Five to Watch: Colts at Titans

It's the biggest game of the year for the Colts on "Monday Night football." Brad Keller highlights five players to watch when they face off against the undefeated Titans.

1. Peyton Manning: Facing such a tough defense, it makes sense to focus on the most important player on offense.  With Joseph Addai still on the mend, the Colts offensive success will depend upon how well Manning deals with the pressure of Tennessee's front four, how he handles his cadence, and the effectiveness of his pre-snap reads.

Peyton Manning will face a tough challenge from the Tennessee defense
AP Photo/John Russell

Manning has struggled so far this season, with eight touchdown passes against seven interceptions and a passer rating of 80.0.  For Indianapolis to sustain drives, put points on the board, and take control of the game as they are accustomed to doing, Manning must improve.  He came unraveled in Week 7 against Green Bay and, with the season effectively on the line, Manning and the Colts cannot afford a repeat performance.

Against a very talented, tough, physical, and disciplined defense, Manning needs to match their intensity, take what the defense gives him, and get the passing attack back on track.

2. Eric Foster: The Titans like to run the ball between the tackles and their offensive linemen pull and trap as well as any in football.  Foster needs to stay active, stay focused, maintain his gaps, and not allow the size disadvantage he is up against to become an issue.

Given the Colts inability to stop the run and Tennessee's proclivity towards running the ball — the only team that has averages more rushing attempts per game is the Baltimore Ravens — Indianapolis will see a steady diet of LenDale White and Chris Johnson.

When containing this potent rushing offense, it all starts with the front four and it all starts up the middle, meaning it all starts with Foster and his ability to hold the line and not give the ball carrier an open lane past him.

3. Jeff Saturday: Surrounded by inexperience and facing one of the best defensive tackles in the game in Albert Haynesworth, Saturday already faces a daunting task.  However, he not only needs to compensate for the rest of the interior of the offensive line, he also needs to assist Manning with line calls, blocking assignments, and setting up protections.

In order to disrupt the timing and rhythm of the relentless pass rush of the Titans front four, the Colts will need to vary their protections and occasionally move the pocket.  Since Manning calls a good deal of the plays and protections at the line, it is imperative that Saturday and Manning are on the same page. If they are not, and it happens often enough, the results could be disastrous.

4. Gary Brackett: Continuing with the theme of stopping the run up the middle, Brackett needs to work off the shoulder of Foster and coordinate with Melvin Bullitt to make sure that the Titans running backs do not get far into the second level when they break past the line of scrimmage.

Working from the base defense and also coming on run blitzes, Brackett needs to fill the gaps, attack the line of scrimmage, and pursue the ball at all costs.  The defense should be playing very tight in the box, so it is very important that Brackett not allow anyone past him by missing a tackle or taking a bad angle.

Although free safety Antoine Bethea would generally be considered the "last line of defense," it is basically going to be Brackett acting as the hero in the back seven, given Johnson's explosiveness and White's power.

5. Anthony Gonzalez: Most of the focus in coverage will be on Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, who will draw the two best cornerbacks the Titans have.  Gonzalez, however, will most likely draw backup safety and sub-package specialist Vincent Fuller.  This is a mismatch that the Colts need to exploit, as Gonzalez is talented enough to beat the other team's third corner, to say nothing of their third safety.

Especially in the early going, Indianapolis needs to capitalize on the fact that Harrison and Wayne demand so much attention, sending them deep and clearing the intermediate area for Gonzalez to beat Fuller one-on-one.  This matchup represents the greatest individual personnel advantage that the Colts have over the Titans.  Exploiting it is paramount to their success.

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