Ah, sweet validation. After a spectacularly unsuccessful prediction in week 4, BadNFL stormed back into the win column as the Colts decisively covered the 3.5 points, winning by a healthy 22 points. Let's go inside the game and explore the sweet nectar of victory this week.
1. Peyton Manning and the Colts passing attack did, in fact, shred the Titans porous pass defense.
The numbers themselves tell the story: Manning was 36/44 (82% accuracy) for 309 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 interception. Of course, had it not been for a pretty inexplicable late Reggie Wayne drop in the end zone, his stats would have been even better. Manning was particularly sublime on 3rd and 4th down, accruing a 127.4 passer rating on those crucial downs. But stats don't even really do justice to the beatdown administered by Manning and co., as the Colts dominated every phase of the game. Schematically, the Titans were a total mess; to compensate for their lack of depth and confidence, they tried to stay in their base defense against the Colts 3 WR packages, which involved putting a LB on Austin Collie. That obviously backfired, as the Colts' blossoming new version of Brandon Stokley put up 97 yards and 2 TDs. I was definitely surprised by the Titans' game plan, which also had the defense come out in deep cover-2 and invite Manning to hit the shorter underneath routes early in the game. That he did, and it didn't even curtail the Colts' vertical game, as Manning's QB rating was a ridiculous 145.8 on attempts over 10 yards. At one point, he completed 16 straight passes. I could throw a lot more numbers at you, but this game was not difficult to diagnose. The Colts threw the ball at will.
The Colts' aerial success was even more impressive given two factors: (1) a replacement start by lost-his-job LT Tony Ugoh, who struggled early in the game and (2) their pathetic running game. Ugoh's miscues and struggles with KVB for Tennessee led to a sloppy first quarter, and the Colts running game was non-existent throughout the game, which should have led the Titans to gear up their defense to stop the pass and exploit the anemic Ugoh. It didn't matter. Manning and the Colts still moved the ball with impunity.
2. The Colts' defense was impressive.
Jim Caldwell must be a BadNFL reader, because he appeared to follow the blueprint for success pretty well: get out to an early lead, and limit Chris Johnson's touches and home-run runs. The Colts' defense did even better than that. While they were staked to a 7-0 lead when the Colts (surprise!) scored Manning-to-Wayne on the first possession of the game, they toughened up and held the Titans after the Colts committed two uncharacteristic early turnovers. They proceeded to play well on defense the entire game, and their success can be summed up by this critical--and shocking--stat: Chris Johnson ran the ball only 9 times. His longest run was for 8 yards--on his 1st carry of the game--and afterward he was essentially a non-factor. The Colts demonstrated why they are a good team against fast shifty runners like Johnson, as they used their defensive speed to force him to run East-West and curtail the big play. As BadNFL noted before the game, Lendale White may have been a better option against the undersized speedy Colts defensive front, but the Titans, as they have been doing all year, underused White and never allowed him to make a sustained impact on the game. Finally, the Titans are simply not very good playing from behind. Kerry Collins was his normal statuesque self in the pocket, allowing the Colts dynamic duo of Freeney/Mathis to pressure and harass him all night long. Once the Colts generated a double digit lead, this game was essentially over.
1. The Titans are not good right now. If they get any more respect (doesn't that 3.5 line look ludicrous in retrospect?!) from the sportsbooks, bet against them! The Titans are beat down, banged up, and playing poorly in every phase of the game right now. They were playing at home, they knew that the Colts would rely heavily on the passing attack, and they were still shredded. In 5 weeks, the Titans have now allowed a 4 separate 300-yard passers. Remember that oh-so-vaunted David Garrard-led Jags passing attack that so thoroughly trounced the Titans in week 4? The Jags were shutout in Seattle this week, losing 41-0.
The Titans are schematically and psychologically out-of-sync. Until further notice, consider their season a dead one. If they are getting less than a TD against a good passing team at any time in the near future, jump on the favorite!
2. Watch for top passing attacks against inferior passing defenses, particularly ones that were good the year before. Although the Titans rushing defense has been pretty solid this year, their biggest weakness matched up precisely against the Colts' biggest strength. Such a discrepancy seems to be the stuff of which blowouts are made. And a blowout we had.
3. BadNFL. As wrong as I was in week 5, I have to say I nailed this one. For any of you who hopped aboard the BadNFL train this week, you likely rode it to the bank. Remember this for next year: after 4 games, we should feel comfortable saying, like the Tuna, that you are what you are, and if the books give teams too much credit to teams that were successful the year before, be prepared to exploit it.
Check back on Friday to see if I can replicate this week's success in Week 6!