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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (0-7) at Tennessee (3-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Perhaps it's evidence of cosmic NFL score-settling.
Maybe after more than a decade of being among the league's elite, making two Super Bowl appearances, winning one world championship and having a near-record stretch of pristine health for the game's signature player, it was simply time for the Indianapolis Colts to see how the other half lived.
Well, if that's the case, then the old adage is true. Payback is a...well, a pain in the neck.
Not only have the Colts had to live without Peyton Manning for the first two months of a so-far winless 2011 season, but they're now enduring the specific fallout of a 55-point primetime loss last Sunday night in New Orleans and all the fun it brings.
Among the post-game reverie this time as Indianapolis preps for Sunday's trip to AFC South-rival Tennessee at LP Field? Fending off allegations that veteran lineman Jeff Saturday threw the coaching staff under the bus following the apocalypse against the Saints.
Saturday was reported to have said the team was outcoached on Sunday night, a statement he denied ownership of by midweek and instead shared the blame across the board.
"We didn't play well at all, and there's no scapegoat in this," he said. "We all screwed it up, and we all got beat as bad as you can get beat. There are not enough fingers to go around, so we all share the same burden here and the same blame. We've got to get it fixed and go play better next week.
"I said that as a team, we were outplayed, we were outcoached. There is nothing that we did better than [the Saints] did [Sunday]. I've been in this game way too long to try to lay the blame on anybody else. No coach put pads on."
The team's beleaguered head coach, Jim Caldwell, actually did a fair job claiming responsibility for the nightmare on his own, even if Saturday chose not to assess it to him.
"We just got licked in every phase," Caldwell said. "I told them [after the game] that we got whipped in every phase, and I told them I wasn't pleased with my preparation for them. I didn't get them ready, obviously, and I've got to do a better job."
Funny, but if the Titans could pick one foe this week to make themselves feel better about their own disastrous Week 7, it would have been Indianapolis.
Tennessee was on the short end of a one-sided -- if not in record-setting fashion -- scoreboard last Sunday, dropping a 41-7 decision to visiting Houston in a game that ended their brief stint atop the division.
First-year head coach Mike Munchak's team has dropped two straight since a 3-1 start, following up an 18-point win at Cleveland with a 21-point loss to Pittsburgh and the 34-point defeat to the Texans.
In the aftermath, Munchak bristled at suggestions by NBC analyst Rodney Harrison that the Titans quit during the Houston game.
"If we thought guys weren't playing hard, then we wouldn't have them out there playing," Munchak said. "If we saw someone that was going through the motions or we feel wasn't playing to win, then they shouldn't be on the field. But I didn't see that. We didn't play well, but we weren't quitting."
Since divisional realignment was instituted in 2002, the Colts have a 42-13 overall record in games against the AFC South.
Indianapolis holds a 20-12 lead in its all-time regular-season series with Tennessee and has defeated the Titans five consecutive times, most recently a 23-20 decision at Lucas Oil Stadium in the 2010 regular season finale on Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal as time expired. The Colts also dealt Tennessee a 30-28 setback at LP Field last December and routed by the Titans in Nashville by a 31-9 count in 2009. Tennessee last bested the Colts via a 31-21 home decision during Week 8 of the 2008 campaign.
The only postseason encounter between the two was in a 1999 AFC Divisional Playoff, when Tennessee scored a 19-16 road victory en route to a Super Bowl appearance.
Caldwell has gone 4-0 against Tennessee since replacing Tony Dungy prior to the 2009 season, while Munchak will be taking on both the Colts and Caldwell for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
In four career starts, Indianapolis quarterback Curtis Painter has completed 60-of-108 passes (55.6 percent) for 813 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions and an 87.5 passer rating. Running back Joseph Addai has three rushing touchdowns in his past three games against Tennessee, but is a question mark for Sunday's tilt after aggravating a hamstring injury in last week's debacle. Rookie running back Delone Carter, a fourth-round choice in this past April's draft, had a career-high 89 rushing yards last week and has scored a touchdown in two of his past three games. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne needs three receptions to surpass Hall of Famer Steve Largent (819) for the 20th-most catches all-time, while fellow wideout Pierre Garcon is averaging 102.3 receiving yards per game in his past three encounters with the Titans. Garcon has three touchdown catches in his last two matchups against Tennessee as well, while wide receiver Austin Collie has three scoring catches in two career games against the Titans.
Cornerback Jason McCourty leads the Titans in tackles (51) and interceptions (two) in 2011. Up front, defensive end Dave Ball has 16 tackles and a sack and linebacker Will Weatherspoon has 32 tackles, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Colts are 29th in scoring offense (15.9 ppg), 30th in total yards (280.0 ypg), 27th in passing yards (185.9 ypg) and 25th in rushing offense (94.1 ypg). Tennessee is in the middle of the pack in many defensive categories, placing 15th in scoring defense (22.5 ppg), 16th in total yards allowed (358.0 ypg), 15th in pass defense (233.5 ypg) and 24th against the run (124.5 ypg).
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Tennessee has won three of four games at LP Field dating back to December of last season, while quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has a 90-plus passer rating in four of six games this year. In his only career start against the Colts, which came while with the Seahawks in 2005, Hasselbeck completed 17-of-21 passes (81 percent) for 168 yards with two touchdowns and posted a 131.7 passer rating. Running back Chris Johnson has 100-plus rushing yards in two of has last three games against the Colts and needs two rushing touchdowns to surpass Steve McNair (36) for the third-most in franchise history in that category, behind only Earl Campbell (73) and Eddie George (64). Johnson needs 134 rushing yards to reach 5,000 for his career as well, and tied a season-best with six receptions last week. Wide receiver Nate Washington has 90-plus receiving yards in two of three home games this season and tight end Jared Cook is averaging 17.7 yards per catch (13 receptions, 230 yards) on the year. Cook has a touchdown catch in two of his past three games as well.
Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney needs 1 1/2 sacks to become the 26th player with 100 in a career since the stat became official in 1982. Freeney has 13 sacks in 16 career games against the Titans. Defensive end Jamaal Anderson registered his first sack as a Colt last week, while linebacker Pat Angerer leads the team with 79 tackles. Free safety Antoine Bethea has 58 tackles and a fumble recovery on the year.
The Titans are 25th in scoring offense (18.7 ppg), 24th in total yards (307.2 ypg), 12th in passing yards (242.8 ypg) and last in rush yards (64.3 ypg). Indianapolis is dead last in scoring defense (32.1 ppg), 30th in total yards allowed (416.0 ypg), 23rd in passing yards surrendered (265.1 ypg) and 31st in rush defense (150.9 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
The offseason's biggest ticket -- the $50 million man Johnson -- could finally get his breakout game against a porous Indianapolis defense that's allowed 150.9 yards per game on the ground. A big day for the standout running back would certainly increase the Titans' odds of winning.
On the flip side, Manning understudy Painter has bravely tried, but so far failed, to follow in his mentor's footsteps. He gets another chance to shine against a statistically middle-of-the-pack Tennessee unit, and how he performs will go a long way in determining Indianapolis' chances for success.
Now that the Colts' losing has begin to devolve into players vs. coaches, it'll be interesting to see how and if Caldwell is able to fire up the troops in an already lost season.
The Titans are by no means an NFL powerhouse, but with the single best offensive weapon on either side (Johnson), a more ready for primetime quarterback (Hasselbeck) and a defense that's been far better through seven weeks than its opponent's, it's hard to make a case for the Colts outside of a pitying one. Add in home field for Tennessee, and it's a unanimous decision.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 27, Colts 17
10/27 09:19:13 ET