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Playoff-bound Colts must bounce back vs. Titans

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts will wrap up the 2014 regular season Sunday with something to prove in a road game against AFC South rival Tennessee.

The Colts (10-5) are 5-0 in division play. The struggling Titans (2-13) own a 1-4 division record, but they would like nothing better than to end the season on a positive note. And what a better way to do it than beating the nine-time AFC South champion on its home field.

Indianapolis needs to rev up for the playoffs after its worst performance of the year, a 42-7 drubbing by the Dallas Cowboys. But with the playoffs starting next week, is there a chance the Colts will overlook Tennessee?

Colts coach Chuck Pagano says no. In the wake of the loss at Dallas, Pagano outlined the keys for his team against the Titans.

“Efficiency,” he said. “Great execution in all three phases. Play with great fundamentals and technique. Eliminate turnovers. Eliminate penalties. Sustain drives. Great situational football. Third down, convert. Get off the field on third down. Control the ball.

“When you look back at the games that we’ve won and when we’ve played extremely well, third down’s been big, we played physical in all three phases, big plays. We were (No.) 1 or 2 in the league for a long time in hitting big plays. Didn’t give up big plays; if we did give up a big play, it wasn’t for a touchdown on defense. We won our matchups. You could have matchups all over the place. Our corners are going to be matched up on wideouts, offensive linemen blocking pass rushers and so forth. Those are the big things that we’re looking for.”

Indianapolis particularly needs to get its turnover issues taken care of. The Colts have fumbled the ball 30 times this season, losing 15. Quarterback Andrew Luck, meanwhile, has thrown 16 interceptions. And then there is also the problem with dropped passes. The team has a league-leading 40 this year.

In addition, Indianapolis has been penalized 101 times through the first 15 games of the season, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the league.

If the Colts hope to have any kind of sustained success in the postseason, those problems must be addressed, and quickly.

“If you look at the number of passes we’ve thrown to date, and I think when you drop back more and you throw more passes, you might have a few more interceptions,” Pagano said. “You don’t want them, but the volume probably is a little bit of a byproduct of that.

“Just go from one year to the next because a lot of the penalties, the ones that are called every year and the most-called ones are the ones that are focus stuff a lot of the times, the false starts and illegal formations and things like that that really shouldn’t happen. The guys know that, and we all know that, but there’s some that guys are straining their guts out to make a block, finish a play and end up getting called.

“Part of it too is with the emphasis every year changing from an officiating standpoint, I think from a defensive standpoint, illegal contact, defensive holding, all those things are probably up just because of the points of emphasis are changing every year.”

Luck is his own worst critic. He knows that he needs to play better than he has in recent weeks.

“I think what I need to see from myself is a clean game, no turnovers, productive drives, points,” he said. “I think as an offense, the same thing, no turnovers, no penalties, not shooting ourselves in the foot, high effort, which has never been a problem. I’m excited for (the Tennessee game). It should be fun. It’s going to be fun.”

The third-year quarterback doesn’t shy away from accepting his share of the blame for the rise in the team’s fumbles.

“I think turnovers you can put on me really, the interceptions, the fumbles. There’s a simple answer,” he said. “Penalties, it’s hard to pinpoint. You can say lack of focus, but that’s such a broad, broad term. I guess lack of focus.”

That focus needs to return this week against the Titans.

“Big,” Luck said of Sunday’s game. “We’re all pros in this locker room. We want to go out and win no matter what’s at stake, no matter where the game is, when it is. Guys are competitors. They want to win, so I think it’s simple from that standpoint. But yeah, I think to go out and play well, that’s a priority.”

NOTES: Tight end Dwayne Allen (knee) did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday and he is not expected to play against the Titans. … Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) participated in the Colts’ walkthrough session prior to Wednesday’s practice. Freeman is still listed as day-to-day. His availability for the Tennessee game won’t be decided until after Friday’s workout.


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