What We Learned: Colts at Titans

We certainly didn't learn that the Colts are on a roll heading into their bye week, as they've been on a roll practically all season. What else did we learn on Sunday night? Brad Keller takes a look.

A different kind of dominance:  The run defense did not dominate the game in terms of statistics, giving up 4.1 yards per carry on 22 carries, they did dominate in other ways.  Chris Johnson came into the game averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.  Not only was he held to 3.8 yards per carry in this game, he was also limited to nine total carries.  He was ineffective, looked tentative and slow to the hole, made numerous unnecessary moves and cuts, and was eventually replaced by LenDale White. 

The thinking was that White could at least deal out some punishment and establish some kind of momentum for the Titans heading in Week 6.  But, even though White averaged 5.1 yards per carry, most of the punishment was dealt by Colts defenders, not absorbed by them.

Typically, when Indianapolis routs a team like they did Tennessee on Sunday night, the game situation forces the opposition to be one-dimensional and eventually wears them down.  On Sunday night, the Colts actually outhit the Titans, were more physical on both sides of the ball, and beat them down as opposed to wearing them out.

The Colts didn't just beat the Titans — they physically dominated them
AP Photo/John Russell

This is noteworthy for two reasons: Indianapolis rarely physically dominates an opponent and Tennessee is very rarely dominated physically.  If the defense can keep this up, it bodes well for them in December and January.

Historically, they have been efficient and effective, but rarely physically dominant.  The ability to beat a team until they don't want to get up again is something that they haven't shown in the past and, if they can build on it this season, will come in very handy when the weather turns cold and more games are won in the trenches.

Still, Peyton Manning was lined up in the shotgun on fourth and one inside the opponent's five yard line on the first touchdown drive.  The Colts converted and scored, which was obviously a good thing, but the fact that they felt the need to pass the ball in order to gain a couple of feet harkens back to the Divisional Round loss in last year's playoffs.

They felt the need to pass in order to gain two yards in that game, Manning was sacked, and the rest is history.  History has a tendency to repeat itself, so this is something that needs to be fixed and become a point of emphasis moving forward.

Indianapolis will never be an I-formation team that moves the ball with three yards and a cloud of dust, but they need to be able to run the ball and gain yard on fourth and inches.  They need to be able to run the ball and gain three yards on third and three.  They weren't able to do that last year and it eventually became their downfall.

Getting bigger on the inside and becoming more physically oriented on defense were two points of emphasis coming into the 2009 season and, so far, Larry Coyer has been successful in changing the culture and fortunes of the Colts defense.  Howard Mudd and Tom Moore are still working on the offense.

Special teams are still a concern: Speaking of points of emphasis, special teams has been underwhelming at best so far in 2009 and Sunday night was no exception.  Aside from the biggest miscue of the night — the T.J. Rushing/Tim Jennings muff was the worst mistake made on offense, defense, or special teams — the return game was flat, as Rushing averaged only 18 yards per kickoff return and the punt return game was non-existent. 

Rookie Pat McAfee has been one of the bright spots for the kicking game thus far this season, with a 45.3 yard gross average and an exceptional 38.9 yard net average.  He has also placed four of his 15 punts inside the 20 and is a significant upgrade over Adam Vinatieri on kickoffs.

Coverage units are solid and have actually improved, so there are bright spots, but the return game is still impotent.  Someone, anyone but Rushing, needs a shot at a few kick returns in the coming weeks.  They may not be considerably better than Rushing, but they couldn't be much worse.

Chris Collinsworth and Andrea Kremer were wrong, but it doesn't make the Colts right.  There is little-to-no-chance that Manning was still taking snaps late in the game in order to get to 300 yards passing for the day, as Collinsworth and Kremer intimated, but he and the rest of the skill position players shouldn't have been on the field with a 19-point lead and five minutes remaining.

It's understandable that Manning doesn't ever want to miss a snap and that the Colts have a very aggressive mentality when it comes to putting games away.  But, Donald Brown and Joseph Addai were on the sidelines and Chad Simpson was taking handoffs from Manning, so they must have some sense of self-preservation in a blowout victory.

If Manning wants to stay in, you can't argue with his track record and the fact that he's never missed a game and almost never misses a snap, but you need to take out at least Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in that situation if you also take out Brown and Addai.

Wayne and Clark tried as much as they could to "take a dive" and avoid getting hit after the outcome was decided, but Wayne took a big hit on his seven-yard reception to convert a third-and-six with 4:22 remaining.

The road ahead is paved with gold: Thus far, this has been a fairly negative review, but there are a ton of positives to be taken away from this game and a number of positives looking ahead.

The Colts have a three-game lead in their division and a five-game lead over the Titans.

At this point, Tennessee's season is over, Jacksonville is in rebuilding mode, and Indianapolis plays the Texans twice in the second half of the season, which puts them in position to possibly clinch the division as early as Nov. 29.

The two-minute offense is on fire and any team that leaves the Colts a minute or more at the end of a half is asking to be scored upon. Manning, likewise, is off to one of the best — if not the best — starts of his career.

Anthony Gonzalez has been out of the lineup almost all season.  It's scary to think that the offense could improve and is currently undermanned.

The defense is getting better every week and the run defense now looks as though it can be trusted on a consistent basis.

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