The Indianapolis Colts were able to squeak one out in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers and finally weren’t outscored in the second half, putting them at 2-3 on the season. This week the Colts travel to the Tennessee Titans for Monday Night Football, and it’s yet to be determined if Marcus Mariota will be active or not.
Yes, Matt Cassel isn’t anywhere near the threat that Mariota is to the Colts defense, but the skill players are. Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray are a potentially devastating one-two punch in the backfield, while Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker are the most trusted targets through the air.
Considering the team’s issues with distributing their scoring throughout games, and the points they’re allowing in the second half of games, a full four-quarter performance will be pivotal regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Titans. It’s high time for the Colts coaching staff, their quarterback and the defense to put an entire game together.
Here are 3 points of emphasis for the Colts’ Week 6 matchup with the Titans.
Colts must come out strong in third quarter
While the Colts have been awful in second half, they’ve been pretty consistent in terms of allowing touchdowns in third quarters through five games. This is especially relevant for the Colts this week because the Titans have scored 6 of their 11 offensive touchdowns in third quarters.
Offensively, the Colts have only scored a single third-quarter touchdown, and the Titans have only allowed two touchdowns in the third quarter. This is a major problem for Jacoby Brissett and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Brissett has been awful passing in the red zone (38.5 percent completion rate) and has yet to throw a second-half touchdown. Regardless of the halftime score, Chudzinski has to put forward a more aggressive – and intelligent – game plan for the third quarter, as it is their least efficient quarter in every way (18.3 percent first down rate).
If the Colts hope to hold a lead in the second half, or have the ability to come back from a deficit, they must be significantly better in the third quarter on Monday night in both facets.
Third down is critical for Colts offensive line
This surely doesn’t come off as a surprise to anyone. Of course the Colts need to protect their quarterback on third down. But with Brissett under center, there may not be a single area they should focus on more in preparation for Monday night than this.
The Titans have only eight sacks this season (31st in NFL) and are allowing a 43.9 percent first-down rate on third-down plays of 4 yards or more. What’s more, Brissett has converted first downs on 16 of his 45 attempts (35.5 percent) in those specific third-down situations.
Finding good protection schemes against the Titans will be paramount for Chudzinski and Joe Philbin, while also remaining aggressive. The Colts have to exploit a team in critical areas where they hold some sort of an advantage.
Not only do the coaches need to dial up some smart protections, but the players obviously need to execute on these situations, which has been a real issue for Jeremy Vujnovich, among others. The Colts have been terrible at playing with a lead this season, but executing up front on third down should help dramatically if the Colts can improve their late-game play calling.
Colts must eliminate costly penalties
Through five weeks of the season, Indianapolis is among the league’s worst in penalties and accrued penalty yards. It’s not just that the team has been racking up silly penalties, skewing the numbers. It is an issue.
For example: The Colts lead the league in false starts (12), which can be drive-killers especially on late downs. Also, they have five combined roughing the passer/unnecessary roughness penalties, which are drive-savers for any opponent’s offense. They are in the bottom-third of the league in each category.
The team doesn’t have the luxury of having a multifaceted, top-tier offense that can consistently recover from mistakes. Additionally, Indianapolis doesn’t have a defense that can afford costly penalties when allowing the most explosive plays in the league (37) and are extremely unimpressive (24th in NFL) on third downs (42 percent).
The Colts aren’t terrible in bulk penalty yardage but are allowing those penalties to crop up in the most inopportune times. This may not affect better all-around teams, but average teams – as the Colts currently are – can’t withstand any chinks in the armor.