a nice job of pressuring him and got a bunch of hits and sacks and turnovers and things like that. But you look at the fourth quarter of that game, he was unflappable. He was standing in there the same way the fourth quarter as he was in the first quarter.”

The Colts, like most teams, don’t care for questions about “must wins” or if they are “surprised” by what has happened so far. But it’s fair to say few expected the Colts to be winless, and even more so, having just a league-low 21 points scored so far.

“We have not done our job well,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said Thursday. “I have not put our guys in the position to be successful and produce the way that we expect to produce. But even though with that being said, we know that we have guys that can make plays and they will make plays. We trust that our guys are going to go out and play fast and win matchups both on the perimeter and up front.”

Aside from the Colts needing to protect Luck more effectively, running back Frank Gore has yet to be unleashed as expected. The 11th-year pro with 11,164 career rushing yards has managed just 88 in 23 carries. His most memorable carry was losing a fumble on a third-and-goal rush at the Jets’ 1 on Monday. Nobody is more anxious to get back on the field than him.

“If we take care of the ball and stop hurting ourselves with penalties, then it will be different,” Gore said.

The Colts have been assessed 16 penalties for 133 yards, including several which wiped out big gains. Gore had two rushes for 23 yards called back on holding calls against the Jets.

While the defense was better stopping the run against the Jets, a depleted secondary is a concern. When Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis suffered a concussion in the second quarter Monday, the Colts were down to their fifth and sixth cornerbacks. The Jets put the game away by picking those cover guys apart with a late touchdown.

Davis has been cleared and is expected to play, but starter Greg Toler probably isn’t ready to make his season debut due to a neck injury and nickel cornerback Darius Butler hasn’t practiced with a hip issue.

“It’s a tricky game,” said inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who has a team-high 18 tackles. “It’s a new season every year, a new set of guys to get familiar with one another. It takes a while to get going and you never want to start off 0-2 in the hole, but we are.

“That’s what the season presents itself with, and just like last year, we got to dig ourselves out of it. We got to focus on the day at hand. Sunday when it comes around, getting a division win. That will get things going to get some of this stink off of us. Once we get one win and we get that confidence rolling, we’ll start to string along some wins here.”

The Colts removed the stench from last year’s 0-2 start against AFC South foes, winning 44-17 at Jacksonville and then 41-17 at home against the Titans. They won five in a row after that start, including a 33-28 win at Houston, another AFC South rival.

This is the beginning of another division tour as the Colts host the Jaguars next Sunday and travel to Houston after that. But the past is just that. Or as Pagano said, it means, “Zero.”

“We all understand where we’re at,” the coach said. “We know what the record is. We know how the last game (went), it doesn’t matter. It’s Tennessee, Tennessee, Tennessee. You watch film, you grade it, you make the corrections and you move on and that’s it. Life’s the same way, do the best you can today and if you get tomorrow try to repeat it and do it better.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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