Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s games:
Pick on inexperience, make them pay for cushion: If the Titans defensive backs line up as far off receivers as we’ve seen them this season, Peyton Manning can have a field day on quick hits. Nick Harper seems especially easy to target in this regard. And rookie Ryan Mouton, who will be the nickel, probably ends the day with a new appreciation for the Colts’ offense. If Cortland Finnegan is back from his hamstring injury, he’ll be with Reggie Wayne most of the time. If and when Wayne wanders from the left side where Finnegan would be lined up across from him, the Titans should stray from their strict left-right setup and send Finnegan after him. Sell out to stop Wayne whether you can or not.
Houston will be determined to run it: I’m a proponent of the Cardinals and Texans slinging it all over the field. But both teams probably believe the one that runs better will win. Arizona has played far better run defense statistically, allowing 79.7 yards a game and one rushing touchdown while Houston has allowed 165 and eight. Steve Slaton’s opportunities have not been the same, but he’s down 1.5 yards per carry. If the Texans are running it, they need him doing a bit better than 3.3 yards a carry.
Can Jacksonville travel well?: A young team on the rise often has trouble with consistency. After two big division wins, how do the Jaguars handle a trip across the country to cooler weather? They got to Seattle Friday and will have a workout at Qwest Field Saturday. That’s a schedule alteration that takes them out of their routine, and we know how youth likes routine. I like their chances against Matt Hasselbeck a lot less than against Seneca Wallace. Keep letting David Garrard run.
Watch the Colts third-down defense: If Tennessee is going to have a chance, third down on offense is going to be a key. The Colts are likely to provide opportunity there. One of the league’s worst third-down defenses in 2008 is still 31st. The fine fellows at 18to88.com asked me about what opponents are facing on third down this year as opposed to last. It’s a yard less -- this season opponents face an average of third-and-5.4 yards where last year it was third-and-6.4. (Thanks to Pete Newmann at ESPN Stats & Information.) Tennessee has not fared well getting into third and manageable. Can it Sunday night against a team that hasn’t kept people out of it?
Options beyond Johnson: Andre Johnson is obviously the Texans’ top target. But whether he manages a big day against the Cardinals or is limited, Matt Schaub should have a chance to find some other people down field, presuming the offensive line can find ways to slow Darnell Dockett -- who Gary Kubiak called the best player he’s seen on film this year. Beyond Larry Fitzgerald, everyone knows Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. But Houston’s crafty No. 2 receiver Kevin Walter is actually averaging more yards a game (68.5) and yards a catch (17.1) than either of them.