December 24, 2014

The Indianapolis Colts have overcome early season adversity before, though their current funk seems more problematic than last year's 0-2 start.

Plagued by mistakes in their two games, the Colts hope a return to AFC South play can provide a remedy when they visit the Tennessee Titans in Marcus Mariota's home debut Sunday.

Indianapolis (0-2) has stumbled out of the gate for a second straight year, with a league-high eight turnovers the main culprit. Five came in Monday's 20-7 home defeat to the New York Jets, with Andrew Luck throwing three interceptions and Frank Gore losing a fumble at the goal line with the Colts trailing 10-0 in the third quarter.

Indianapolis also committed 11 penalties and wasted another red-zone chance when Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal.

Luck, under siege by an aggressive Jets defense throughout the night, has thrown five interceptions and completed just 54.7 percent of his passes in the two losses. His 58.9 passer rating is last in the NFL.

"My play, turning the ball over, fumbles, interceptions, it's a pretty glaring issue," he said.

After finishing sixth in the NFL with 458 points in 2014, Indianapolis has a league-low 21 through two weeks.

''You can't turn the ball over. You've got to protect. You've got to give (Luck) time, you've got to give him a clean pocket so he can step up and not get hit when he's releasing the ball and we've got to get it fixed,'' coach Chuck Pagano said. ''You can't drive the length of the field, a 10-minute drive, and get to the 1-yard line and put the ball on the ground. You can't do it.

"You're not going to beat Zionsville (High School) doing that.''

The Colts can draw on the recent past for confidence, as they won five straight and 10 of 12 after last year's slow start to claim a second consecutive AFC South title. And they've won 13 straight division games and six in a row over Tennessee (1-1), outscoring the Titans 68-27 with Luck tossing six touchdown passes in last season's meetings.

"Our full intention is to go back to work and do the same damn thing," Pagano said.

The Titans don't appear to be nearly the pushover as last year's 2-14 squad, however, due in large part to Mariota's quick adjustment to the pro game. The rookie tops the league with a 129.9 rating while throwing six touchdowns without an interception.

Mariota found the going far tougher in Week 2 compared to his spectacular four-touchdown debut at Tampa, however. The Heisman Trophy winner was sacked seven times and lost two fumbles while going 21 of 37 for 257 yards in a 28-14 loss to Cleveland.

"I could have made a lot more accurate throws and could have been better with the football. But I'll learn that and get better," he said.

Tennessee also was hurt by nine penalties totaling 85 yards and allowed two long Johnny Manziel touchdown passes to Travis Benjamin, including a back-breaking 50-yarder with 2:52 remaining. Benjamin also had a 78-yard punt return that staked the Browns to a 21-0 halftime lead.

''Too many self-inflicted wounds and penalties that put us in bad situations," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "At least we fought in the second half and have something we can build off.''

The Titans will need to shore up a secondary that's been without top cornerback Jason McCourty (groin surgery) the first two weeks and faces a dangerous group of Indianapolis receivers. Donte Moncrief (13 catches, 168 yards, 3 TDs) had 122 and a touchdown on seven receptions against the Jets and speedster T.Y. Hilton (11 catches, 133 yards) recorded 105 on six receptions in the Colts' 41-17 home win over Tennessee in Week 4 of last season.

Coby Fleener had three touchdown catches in the two 2014 matchups with the Titans and might play a bigger role with fellow tight end Dwayne Allen's status in question after spraining an ankle Monday.

Mariota's next test comes against a banged-up Colts defense that could be missing three cornerbacks. Vontae Davis left Monday's game with a concussion, Greg Toler (neck) has missed the first two and Darius Butler (hip) was inactive in Week 2 and uncertain for Sunday.

Tennessee's suspect offensive line won't have right guard Chance Warmack due to a knee sprain sustained against Cleveland. Tight end Delanie Walker is hopeful to return from a sprained right wrist that sidelined him last week, though Anthony Fasano and Chase Coffman combined for nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown in his place.

You May Like