[Editor’s note:  Former Broncos G.M. Ted Sundquist looks that the Monday nighter between Indy and Tennessee, which capped Week Eight of the 2008 NFL season.] 
Was it a “passing of the torch” or just another anomaly in what is becoming a forgettable season for the Indianapolis Colts? Hard to say, but what is clear is that the Tennessee Titans have taken firm control of the AFC South and are well on their way to a division title, potentially rewarded with a first-round bye in the playoffs. This Titans team did what champions must be able to do, coming from behind in the second half against a perennial contender and withstanding the tide of emotion that ebbed and flowed throughout the 3rd & 4th quarters.
 Now at 7-0 the Titans are on a historical pace to win well over 10 and take control of the AFC.Whispers of an undefeated run are even popping up on talk shows & the Internet. But the 0 in 7-0 will soon take the shape of a bull’s eye, and there’s still a lot of football left to be played.The majority of my pregame evaluation centered on the comeback of Kerry Collins and the stifling defense of the Titans, against the sluggish output of a once “juggernaut” offense led by Peyton Manning. Tennessee makes opponents go the hard way.
Not with quick strikes or “big plays”, but rather through extended drives that could result in a pressure-induced mistake by the blow of every whistle. Indy had lost the ability to turn the “big plays”. Once feared for the capability to do so, the Colts now find a majority of their possessions ending in punts or turnovers. Monday night would present a prime opportunity to “right the ship” & reestablish some swagger within the division.
KEY #1 for Indy was to find some success in the running game on first down. As you study this Titan defense, it’s difficult to find very many holes. But Tennessee was giving up 4.51 yards per rush on first down and presenting teams with a balanced option on 2nd & 3rd. I felt the Colts would need to break routine and search for some real estate via the ground early in the series. Perhaps this might open up some opportunities off play-action and create some downfield seams for an offense that had struggled to sustain drives on the road. Indy in fact did try to establish their ground game in the first half at the start of a series. When Dominic Rhodes broke off left tackle for 23 yards on the first play of the 3rd quarter, the Colts had run 7 of 11 times on first down.Three were successful with 5, 8 & 23 yard gains; the other four resulted in 1, 2, 1 & -5 production. My case is after the 5-yard gain in the 2nd quarter, Manning hit Dallas Clark up the middle for 13 yards and a first. On the next possession, with 2nd & two after an 8-yard run on first, Rhodes took a draw for 7 yards and a another first down.
In most situations where the Colts found themselves in 2nd & long after a run, they also found difficulty managing 3rd. Certainly the intent was there, it was just a tall order against a defense of this caliber. The next 14 first downs saw Indy run just twice for 6 & 1 yard gains.
A lot of focus was placed on the Indy defense and their struggle to stop the run by the Monday night TV announcers. A compelling stat was the huge differential in the size upfront of the Colt D-Line vs the Titan O-Line. The Titans were riding the backs of their talented tandem of rookie RB Chris Johnson and LenDale White.
For Indy to disrupt the offensive rhythm of Tennessee, they would have to slow down the run game (KEY #2) and I felt this rested squarely on the shoulders of their three LB’s (Gary Brackett, Clint Session & Freddie Keiaho). The Titans set up 3rd down with a steady diet of run on 1st & 2nd. Any 3rd & long situations might give the Colts an opportunity to force a mistake through the air of the Titan passing game.
The trio finished with 25 tackles and 3 for losses. Trailing at the half, Tennessee had rushed for only 46 yards on 15 carries, a long of 11. The Titans ran on first down 6 of 15 opportunities, resulting in 14 total yards the first 30 minutes.
Surprisingly, Indianapolis was just as effective the second half. Tennessee ran 7 of 15 chances (not counting a final kneel down) for 29 yards. Sixteen of the total came on Johnson’s game clinching TD run in the 4th quarter. Collins proved to be even more efficient than his average in throwing the ball and keeping the chains moving on 2nd & 3rd. The Titans would convert 54% for the night and this would prove to be a difference maker in the final outcome.
KEY #3 resulted in just what we were talking about in KEY #2. Balance in the Titan offense would be key (especially with the Colts focusing on run). I felt Collins would need to generate some downfield pressure with his passing game and TE hybrid Bo Scaife would more than likely lead the way.
Both Justin’s (Gage & McCareins) had been nursing injuries, so the WR corps was a bit depleted. Scaife ended the night as the Titans leading receiver, hauling in 5 passes for 44 yards, a long of 16 and another for 12. Collins would also find McCareins for 23, WR Lavelle Hawkins for 13, WR Brandon Jones for 15 & TE Alge Crumpler for 11.
For a “monster” passing team, these numbers might seem insignificant. But it was just the prescription offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was searching for to keep the Colt defense honest.
Tennessee has a formula on defense that has worked to perfection over the first half of the season. Tough play on first, and especially second down, has led to multiple third and long situations for their opponents. With a safety tandem that has shut down the middle of the field for most of the year (Hope and Griffin), KEY #4 was the physical play of the Tennessee secondary on the under routes of the Colts.
Manning & his receivers hadn’t attacked the deep zones the first couple weeks, nor were they challenging with “one on one” down field all that often. In the end the Titans forced the short pass to the outlet receivers and did an even better job keeping the action in front of the coverage, then converging on the ball.
Rhodes finished as the leading receiver for the Colts with 8 for 39 yards, a long of 12 (4.9 avg). TE Dallas Clark did the most damage with 7 for 94 and two TD’s. The big three (Anthony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison) combined for 8 receptions and 68 yards (no scores). The Titans secondary finished with 10 pass defenses. Solid work in “controlling” the usually potent (though inconsistent in ’08) passing game of the Colts.
KEY #5 was taking every advantage possible in scoring opportunities for Indianapolis. That would rest on the somewhat inconsistent leg of Adam Vinatieri (5 of 8 going into the game). The Colts never attempted a FG during the game, but did go for the first down twice on 4th.The first would have been a “monster” kick, well out of range. The second would have been right around 50 yards and could have tied the game at 17. Manning would miss Harrison on 4th & 2.
The Colts finished 3 of 3 in the red zone. Three drives stalled near the 50 yard line, two others ended in Titan picks. There just weren’t a number of scoring opportunities available.