Titans try to get best of Luck in visit to Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Tennessee Titans believe a whole new look might solve their Andrew Luck problem.
Hey, nothing else has worked.
Since the Indianapolis Colts drafted Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, he’s started nine games against the Titans and never lost — not when he played poorly, not when he left early, not even when he got hurt. So this time, the Titans are going with a different strategy in hopes of outwitting an old nemesis.
“They give you multiple looks, they’re probably more multiple than any team in the league,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “I look at it much like an offense, in terms of what we try to do on offense with packages, they do it on defense. They do it well.”
The Titans (5-4) have stolen a page right out of New England’s playbook and made it work.
They’ve allowed the fewest points per game, fewest touchdowns scored and lowest passer rating against the blitz in the league. They’ve moved into second place in the AFC South, one game behind Houston, by pitching consecutive second-half shutouts against Dallas’ Dak Prescott and New England’s Tom Brady.
Now comes the hard part: Beating Luck.
“For me it’s always personal going against this guy,” said Jurrell Casey, the Titans’ three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman whose struggles against Luck also include two college losses. “I’m always talking mess but right now I can’t talk too much mess. He’s got the upper hand.”
Tennessee knows the story all too well.
Before sweeping Indy (4-5) last season, when Luck sat out following shoulder surgery, the Titans had lost 11 straight in the series to three different Indy quarterbacks — Luck, former Titans starter Matt Hasselbeck and Dan Orlovsky, who ended the Colts’ 0-13 start with a win over Tennessee in 2011.
Even in the game Luck initially injured the shoulder, Week 3 in 2015, his late rally gave the Colts their first win of the season.
But this week’s challenge could be even more daunting with Luck playing some of the best football of his career.
He’s thrown at least one touchdown pass in a league-high 32 consecutive games and three or more TDs in six straight games, fourth all time behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. Luck’s completion rate, 66.3 percent, is a career best and he hasn’t been sacked in 185 dropbacks, another career high.
Not surprisingly, the Colts have won three straight and can get back to .500 — if Luck wins again.
“I’m aware of it,” Luck said, downplaying his 9-0 mark. “But what’s happened has happened and good, bad or ugly, it doesn’t really matter.”
The health of Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota has improved dramatically since an elbow injury produced numbness in his throwing hand in the season opener, and it’s shown. In the past two games, he’s completed 69.9 percent of his passes with 468 yards, four TD passes, no interceptions and a 122.2 passer rating in victories over Dallas and New England. Mariota also caught a 21-yard pass and ran for 21 yards in last week’s victory over the Patriots.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri has been around so long he could break George Blanda’s NFL record for most career regular-season wins (209) on Sunday. And he could set the new mark against one of his former teammates, new Titans coach Mike Vrabel. Vinatieri entered the league in 1996, one year before Vrabel was drafted, and then spent five years together in New England in the early 2000s before Vinatieri joined the Colts as a free agent in 2006.
It’s not just the obvious stats showing how well the Titans have played defensively. New England managed only six first downs, 117 yards and converted 1 of 7 third downs last week in the second half. The improvement also coincides with the return of strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who missed three games because of an injured elbow. “I think it’s a credit to the players, that’s what it is,” Vrabel said. “They get a call, and the players go out and execute. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Former Colts receiver Reggie Wayne returns to Lucas Oil Stadium for his induction into Indy’s Ring of Honor. Wayne spent his entire 14-year career with the Colts, playing in a franchise-record 211 games and catching 1,070 passes for 14,345 yards and 82 TDs. He’s 10th in the NFL all time in receptions and yards receiving and was part of both of Indy’s Super Bowl teams. Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Jeff Saturday, all former teammates, have already been inducted. Tony Dungy, who coached Wayne, and former general manager Bill Polian, who drafted Wayne in 2001, have also been inducted.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker also contributed to this report.