NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After opening the season with back-to-back road games, the Titans will play their home opener at Nissan Stadium on Sunday against the Colts.
It's a key AFC South game, and big for both teams. The Titans (1-1) will be looking to snap a seven-game losing streak against their division rivals, while the Colts (0-2) will be looking to bounce back after a rocky start.
This week I caught up with Mike Chappell, who has covered the Colts since 1984, now with Fox59/CBS54, for some insight on the team he covers. You can follow Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.
Wyatt: I'm going to keep it simple out of the gate. This team was predicted to be a Super Bowl contender. What's wrong the Colts?
Chappell: "The biggest problem is the offensive line. I thought it would be OK, but it hasn't been. The most telling comment from after the game against the Jets came from coach (Chuck) Pagano, when he was asked if Andrew Luck was having to speed up his game because of the pressure, and he just said. 'He's been dealing with this the last three years. We have to get it fixed.' It has been an ongoing problem, and right now the issue is they just can't handle the blitz. Luck is getting clean shots on him, and someone is always breaking down. Todd Herremans is the right guard, and he just isn't very good. Lance Louis, the left guard, has really struggled as well. Everybody else has just done OK. Anthony Castonzo at left tackle has been OK, but Jeff Mewhort at right tackle is learning. To me, I think it has left Luck skittish. He was sacked twice and hit 11 times against the Jets. On one of the interceptions he was getting hit. So the main problem is the offensive line. And until they get it fixed, I don't care if the opponent is a blitzing team or not, they're going to blitz."
Wyatt: Quarterback Andrew Luck has sure struggled himself, and he's coming off a game when he threw three interceptions. Are the Colts concerned with his play?
Chappell: "Well, he had 22 turnovers last year, which was second in the league behind Jay Cutler, and he has six already this year – five interceptions and a fumble. Pagano, again, seemed frustrated with that. He said, 'We can't turn the damn ball over.' And he directly got on Luck for it, telling him he can't turn it over and how he needs to make better decisions. It was so reminiscent of 2001 when Jim Mora went after Peyton Manning after he had five turnovers against the 49ers. Mora was like, 'Don't blame the defense, you can't turn the ball over' and yada, yada. People have said, Pagano is 'throwing the quarterback under the bus' when talking about Luck. Well, he has six turnovers. You just can't be doing that. And until Luck gets this straightened out it's going to be tough. Whether he is trying to do too much or what, I don't know. But six turnovers by Luck, it makes it hard. This team has so many flaws, and Manning covered them up when he was here and Luck did early, but if the quarterback is making mistakes like that they have no chance. None."
Wyatt: The fan base in Indianapolis has been used to winning over the years. The team's won four of the last six AFC South titles. But I saw fans filing out of Lucas Oil Stadium early on Monday night. What's the mood in Indy?
Chappell: "It's frustration, and anger. They were booing in the third quarter. The expectations are there, and they were probably higher than they should have been because of what they have done. The team hasn't really bought into the Super Bowl-or-bust hype, but the fans sure did, and fans are upset. And then you have the real or perceived rift between (Colts GM Ryan) Grigson and Pagano, and this is only going to make it worse. So there's frustration and there's anger, and the only way to silence that is to start winning. They're 0 and 2 for the second straight year, but this is different. They showed some life against Denver and Philadelphia last year, but they've fallen to double digit deficits by halftime in the first two this year. The defense played well enough for them to win Monday night against the Jets, but until this offense gets fixed it's going to be a train wreck from one week after another. Until they get the offense fixed it's going to be a major struggle for everybody."
Wyatt: The Colts have had a lot of success against the Titans of late, winning seven straight in the series and 12 of the last 13. Is this the week the Colts right the ship and begin to turn things around?
Chappell: "I think going into the season everybody thought Houston was going to be the team to contend with, but with the way things have started with Marcus Mariota and the Titans, you just don't know. It's just two games, so you don't know what's going to happen, especially with a rookie quarterback. I think they still look at Houston as the team most likely to challenge. The Colts, with Luck, have dominated the AFC South. I think the record is 16-2, so the Colts have had a lot of success in the division. With the Titans, Jaguars and Texans coming up there's a chance to get things right against teams they've had success against. But I'll be honest – the Colts haven't given anyone reason to think the AFC South is suddenly going to be a cakewalk the way they've played. The pressure is on the Colts to go into Tennessee and win. They've overcome 0 and 2 starts a few times and made the playoffs, but they've never overcome an 0 and 3 start and made the playoffs. Until they show something more, it's hard to say they're on the verge. I sort of expect them to win Sunday, but right now I don't know what evidence I'd give to say they're going to all of a sudden turn things around."
Wyatt: Pagano is in the final year of his contract with the Colts. Is he on the hot seat?
Chappell: "I think it is warm. Initially I thought it was a perceived rift with Grigson and Pagano, and really I don't know if the rift is between Pagano and Grigson, or (owner Jim) Irsay and Pagano. I just don't know. Last night it made it clear to me, when Pagano took a shot at the offensive line and said 'the offensive line has been like this for three years,' well, that's a shot at Grigson. They have just not done much to fix the offensive line. And I think the fact that Irsay only offered Pagano a one-year extension with a minimal raise in the offseason, that's hardly an endorsement of your head coach. So I think there is something there, and Monday night was as angry as I've ever seen Pagano in a post-game press conference. He is either feeling the heat, or he just isn't going to stand there and give us coach-speak. So there is something there, and as long as things go like this, it is only going to get worse. I wouldn't begin to say that Irsay would make a change during the season because how often has that worked? But it's clear there is something there and the longer this goes like this it is only going to get worse.