Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

November 15, 2018 at 12:24 am.


–The clock started ticking Wednesday on a possible return for offensive tackle Joe Haeg, who practiced for the first time since injuring his right ankle in Week 3. The Colts have 21 days to decide if he will be the second player to be brought back from injured reserve. Rookie defensive end Tyquan Lewis was activated last week and made his NFL debut. Haeg was starting at right tackle at the time of his injury. It’s not a given he will return to the starting lineup. Rookie right tackle Braden Smith has played well since taking over in Week 4.

–The Colts listed 10 players on Wednesday’s injury report, although nothing qualified as a surprise. Safeties Clayton Geathers (knee) and Malik Hooker (hip) didn’t practice, but they’ve typically rested early in the week. Both played on Sunday. Linebacker Anthony Walker is a new DNP listing with a neck injury. Cornerback Nate Hairston (ankle) was limited. Center Quenton Nelson was a full-practice participant with a back injury. Running back Marlon Mack and cornerback Chris Milton were excused for personal matters. The other three DNP players, none of whom suited up on Sunday, were tight end Ryan Hewitt (ankle), safety Mike Mitchell (calf) and tight end Erik Swoope (knee). G/T Denzelle Good (personal matter) as well as rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay (neck) were full-practice participants.

–Rookie weak-side linebacker Darius Leonard continues to lead the NFL with 97 total tackles, eight more than the next player. And that’s despite missing one game due to injury.

–The Colts’ league-leading touchdown reception count for tight ends consists of Ebron (nine), Erik Swoope (three), Mo-Alie Cox (two) and Jack Doyle (one). Alie-Cox has caught his first two NFL TD passes in each of the last two games. Swoope had caught a TD pass in three consecutive games before being sidelined the past two games with a knee injury. That opened up a spot for Alie-Cox to play.

–One more victory will allow kicker Adam Vinatieri to surpass George Blanda for the most regular-season wins (209) in NFL history. Vinatieri has already set league records in career field goals (573) and points (2,553) this season.

–Rookie wide receiver Deon Cain was a promising prospect early in training camp before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the preseason opener. Cain is still learning while in rehab, always in meetings and asking questions, which has impressed Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, who along with receivers coach Kevin Patullo has put together video of how receivers are defended. “It’s just showing him every different look he can get because physically right now he can’t do that,” Sirianni said of the sixth-round pick.

–Retired wide receiver Reggie Wayne will be inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor on Sunday. Wayne, now a Colts assistant coach, was a six-time Pro Bowl performer with 1,070 receptions for 14,345 yards and 82 TDs in 14 seasons through 2014. He becomes the 15th addition to the Ring of Honor.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RB Nyheim Hines. Although second-year back Marlon Mack is the starter, Hines continues to contribute as a backup, specifically as a pass catcher. His 37 receptions are two shy of Eric Ebron’s team high. He’s gained 206 receiving yards with two TDs. The Colts like to get the elusive runner into the open field, where he can make defenders miss. He’s also rushed for 241 yards on 55 carries, the latter number second-most on the team, with one score.

GAME PLAN: How the Colts protect Andrew Luck from the blitzing Titans will be the key factor in whether the home team can continue to score in bunches. The Titans were most effective getting pressure up the middle against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, so the Colts will be mindful of stunts and disguises. Rookie guard Quenton Nelson and guard Mark Glowinski will be tested as much as anyone on the O-line. The Colts’ blueprint has been obvious from day one: Luck sets the tone in the passing game to open up run lanes. So look for the Colts to try to catch the Titans in blitzes with screens and misdirection plays. Several of those plays worked against the Jaguars, particularly in freeing up tight ends in coverage. While the Colts will be playing a guessing game in knowing who will be coming from where in the pass rush, the Titans have to guess right in who to cover, when and where. Colts head coach Frank Reich has established himself as one of the league’s better play callers, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep the Titans off balance.

While the Titans offense averages just 18.7 points (28th) and 299 total yards (30th) per game, they’ve had some success taking pressure off quarterback Marcus Mariota by running the football with Dion Lewis (396 yards, one TD) and Derrick Henry (358 yards, 4 TDs). Both average 3.5 yards per carry. The Colts’ 14th-ranked rush defense (107.8 yards per game) matches up evenly with the Titans’ 15th-ranked rush offense (114.4 yards per game). What jumps off the statistics page is the Titans allowing 28 sacks, which included 11 in a 21-0 home loss to Baltimore. The Titans have two solid tackles in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, so getting pressure on the edge is typically difficult. Conklin did not play Sunday because of a concussion, and was limited Wednesday. The Colts have struggled to rush the passer in recent weeks, so it’s incumbent upon them to speed up Mariota, who can pick apart an average-at-best Colts secondary if given time. The quarterback can also scramble, which means Colts linebackers must be mindful of that ability if a play breaks down.

–Colts C Ryan Kelly vs. Titans LB Wesley Woodyard. The anchor of the Colts offensive line must be mindful on every play of where Woodyard lines up and what needs to be done if he’s blitzing. Woodyard was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after the 11th-year pro had 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five pressures and one tackle for loss in Sunday’s home win over the Patriots. He’s tied for the team lead with 62 tackles and his 3.5 sacks are tied for second most. Kelly makes the line calls for a group that hasn’t allowed Andrew Luck to be sacked in four games. So one of the center’s continual reminders to others is who does what if Woodyard is blitzing. Because he’s typically penetrating inside, that likely means Kelly or a guard might need to adjust quickly and shed a block to get in front of Woodyard.

–Colts TE Eric Ebron vs. Titans LB Jayon Brown. Foes keep failing to cover Ebron with a linebacker. Brown, a second-year pro who excels at covering tight ends, is expected to be the point man for trying to limit the productivity of the Colts’ best pass catcher. Ebron leads all NFL tight ends with nine TD receptions and he’s No. 1 on the Colts with 39 receptions for 463 yards (11.9 yards per catch). The Jaguars shifted the responsibility to cornerbacks, but even Pro Bowl star Jalen Ramsey got burned in a missed assignment on Ebron’s 53-yard TD catch. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are former Patriots, which means understanding that Bill Belichick’s first game plan is to take away an opponent’s best weapon. Ebron is certainly that. Look for Brown to get some help from teammates in chipping Ebron and trying to slow him on routes. Another popular tactic is to bracket the tight end with a safety or cornerback over top and linebacker underneath, but initially disguise that look to entice a throw into suddenly tight coverage.