To find out more about what the 2012 Indianapolis Colts look like, I went through my normal practice of watching the next opponent's previous game. Coming off their bye, the Colts beat the Cleveland Browns at home last week by a final score of 17-13 to improve their record to 3-3 on the year. Andrew Luck scored twice on the ground in the first half, and the defense held the Browns after they cut the deficit to 14-13 early in the second half.
After the jump, what I saw from the Colts that game:
1. Ok, this isn't related to the game, but four of the Colts' first six games have been at home. They're 3-1 at home. They're 0-2 on the road, with both losses not close. It's possible the Colts are a bad road team. It's also possible they're 0-2 on the road because they played the Bears, a pretty good team, and just had a bad game against the Jets.
2. Vick Ballard got most of the carries last week. He's an okay between the tackles back who I think probably runs with more power than Jamie Harper. It's too easy for me to see the Titans failing to tackle him. Donald Brown missed last week's game, but is questionable with a knee injury this week. He's obviously much more of a big play guy.
3. I can say a lot about Andrew Luck, but I'll try not to go overboard. His pocket movement is beautiful, especially for a rookie. He's not as fast as Locker, but I like his mobility better. Both his touchdowns were opportunistic scrambles where he was untouched. A lot of his throws came from the quick game, 3- and 5-step drop and ball out stuff. He gets the ball out. His ball accuracy and location tends to be very good. I don't think he has a great arm, but it's good enough and in this game the difference between a plenty good enough arm and an absolute cannon wasn't very noticeable.
4. The Colts' receiving corps reminds me a bit of the Titans' last year. This is an imperfect comparison in many ways; Nate Washington isn't as good as Reggie Wayne, and Lavelle Hawkins and Damian Williams aren't as fast as Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton, but I think the basic structure of the point holds. Protect yourself against Wayne, who'll be in the right place, and make the other guys beat you. They probably won't, because they're not that good. Catching the ball is a bit of a problem.
5. At least in this game, and I think it's something that's true philosophically, the Colts like to run the ball. They'll run the ball if they can and the game situation lets them. They finished last week with more runs than passes. Yes, part of that was they were run heavy in the fourth quarter when they were up, but they ran the ball regularly.
6. The tight ends are Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. They weren't a big part of the gameplan against the Browns, but I expect them to play a bigger role against the Titans. Allen is your Craig Stevens analogue, a well-regarded blocker who tends to be a reliable catcher but doesn't stretch the field. Coby Fleener is their Jared Cook, a faster guy who's not as good a blocker. A teammate of Luck's at Stanford, he's bizarrely had problems catching the ball at times this year.
7. Formation diversity, formation diversity. Offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians came from Pittsburgh, where he moved his receivers around and lined up in all sorts of things like bunch formations and stacks and on different sides of the field on different plays. The Colts are doing the same thing. Greg Cosell noted in a podcast this week he had his guys chart where Reggie Wayne lined up, only they gave up because he lined up all over the place. This isn't going to be "Wayne lines up to the offensive left almost every play."
8. The offensive line is kind of ok-ish. They're better than they were last year. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has a good kickstep and probably won't struggle against Kam Wimbley the same way Hairston did last week. They're very left-handed in their running plays, running left end and left tackle twice as often as they run to the right side. The lead the league in percentage of runs marked left end, and they're very good on them (6th in FO's Adjusted Line Yards). That's evidence of Castonzo's mobility, I'd say.
9. The defense kind of sucks. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are your pass rushers. Freeney's been a little banged up all year and not as effective. Mathis missed last week's game and is questionable this week with a knee injury. The bigger deal was defensive end Cory Redding missed last week's game. He's probable this week, so he should play, and is a better scheme fit than probably anybody else they have (Antonio Johnson's ok, but he's not what I think of as a true 3-4 nose).
10. The 3-4 means more 5-man front loooks with the outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage. Chris Johnson HAS to be able to run between the tackles effectively. There should be creases for him to do so, but even after his production against the Texans and Bills, I have no confidence he'll do that.
11. The corners aren't great, and teams have just exploited them all day, but Jerraud Powers was okay last year and Vontae Davis is an upgrade on what they had. These guys mostly shut down the Titans receivers in Indy last year, and as bizarre as it seems given it wouldn't shock me if it happens again. By FO numbers, the Colts' biggest weakness is against other receivers, so don't be surprised if the damage comes working out of the slot.
Looking at season-long results, the Colts have been a litte bit better than the Titans. They're still bad, just not quite as bad as the Titans have been. The official line is the Titans favored by 3.5, a full point or so more than the home field advantage edge. I saw this line for the first time on Tuesday, and I'm still struggling to make sense of it. As I indicated above, I'm far from convinced the Colts are a terrible road team. The Titans have played a little bit better lately, but not that much. The offense against the Bills was more consistent than it had been all year, but the Bills, who are far from great, moved the ball with ease most of the day.
I think this line is a couple points too high, though the Titans playing at home should still be favored. I also have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach about this game. Then again, I was also kind of uncomfortable about the Colts game in Nashville last year and that ended up a comfortable win for the Titans. It's a big game for both teams, who are looking for a win they probably think they should able to get, and I hope the Titans pull it out.