Change is inevitable, particularly in the National Football League. In the case of the Indianapolis Colts, it also is close to immediate.
Changes in their head coach and general manager during the offseason led to new schemes and a whole lot of new faces. The Colts have 33 different players (plus two others injured reserve) than the last time they faced the Tennessee Titans, Dec. 18, 2011.
“It’s a team we have to get to know,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “They’re in our division, but that is a team that is a lot different than they’ve been.”
Arguably, the biggest difference is in the standings. Indianapolis comes into Sunday’s game at LP Field (noon, CBS) at 3-3, which already is one more victory than in all of 2011. The Titans are 3-4 and one of only two AFC teams that have won their last two games.
The importance of the contest, with second place in the AFC South up for grabs, is perhaps the most familiar element of this matchup.
“It does [feel like a rivalry game],” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “To have both of us in a division ball game and both heading in the right direction … I think our guys, especially our veteran players, are schooling our younger players on what it means to go down there.”
The bulk of Indianapolis’ personnel changes have been on offense. The Colts start five rookies, including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck at quarterback. One of their starting wide receivers is Donnie Avery, who spent most of last season with Tennessee but barely saw the field.
The defense relies on more returning veterans, led by the potent pass rush combo of defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The big difference is that the scheme features a 3-4 approach in which Freeney and Mathis are considered linebackers instead of the four-man front and Tampa 2 look that was almost omnipresent under previous coaches Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.
“It’s not like Indy of the past where you know exactly what you’re going to get on every play,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “… It feels weird to watch the Colts running what feels like a combination of Baltimore, San Diego, San Francisco, Arizona — all these different defenses that you know.
“If you just take away the logo and the colors of the team it’s stuff we’ve seen and stuff we recognize.”
One difference the Titans would welcome is a change in the nature of their series with the AFC South opponent.
Indianapolis has won six of the last seven meetings, including the most recent. It was winless through the first 13 games of 2011 when it upset Tennessee 27-13 at Lucas Oil Field.
Dating to the start of 2003, the Colts have won 14 of the last 18.
“They beat us last year for their first win,” Munchak said. “We knew how much talent they had, they just weren’t getting the wins. They already won games this year that they would have lost [last year].
“… I think they have enough veterans in the right spots that are making plays.”