Under Pressure

“Mm ba ba de
Um bum ba de
Um bu bu bum da de
Pressure ..pushing down on me
Pressing down on you… no man ask for
Under pressure…”

If Peyton Manning is singing in the shower today, he may very well be belting out the words to Queen’s famous song “Under Pressure”.  Basically, his performance tonight will determine whether the struggling 6-6 Colts can pull off a win and keep moving towards a playoff spot.  While it seems unfair that Manning’s play tonight is “do or die”, he simply is the key to a Colts victory.

Manning’s recent slump has been a hot topic these last few weeks, with some questioning his ability and age.  As we pointed out in our recent blog “Peyton Place  – A Football Soap Opera??”, Manning’s slew of interceptions comes down to three major issues:  lack of a running game, poor offensive line protection and an injury-laden receiving corps.

The Titans come into tonight’s game at 5-7, having lost 5 in a row.  They have not scored an offensive TD in 13 quarters and an overtime period.  Starting QB Vince Young is out with an injury, leaving backup Kerry Collins to try and salvage the rest of the season.

With two teams desperately trying to break out of their slumps and have a shot at the playoffs, tonight’s game is critical.  Here is our take on the matchup.

Titans Offense vs Colts Defense

With the loss of Vince Young, QB Kerry Collins has been struggling to establish a passing game.  Their passing offense is last in the AFC and 31st in the NFL.  Randy Moss was recently added to the roster and there is no doubt he has the ability to make big plays, although he has had a lackluster run with the Titans so far.  Wide receiver Kenny Britt will return tonight after missing the last few weeks with a hamstring injury.  Prior to his injury, he led the team in TD receptions.  If Collins can get the ball to Moss and Britt, it could be the key to victory. 

A passing threat would also open up the running game and, given the opportunity, Chris Johnson is simply lethal.  Johnson has been a superstar the past few years, but has been unable to shine this season.  He is averaging slightly over 85 yards per game.  With little or no passing threat, defenses can key in on Johnson and effectively shut him down.

While the Colt’s offensive struggles are well known, Indy’s defense has also been problematic as well.  Against the Cowboys last Sunday, they gave up more than 200 rushing yards.  The Colts run defense is ranked 29th in the NFL and they are giving up over 142 yards per game on average.  If they do not contain Chris Johnson, this can be a game changer.  Like Manning, Johnson has a great deal of pressure on him to carry his team tonight, given the Titan’s ineffective passing game.

While the Colt’s run defense has been vulnerable, they have had a very effective pass defense – ranked 4th in the NFL.  However, on Tuesday, Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers was put on IR on with a broken arm.  In addition, safety Bob Sanders has been out with an injury since the season opener.  He was finally placed on IR and yesterday the Colts signed rookie defensive back David Pender to replace him.    A weakened Colts secondary could give Moss and Britt the opportunity to make big plays.

Colts Offense vs Titans Defense

The Colts rushing offense ranks last in the NFL.  It is basically non-existent.   Opposing teams know that the Indy’s offense is all about Manning and the passing game.  With running backs Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Donald Brown out with injuries, the Colts are left with rookie Joique Bell, who they only signed in mid-November.  Their other RB is rookie Javarris James, who was cut from the Colts in September, then signed with the Patriots and was cut a month later.  James next signed with the Redskins for one day, until returning to the Colts in October.  Clearly these 2 rookies do not pose a rushing threat, which makes the Colts a one dimensional team.

Despite their recent woes, the Colts rank 1st in passing in the NFL and 4th in overall offense.   The 11 interceptions Manning has thrown in the last three games have definitely impacted the outcome of some of the games, especially when a number of those interceptions were returned for TDs by opponents.  Manning has taken the blame for his poor play of late, which is not surprising given his character and his role as leader.  But he is not shying away from passing because he knows it is THE only way the Colts will find any offensive success.  There is a great deal of pressure on Manning to exploit a Titans passing defense that has also struggled and is ranked 23rd in the league.

For the Colts to win, the O-line needs to step up and protect their 4 time NFL MVP, who has always played his best when he has a protected pocket from which to pick apart opponents.  If the Titans can disrupt the pocket and force Manning out of his comfort zone, interceptions are more likely.  Titans’ linebackers are salivating at the chance of picking off a Peyton pass, so keeping pressure off of Manning is vital.  The Titans have had a great deal of success pressuring QBs, with 33 sacks this season.

Under Pressure… Who Will Rise and Who Will Fall?

When the season began, it was expected that tonight’s Colts/Titans game would be a matchup between two high flying teams battling for first place in the AFC South.  No one predicted that the defending AFC champion Indianapolis Colts would be 6-6 and that the Titans would hold a pitiful 5-7 record.  Both teams now find themselves struggling to simply stay alive in the playoff picture. 

The pressure for both teams to pull off a victory is tremendous.  But when the season is on the line, we believe Peyton Manning is the player who will rise to the challenge.  Look for Manning to regain his poise and use the indefinable quality he possesses to turn adversity into success.   Our prediction:  Colts 31, Titans 24.

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