NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans will host the Colts Sunday for the 11th straight year, but they are preparing as if it's a much more infrequent opponent.
Indianapolis has a new general manager, coaching staff and offensive and defensive schemes. The most high-profile change on the roster is quarterback, where rookie and 2012 NFL Draft No. 1 pick Andrew Luck has replaced Peyton Manning, who spent his first 14 pro seasons with the Colts.
Titans cornerback Jason McCourty said Tennessee's defensive and offensive players are putting in extra study time this week to learn about a team that, Titans coach Mike Munchak said, has made 33 changes to its 53-man roster of a year ago.
"It's almost like playing an NFC team, for the fact that, you think about it for so many years, you're just watching the same tape of Peyton Manning doing the same thing with teams, and now you have a guy like Andrew Luck," McCourty said. "You have a new coach, a new coordinator, so it's a very different team. For our offense, (Indianapolis has) switched to a 3-4 scheme, so it's a lot of similarities with the same personnel but a lot of differences, so you've really got to use this week wisely and study not only physically in practice but also in the film room.
The Titans (3-4) historically have prided themselves on preparing for uncommon opponents and been rewarded for their methods, going 27-11 against rotational opponents from the NFC in the past 10 seasons. Tennessee is 1-1 against NFC teams this season, and enters the game with Indianapolis (3-3) after winning two straight.
McCourty, who is in his first year as a defensive captain, has recorded an interception in each of the past two victories that set up 10 critical points by Tennessee's offense. Titans players and coaches said they've been impressed by what they've seen of Luck so far, but he has thrown seven interceptions this season.
Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is expected to return to the lineup for Tennessee after missing last week at Buffalo. McCarthy said they respect the Colts, but have confidence after the past two wins and determination to even their win total with their losses as the first half of the season ends.
"He's just a great quarterback. He wouldn't be starting in this league and he wouldn't be a number one pick if he wasn't," McCarthy said. "He's going to do a great job of running their offense."
McCarthy said defensive coordinator Jerry Gray "has put together a great plan to attack him, give him different looks in coverages, different ways to attack and blitz him, so we're excited as a defense for the challenge."
Matt Hasselbeck is expected to make his fourth consecutive start in place of injured second-year QB Jake Locker. Hasselbeck has guided the Titans to consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks and has increased his passer rating each of the past three weeks (69.9 at Minnesota, 75.0 against Pittsburgh, 93.6 at Buffalo). He said it is "funny" to see players in Colts uniforms implementing defenses that he's seen from other teams.
"It feels weird to watch the Colts running what looks a combination of Baltimore, San Diego, San Fran, Arizona, all these different defenses that you know," Hasselbeck said. "But if you just take away the logo and the colors of the team, that's the scheme and stuff that you've got to recognize. It's obviously a good scheme that gets matchups, and they've got good players that can give us matchup problems, so we've got to do our work this week. It's not like Indy in the past when you know exactly what you're going to get every play."
Colts first-year head coach Chuck Pagano is battling leukemia and has been replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, but Indianapolis is running the 3-4 defensive front that Pagano installed before his diagnosis. The biggest changes from the 4-3 front that Indianapolis used for years are the movement of former defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to linebacker spots. Freeney, who has 103.5 career sacks (third best in the NFL since 2002), still rushes the passer but also drops into coverage. Mathis has missed the past two games and did not practice Wednesday, according to the Colts' injury report.
"The only time (Freeney) looks different is when he's dropping back in pass coverage," Hasselbeck said. "That's not something that he's done a ton of in the past. They've wanted him rushing the passer for good reason. Other than that, I mean, he's still a great player."
Tennessee may be without left tackle Michael Roos, who underwent an emergency appendectomy Monday. Roos, who has never missed a start (119 consecutive games), said the streak is a "sense of pride" but he and the team said they will put his health first.
"You always want to keep something like that going, but you can't do anything disastrous to my health going forward," Roos said.
Roos said Wednesday that he's been feeling good at some points and bad at others since the surgery. If Roos is unable to play Sunday, Indiana native and long-time reserve Mike Otto is expected to replace him. Otto has appeared in 41 games with the Titans after spending his rookie season of 2007 on the practice squad. He was inactive the first six weeks and did not play Sunday, but Roos, Hasselbeck and Munchak said they have confidence in Otto.
"He's been around for six years so he knows how to play and he's watched the Colts and Dwight Freeney many times, so he'll be ready to play."
Otto, who started one game at right tackle in place of David Stewart last season, said he prepares each week as if he will start despite the durability that Roos and Stewart have shown in their careers. He said Freeney is a "special talent."
"I've been watching him play for a very long time, even before I was here," Otto said. "Growing up in Indiana, watching the Colts, watching Freeney pass rush, that's kind of what you do. Now, if I have the opportunity to go out there and play against him, that's what I'm going to do."