Sun Dec 06 08:33am EST
The NFL has a lot to live up to after a stirring Saturday full of college conference championship games, but today's Colts-Titans game is one that could fill the bill. Last time these two teams faced off, it was October 11, and it was a 31-9 Colts victory. It was the penultimate game before Tennessee's bye week, and the Titans ended that pre-bye stretch with a 59-0 loss to the Patriots. During that bye, Tennessee re-tooled its offense to be Vince Young(notes)-friendly, made running back Chris Johnson the marquee player he was born to be, and rolled off five straight wins.
The Colts haven't lost all season, but the wins have come tougher lately. Sometimes it's about waiting for the opposing future Hall of Fame coach to boot it on fourth-and-short (Patriots), and sometimes it's about waiting for some really iffy officiating decisions (Texans, part 1 and 2). The Colts have a disciplined defense, but they don't know which Vince Young they will see after demolishing Kerry Collins(notes) last time out. Two weeks ago against the Texans, who field a fast 4-3 defense not unlike Indy's, offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger set up a playbook full of option reads in which Young could run, pitch to Johnson, or throw to a selection of routes and receivers in his wheelhouse. Last Sunday against the Cardinals' hybrid 3-4, Heimerdinger knew that his quarterback would be spied and contained on the edges, so he played to the defense brilliantly by keeping Young in the pocket. Young surprised just about everyone by complying and leading the Titans downfield on the 99-yard drive that became perhaps the season's best moment in time.
So, which VY will the Colts see? There's no way Indy will back off with Dwight Freeney(notes) and Robert Mathis(notes) off the edges, so expect a good amount of the option game. When you have an unstoppable running back like Johnson, you can beat just about any defense that way. The key for the Colts will be to get their linebackers and safeties in positions to make quick second-level tackles, avoiding the big gains that Johnson has been ripping off all season -- not only does he lead the league in rushing yards with 1,396, he also leads the NFL going away in plays of 20 yards or more with 19. The option game is all about splitting the defense in half and forcing defenders to be reactive when they want to be active. Expect to see some of the moves you saw from VY back at Texas; a fitting thing to see after a great NCAA Saturday.
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