The Titans have a massive offensive line that starts on the outside — tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart are both 6 feet, 7 inches tall — and continues towards center Kevin Mawae. Though Mawae is the one member of this unit that could be considered undersized at 6 feet, 4 inches, 289 pounds, but has always been able to use his intelligence, awareness, and leverage to his advantage. He has been to multiple Pro Bowls and, while on the downside of his NFL career in his 14th season, can still get the job done.
Guards Benji Olsen and Jacob Bell are better brawlers than technicians, but they are both agile enough to pull and trap adequately when called upon.
When it comes to running the football, Tennessee usually doesn't do anything too fancy. They tend to line up and go after the defense, since they hold such a size and strength advantage over most defensive fronts.
This is generally very true when the Titans face the Colts, but, with Indianapolis likely to rest smaller linemen such as Raheem Brock and Robert Mathis for this game, the Colts will most likely "go big" on the front four on Sunday night, giving them a bigger, more physical front, though less active, fast, and talented.
Reserves Jeff Charleston, Quinn Pitcock, Keyunta Dawson, Dan Klecko, and Darrell Reid will factor heavily in the success Indianapolis has against the Titans rushing attack. And, while he may rest in the second half, Ed Johnson will need to stay solid at the point of attack as he has all season.
Fortunately, Sunday night's game will not mark the first time the Colts have faced a big, physical offensive line that looks to control the game and the line of scrimmage through brute force.
The Colts were effective against similar lines in the San Diego, Baltimore, and Jacksonville games. Another solid effort from the boys up front would put a fine cap on the season for a group that initially was thought to be too small to match up against a tough, physical running team.
Where Indianapolis may struggle is with its pass rush, as the loss of Mathis and Brock as well as the significant dropoff between Dwight Freeney and Josh Thomas has hampered their ability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback.
In their first meeting in Nashville in Week 2, the Colts were able to pressure Vince Young and collapse the pocket by blitzing their linebackers from the edges, and bringing their cornerbacks and safety Bob Sanders as well.
Since Sanders may sit out Sunday night's game to rest old injuries and Antoine Bethea may be scratched from the lineup as well, it will be up to outside linebackers Freddy Keiaho, Rocky Boiman, and cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson to pick up the slack in order to keep Young bottled up.
The key here will be in disguising where the pressure is coming from. Mawae has been in the league a long time and makes quick, accurate, and intelligent line calls in order to roll protection to the side the extra defenders are coming from. If the Colts defenders can keep Mawae guessing and bring one more than the Titans can block, they should be able to generate enough of a pass rush to capitalize on the advantage they hold in the secondary.
Justin Gage and Roydell Williams seem to have established themselves as the starting receivers for Tennessee, but this is a group that, overall, seems to be lacking. If a receiver in this corps has speed, he does not run good routes. If he runs good routes — as is the case with Eric Moulds — he isn't fast. And Brandon Jones being placed on injured reserve last week makes the unit as a whole even weaker.
Additionally, offensive coordinator Norm Chow seems to have oversimplified the offense for Young, generally only giving him two reads and very rarely moving the pocket. The Jaguars have had success in limiting the number of reads that David Garrard needs to make when he drops back to pass, but Jacksonville also has considerably more talent at the wide receiver position.
Lack of talent and lack of sophisticated game planning means that the Indianapolis defenders simply need to get a sense for the types of reads that Young is required to make given down and distance. From watching the Titans last three games, it's fairly evident that his first read is deep down the sidelines and his second read is either to the seam or the flat, usually coming after the deep receivers have cleared out the zone.
Therefore, Gary Brackett becomes responsible for the seam and Jackson and Hayden become responsible for the flat. In the event of a blitz, Young's hot read goes to the flat, so Keiaho or Boiman need to cover that area of the field should Jackson or Hayden blitz.
Overall, though, the Colts should be able to cover Gage, Williams, and Moulds, as well as tight end Bo Scaife fairly easily, forcing Young to make quick decisions and force the ball into tight areas. Where the danger lies for the Indianapolis defense is in trying to stop Tennessee's running backs.
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Although the Colts front seven held their own against the Ravens, Chargers, and Jaguars, one of the games in which the rush defense struggled and the opposing team was able to control the clock and the line of scrimmage was in Week 15 against the Raiders.
Not only do the Titans have a stronger, more physical offensive line than Oakland, as well as a similarly intense commitment to running the ball, they have two backs, LenDale White and Chris Brown, that run with the same "violence and aggression" that Justin Fargas runs with.
Brown is a bigger home run threat than White, but that's not saying much. Both men seek to attack the defense and beat it into submission with a continuous barrage of contact and finishing runs off strong.
Since Indianapolis held a two-touchdown lead on the Titans midway through the third quarter in Week 2, it forced Tennessee to become one-dimensional and did not allow them to collect the dividends of their punishing ground game in the fourth quarter. If the Colts are able to hold the line in the first half and not relent under the pressure that Brown and White put on a defense, they will put themselves in a position to achieve victory as they did the last time these teams met.
However, that means that the best defense will be a good offense. If the Titans can keep Indianapolis off the scoreboard — or at least keep it close — through the first three quarters, they will be in an exceptional position to close the game out and take control in the fourth quarter, especially considering that the Colts have nothing to play for and the Titans will likely be playing for their playoff lives.
This is not to say that the Indianapolis defense will give up. Tony Dungy keeps his players focused and well motivated. But they may show a tendency to relax and that will be all the opportunity Tennessee will need.
Vince Young presents quite a challenge for every defense that faces him. He's an extraordinarily talented athlete with size, quick feet, and a powerful right arm. He has the ability to stiff-arm a defender, scramble to the outside and, either run for a first down or make a seemingly impossible throw into double coverage to convert on third and long.
This frustrates a defense and wears down its mental resolve. But, since he's also young and inexperienced, he can make a poor read, force a ball into coverage, or tuck it and run when he should throw it. This frustrates a coach and wears down his patience.
So far this season, Young has frustrated Jeff Fisher far more than he has frustrated opposing defenses. He has made too many mistakes, forced too many passes into coverage, and risked injury on too many occasions by trying to do it all himself with his legs. As a result, the running game has become even more of a focus and the passing offense has been simplified by Chow.
The reason that Peyton Manning was able to overcome six interceptions and lead his team back to within a missed field goal of defeating the Chargers in Week 10 is not because he's more competitive or confident than Vince Young. It is because, over the years, he has been forced to develop a short memory for his failures and a long memory for his successes.
Manning knows that he can bring his team back from almost any deficit. He knows that he can overcome mistakes and turnovers. He's done it before and he will do it again.
Young does not have the body of work or history of success that Manning does. As a result, early pressure from the Colts defense and early struggles in the passing game may force him into a shell.
But, he may also remember that he basically single-handedly defeated Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl, and that he is an extraordinarily talented athlete with game-changing ability, and that, last season, all he did was win football games.
This is a very important game for Young as an individual and the franchise as a whole. The two are inextricably tied for the next few seasons at a minimum. How Young reacts to a tough road game against a squad that isn't simply going to lie down and accept defeat in a must-win situation will mold his career as a Titan and the future of the team.
This season's history suggests that Young will fold under the pressure and hope that his defense and talented running back tandem can bail him out.