The problem: you can’t be in the hunt unless you win on the road – and that’s something the Colts haven’t come close to accomplishing.
They were drubbed 41-21 in Chicago, relatively understandable given it was a debut performance against a quality opponent. But the 35-9 beatdown at the hands of the Jets was a different story entirely. The Colts were riding high, coming off that inspiring win over Green Bay, while the Jets were a bit of a mess. They cleaned up pretty nicely against the Colts.
Which brings us to this week’s road trip: Tennessee.
On paper, the Titans offer a delicious opportunity to cure what ails the Colts on the road. The defense is just plain awful, yielding averages of 34 points and 416 yards per game. Their pass rush is meek (nine sacks) and they haven’t come up with many takeaways (five interceptions, two fumble recoveries). Opposing quarterbacks have a 108.2 passer rating against the Titans, which would shatter the record set by the Colts last season (103.9) for worst in NFL history.
The offense revolves around Chris Johnson, a potential game-breaking runner who has been all-or-nothing this season. He totaled 45 yards in the first three games, 451 in the last four. In seven games against the Colts, he has topped 100 yards twice and produced less than 40 three times. Matt Hasselbeck is a solid veteran presence at quarterback but neither he nor his receivers send shivers down the spine of defensive backs.
So opportunity knocks, if the Colts can follow Dr. Bruno’s Prescription for Winning on the Road (side effects may includes headaches, nausea, explosive diarrhea, widespread honey boo-boos and cranial-anal inversion).
Begin from the beginning
Oddly enough, the Colts scored first against both the Bears (Jerrell Freeman’s quick pick six) and Jets (a chip-shot field goal). But they promptly yielded six consecutive scoring drives in Chicago, resulting in a 34-14 deficit early in the third quarter, and three straight touchdowns drives to the Jets, resulting in a 21-6 deficit at halftime.
Falling into a big hole makes a team one-dimensional, predictable and easy to stop. It also gives the opponent the luxury of lining up and pounding away with the running game against a defense all-too-often powerless to stop it. This is all amplified on the road.
Charity ends on the road
These numbers are simply staggering: two road games, nine turnovers (five interceptions, four lost fumbles). Seven of those have come from Andrew Luck, who has looked like a seasoned veteran at Lucas Oil Stadium but a harried rookie elsewhere. Some of the problems have been byproducts of the slow starts, which allow opposing defenses to ignore the run and loose the pass-rushing hounds, resulting in seven sacks.
But there’s also this to consider: Freeman’s interception on the second defensive series of the year still stands as the only road takeaway, which means the Colts are minus-eight in the turnover department. They have a paltry three sacks in two road games, compared to 10 in four at home. With those kinds of numbers, they couldn’t beat Lawrence North.
Remember the running game
Given their respectable showing on the ground last week against Cleveland, the Colts should be more patient with the running game, should it struggle early. They need to be, because they have prematurely abandoned the run in both road losses. A 10-point deficit is no reason to start throwing it all over the field. Keep the whole playbook open and keep the defenses guessing. You just might keep your quarterback upright in the process.
Defensively, the Colts cannot allow opponents to simply overpower them. Johnson is not a bullish back, more of a hunt-and-peck guy less interested in moving the pile than finding the seam that leads to a big gain. If the long runs can be avoided – or at least minimized – the Colts will give themselves a chance.
When opportunity knocks, don’t turn out the lights
Keeping drives alive depends on converting third downs. At home, the Colts have been solid in this area, making converting at a 44.3 percent rate (31 of 70). On the road, however, they are at a mere 23.8 percent (5 of 21). Some of this is situational, of course, but this also tends to be when defenses – and the fans — are the most primed. Want to shut the crowd up and shut the defense down? Move those chains.