It's time for another Titans-Colts game, which means it's time for another installment in my regular pregame Q&A with Colts blogger extraordinaire Nate Dunlevy. Nate currently writes for the Colts site Colts Authority and Bloguin's general NFL blog This Given Sunday, and is the co-host of Colts Central Radio. Nate has written two books, Blue Blood on the Colts and the novel Invincible, Indiana. His wife Deb is also an author, and her YA fantasy The Book of Sight is available for free on Kindle right now (I liked it more than I did Invincible). You can (and should) follow him on Twitter. In addition to answering my questions, he sent me some questions for me to answer, and you can read my answers over at Colts Authority.
Total Titans: Andrew Luck vs. sliced bread and Peyton Manning in his second season. Where does your promising young signal-caller rate, and how's the growth in the game been since the Titans last saw him in December 2012?
Nate Dunlevy: Luck is a fine young player, but he's not Peyton Manning from 1999. Luck's main attribute this season has been interception avoidance. '99 Manning was already the second-best passer in the game with a DVOA of 34.0%. Luck has been solid, but he's nowhere near that territory. He's closer to the 15th best quarterback than the 2nd.
Total Titans: How have the Colts responded to the loss of Reggie Wayne, and how has their attempted response worked out?
Dunlevy: Poorly. It's only been two weeks, but you can already sense the stress on the offense. Heyward-Bey continues to be one of the worst receivers in the game, and T.Y. Hilton is just one man. The offense has been disjointed and out of sync, and Luck is really struggling to find open men. There's no replacing Wayne. This offense is simply not very good without him.
Total Titans: How good is the defense, really? They were pretty bad last year, I think we both agree, and I expected them to be no better than mediocre again yet they rank just above the Titans by points allowed even after the stinker against the Rams.
Dunlevy: It's an improved unit. That is to say they are no longer one of the three worst defenses in football. Now they are more like 10th worst. It's the kind of incremental improvement you'd hope for. Most of that is just Robert Mathis having the season of his life. I'll give the coaches some credit and assume they are just using him better. The biggest tangible improvement is the upgrade from Tom Zbikowski to the more mediocre LaRon Landry.
Total Titans: Like the Titans, the Colts spent a fair chunk of change in the offseason and continued to reshape their roster. What have the additions, and include the Trent Richardson trade in this if you wish, done to the roster and the overall quality of the team?
Dunlevy: Not as much as you'd hope. Most of them have been injured for significant stretches.
Donald Thomas and Ahmad Bradshaw helped the offense early, but both were lost for the season early on.
Gosder Cherlius has been solid at right tackle and Landry has stabilized the safety position when healthy. Franklin and Francois have been respectable as well.
Greg Toler and Eric Walden haven't really worked out and first round pick Bjoern Werner looks very much like the work in progress you'd expect him to be.
As a whole, the moves made the Colts better. They aren't wildly better, but they are clearly better.
As for Richardson, he's a complete disaster. He fails eye tests, stat tests, and the common sense test. He's a terrible player, and I expect him to be out of football in two years tops. I've been contemptuous of the move to trade for him from the moment the deal went down, and he's done nothing to make me look bad.
Total Titans: Is there anything I haven't asked you about you'd like Titans fans to know about the Colts?
Dunlevy: When Luck plays well, they win. When he plays poorly, they lose. Such is the life of an NFL quarterback in every city, I suppose, but Indy has almost nothing going for it other than Luck's play.
Total Titans: Finally, a prediction if you wish, or not if you don't wish to do so.
Dunlevy: Colts 17 Titans 13. If Locker was playing, I'd feel differently about this game, but I expect Luck to play well enough for the Colts to squeeze out a win.