Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 27, 2018 at 1:43 am.

– Reich gave the usual status report on center Ryan Kelly (neck), that the team won’t decide if he can play until late in the week. Kelly, who didn’t practice on Wednesday, exited early from Sunday’s 28-27 home win over the New York Giants.

–S Clayton Geathers (knee) didn’t practice after missing the last start with a knee injury. He’s the team’s third-leading tackler with 89 total stops. Head coach Frank Reich reiterated a decision will be made based on how he is at the end of the week. Expect Geathers to be a game-time decision.
– The Colts are No. 1 in offensive third-down efficiency with a conversion rate of 49.3 percent. Kansas City is second at 46.7.
– While everyone is aware of the most obvious playoff scenario, that the winner of Colts-Titans qualifies for the postseason as the AFC sixth seed, there are other possibilities in terms of where the Colts could be seeded with a victory. If they won and the Texans lost, the division title would slot them either third or fourth depending upon if Baltimore won or lost. That would mean a first-round home playoff game. The Colts can also make the playoffs as a sixth seed if they tie the Titans and Pittsburgh or Baltimore lose.

–RG Mark Glowinski, who missed the last game with an ankle injury and was replaced by Joe Haeg, was a full-practice participant on Wednesday. That’s an encouraging sign that he will be back in the lineup.
– Rookie left guard Quenton Nelson, the sixth overall pick who was named to the Pro Bowl, hasn’t missed a single snap in 1,057 this season. He’s allowed 22 quarterback pressures, four hits and just two sacks.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR T.Y. Hilton. The last time he faced the Titans, Hilton tied a season high with nine receptions. Those pass plays gained 155 yards with two TDs. His 856 receiving yards in the last seven games is more than any other pass-catcher by a wide margin. Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster is next at 717 yards. The Titans relied on second-year cornerback Adoree’ Jackson in man-to-man coverage and he was continually burned. Don’t expect the Titans to make the same mistake twice. Hilton will undoubtedly be shadowed more often with a second defender, although that hasn’t stopped him before in amassing at least 77 receiving yards in each of the past seven games.

GAME PLAN: What’s different about the Colts from the last time they played the Titans is they’re running the football with more effectiveness, which means the kind of balanced attack that head coach Frank Reich desires. While the Colts didn’t exactly run over the Titans on the ground, they did gain 102 yards on 38 carries (3.6 average) with two touchdowns. Second-year running back Marlon Mack has been hot and cold since then, but ran for a career-high 139 yards and two TDs in a 23-0 home win over Dallas. The Colts will try to establish the run so the Titans can’t just focus on stopping quarterback Andrew Luck. But Luck will need to hit on some early pass plays to back the Titans off from crowding the defensive box. The Colts often throw short passes when the run game is slowed to get the same desired effect. The Titans will likely double-team wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, but the Colts will move their Pro Bowl star all over the field and have him running a wide variety of routes to ensure the chains keep moving.

Regardless of who lines up at quarterback for the Titans, the Colts know they have to prevent running back Derrick Henry from taking over this game. Although the Colts defense has gradually improved to 11th overall and has been a decent tackling team that swarms to the ball, Henry is physical enough to run through arm-tackle attempts and will use a nasty stiff-arm to shove back defenders. The Titans will also look to expose a Colts secondary that is inconsistent at times, which presumably means the Colts have to keep a close eye on leading receiver Corey Davis. The Colts typically play a lot of zone coverage, designed to keep receivers in front of them, so there will be space there for the short throws that either Marcus Mariota or Blaine Gabbert will try to make to keep the Colts defense from bunching that box and stopping Henry. The Colts might give up yards in the passing game, but if Henry is held in check, the Titans will be one-dimensional, which is much more easy to stop. The Colts had five sacks last time, including four of Mariota before halftime in knocking him out of the game, so they will look to be disruptive again in forcing the Titans to get rid of the ball quickly on passing downs.

–Colts LDE Jabaal Sheard vs. Titans RT Dennis Kelly. Sheard had 1.5 sacks in the previous meeting against the Titans when he was going up against 2016 All-Pro RT Jack Conklin. But a knee injury landed Conklin on injured reserve, so now it’s up to Kelly to stop Sheard, who is third in sacks with 5.5 and sixth in tackles with 47. The Titans will likely need to double-team DT Denico Autry, as the New York Giants did last week to keep him neutralized, so Sheard should be one-on-one with Kelly on most snaps. Kelly is a seventh-year pro who spent four years in Philadelphia before the last three with Tennessee. He’s started four games this season including the last two.

–Colts LCB Kenny Moore II vs. Titans WR Corey Davis. The Colts were effective in limiting one of the NFL’s hottest receivers, Amari Cooper of Dallas, with an ever-changing look from zone coverage to tight man-to-man. The blueprint deviated from the norm in that Colts cornerbacks were relied upon more to defend in man-to-man. That didn’t work so well against the New York Giants last week, which means defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus will probably revert to more zone coverage. But Moore is a decent tackler and has a penchant for making big plays, including timely hits and forcing fumbles, so expect him to stay closer to Davis, the Titans’ leading receiver with 60 receptions for 843 yards and four TDs. Davis hasn’t been enough of a factor in the last six games with no more than four receptions in any of them. The Titans will try to establish him early because he has the size and speed to make plays if the Colts aren’t playing him close enough.