In a contest that should have been a laugher against the 0-4 Titans, the Colts once again used late-game focus and execution to pull out a narrow 14-13 win. The slim margin coupled with the team heading into the bye week will undoubtedly send many fans and media columnists spinning on whether or not this team is truly as good as their 5-0 record over the next two weeks.
But as Bobby McFerrin once sang ... "don't worry, be happy."
There is undoubtedly some work to be done with the run defense over the next two weeks, but don't overlook the impact of early-season injuries on this team. When a player or two is missing from the usual lineup, it can throw off the timing and the benefit that familiarity brings to the field. Now consider the incredible number of starting players that have been missing from week to week, and you'll realize that the depth of talent and strong coaching is the only thing that is keeping this team from being 3-2 or possibly even 2-3 right now.
Does that mean the team isn't as good as it's 5-0 record? Nope. It simply means that they will be even better once they get healthy. And a bye week should help them make major strides in that direction. About the only thing I think there is to worry about is the rush defense. But the team will undoubtedly use some of the down time over the next two weeks to figure out if any personnel additions can help, or simply figuring out how to better utilize the talent they have.
That said, let's take a look at Sunday's contest ... at first glance.
-- The team has to be thankful at this point that seventh-round pick T.J. Rushing wasn't grabbed by another team while he was on the practice squad during the first three games. And after handling all the returns duties for Terrence Wilkins today, it's unlikely he'll go overlooked again. Not only did he look terrific on the 47-yard kickoff return, he also showed good field smarts and poise on a number of plays. He made a very tough fair catch on a punt that should have drawn a flag from the official as a Titans player was clearly within the zone that Rushing should have had to make the catch. Rushing also did a really nice job -- twice -- of selling a fair catch to the Titans coverage unit on a ball that was over his head and rolled harmlessly into the endzone for touchbacks. His technique made them pull up, losing the opportunity to catch up with the bouncing ball.
-- Tennessee's ten points in the first half almost matched their 13 points of production they had put on the board in first-half action over their first four games. Up until today, they've actually finished stronger than they've started, scoring most of their points in the fourth quarter until this game. The Colts shut them out in the fourth.
-- The Titans not only didn't register a sack on the day, they didn't even get credited with a quarterback hit. That's a really nice job by the Colts offensive line, who also opened up some great holes for Addai and Rhodes today.
-- Once the Colts got into the red zone, they were efficient, scoring on two of three chances. The problem was just sustaining drives and not turning the ball over before they got there.
-- After starting out the season averaging 18 points of scoring in the first half of their first two games, the Colts have averaged just 7 points in the first half over the past three. Does that sound like a Peyton Manning-led offensive attack to you? Whatever happened to "The Greatest Show on Turf" and the offense that put opposing defenses on their heels early in the game? This is another area the team needs to look at over the next two weeks. They're allowing teams to run the ball and eat up time, limiting Manning's playing time. And teams are now trying to force them to play offense with their left hand. In other words, they're lining up challenging the Colts to run even though the most natural thing for them to do is pass the ball. Back when Manning tossed 49 touchdown passes, the Colts were undoubtedly seeing teams try to take away the pass with nickel and dime packages -- but they threw it anyway and scored big. I'm not suggesting that they go to that extreme, but if they don't start taking control and playing their game -- rather than trying to take advantage of what the defense is offering up -- they're going to lose one of these close games sooner than later.
-- The Colts took a step in the right direction by limiting their penalties to just five. Surprisingly, so did the Titans who were flagged just six times. But Indianapolis' two turnovers were uncharacteristic since they had only given up the ball twice in their first four games.
-- Travis Henry or LenDale White? It didn't matter, both averaged at least 6 yards per carry against the Colts. The Titans gained 214 yards on the ground after averaging just 70 coming into this game. Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that the Titans didn't have a run longer than 11 yards all season. Henry had one for 17 yards while both White and quarterback Vince Young had runs of 19 yards each. I don't think the Colts will be able to shrug this off to missed gap assignments and missed tackles. This is the second week in the row where they've faced a weak-sister running attack and been mightily challenged to stop them. But get this ... just like they did against the Jaguars, the Colts defense made a huge improvement against the run in the second half. The Titans put 152 rushing yards up in the first half and just 62 in the second half. It makes you wonder if teams are just figuring out a way to throw the Colts off balance during the first half by coming out with something different than what they've shown on film to date, at least giving them an advantage until the Colts are able to regroup at halftime and make some adjustments. Very odd.
-- The Colts did a nice job of shutting out the Titans' two top receivers, WR Drew Bennett and TE Bo Scaife. And despite all the accolades that Vince Young may receive for his poise in the face of the Colts pressure, he really didn't have a good day. He finished 10 of 21 for a meager 63 yards and and QB rating of 34.4. With the Colts smothering Young's top targets, he had no choice but to throw five of those ten completions to his running backs, a real departure from what he did last week when he only went to them twice.
-- You know, I'll say this about Vince Young. The guy is very likeable. Even when he got thwacked a bit by a charging Mike Doss on a play that got blown dead due to a false start, he gave Doss a friendly pat. On a few other plays I saw him do the same after taking a lick. He's a competitor, but I like his style of keeping things in perspective even if he's taken a shot. Maybe the team should assign him as a mentor to Albert Haynesworth when he returns in five weeks or so from that awful incident during last week's game against Dallas.
-- Tony Dungy's not going to be happy that his special teams have given up big kickoff returns over two consecutive games. The Titans only ran back three kickoffs and averaged just 21 yards on two of them. But that 48-yarder will get a good look in the film room this week.
-- Speaking of Dungy, he obviously doesn't care much about my opinion on the Addai-Rhodes tandem. Last week I mentioned that Addai should get more carries, so this week Rhodes got 20 for 84 yards while Addai got just 13 for 62. The rookie finished with a 4.8 average per rush while Rhodes had a respectable 4.2 average. I'm warming up to the tandem idea after considering what ColtPower's John Cimasko mentioned during his radio show on WIBC Saturday night. He made brought up the point that the sharing of the carries could help reduce the impact of the "rookie wall" later this year that so many first-year players hit as the pro season winds on much longer than these young guys are used to. Come playoff time, Addai, Rhodes, and the Colts could benefit from their relatively fresh legs. It's a great point. Dungy may be thinking the same thing. I guess I have to yield to them on that point, it's smart.
-- Safety Chris Hope's interception of a tipped Manning pass was just the second of the season by the Titans. Hope has both of them.
-- While Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison both got their first TD catches of the year, neither one took a huge toll on the Titans defense with just three catches by each one. The Titans obviously weren't prepared for the routes that Brandon Stokley can run out of the slot though, as he led the Colts receivers with five catches for 57 yards. Dominic Rhodes also had five catches for 26 yards.
-- Do you think rookie Antoine Bethea will take some razzing from veteran cornerback Nick Harper when the team watches the game film this week? Harper looked like he was ready to make an easy basket-catch of a Vince Young pass when Bethea swooped in from the side and momentarily had the ball in his fingertip before dropping it. I think the coaches will have a hard time criticizing the rookie though when they see how much ground he covered and the good concentration on the ball that he showed. He also made some terrific hits -- as usual -- in this game.
-- Third down was a tough play for both teams. The Titans converted just 20 percent of their chances while the Colts finished with 42 percent. As of half time, the Colts hadn't converted a single attempt out of six tries. In the second half, they bounced back and succeeded 5 out of 6 times.
-- As much as you hate to see him do well at the expense of the Colts, it was great to see former Colts linebacker David Thornton making plays. He's one of the real good guys in this league. He led the Titans with 13 tackles that included 10 solo efforts and he forced a fumble.
-- Mike Doss had another nice game. He made six tackles, an interception to end the first half, got credit for two passes defensed and a quarterback hit.
-- The Colts defense didn't sack Vince Young, but they certainly did make their presence known. The team was credited with five QB hits with two by Mathis, one by Mike Doss, one by Montae Reagor, and one by Dwight Freeney. Speaking of Freeney, did he want that safety on Vince Young late in the game or what? He breaks through a clear hold, bounces off a second defender and grabs Young's ankles while on the ground, yanking at them hard enough to almost topple him. What an effort.
-- He hasn't always shown up big in the stats, but one of the more impressive special teams coverage guys this season so far has been Darrell Reid. He led the team today with three ST tackles, but on so many other plays this year he's been the disruptor out there -- the player who blows up the lane of the runner, forcing him to hesitate or change direction so that others can come in and swarm to the ball.