Tennessee (9-6) at Indianapolis (13-2)

Tennessee Titans Defense
6th Ranked against the Run
11th Ranked against the Pass
Tennessee Titans Offense
5th Ranked in Rushing
27th Ranked in Passing

Indianapolis Colts Defense
17th Ranked against the Run
1st Ranked against the Pass
Indianapolis Colts Offense
16th Ranked in Rushing
5th Ranked in Passing

“This is a playoff game for us, and that’s how we have to play,” says Titans running back LenDale White. True enough, since a loss would make it their last game of the season and give Cleveland the sixth seed and a wild card berth in the playoffs. How difficult a task it will be for Tennessee is anyone’s guess at this point however because the game is certainly not a playoff game or even anything close to it for the Colts. Because of that, Indianapolis will likely be giving some of their better players a lot more time on the sideline than they otherwise would expect to get.

The most obvious candidates for down time are quarterback Peyton Manning who is still very healthy and star wide receiver Marvin Harrison who is just this week beginning to feel strong enough to play. “I think we make a big mistake by thinking we’re going to go in there and beat up on some backups,” according to Titans defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch, who is one of the league leaders with twelve sacks this season. “Indy’s the defending world champs. That says a lot about their depth. They’ve been banged up for a good part of the year, playing with some backup guys.”

One could guess that the Colts having a number one rated pass defense is simply a function of the fact that they have less work to do because their opponents are concentrating on running the football instead. There may be a bit of truth to that however slight, but a few things make that analysis somewhat less solid. For one thing the Colts defense are among the league leaders in keeping others out of the end zone. That usually doesn’t happen to a team that can’t stop the run because red zone incursions by the opposing offense most often end in a touchdown. The second chink in that theory is that the Colts are tied for second in the league with 22 interceptions this year, and they have run back those pickoffs for more yardage than only three other teams in the NFL.

The topic of the Colts run defense holds a great deal of interest for the Titans because Tennessee desperately needs to have success running the football if they hope to get past Indianapolis. Titans quarterback Vince Young has thrown only 9 touchdowns this year, fewer than any other starting quarterback in the league who has played at least thirteen games. At the same time he has been picked off 17 times, and while some other QB’s in the league have been intercepted more, they have also thrown a lot more touchdowns and don’t have a ratio of TD’s to INT’s anywhere near as poor as Young’s.

Luckily for Tennessee they haven’t depended on having an all-pro passer for their recent success. They have won their last two games with a solid running attack and a stiff defense. Behind both White and Young they have picked up no less than 127 yards rushing in every one of their four most recent games, and they have held opposing offenses to about 16 points per game. Tennessee is no slouch at pass defense either – they are the team that the Colts are tied with for second place in interceptions this season, and the Titans have been +6 in the turnover category during the aforementioned four game period.

Although Tennessee hasn’t won in Indianapolis since 2002 they have consistently given the Colts problems whenever the two have played. Without key starters on the field for Indy the Titans should have a decent chance to overcome the advantage that the Colts would normally hold and boost themselves into the playoffs.

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