NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
Titans running back Derrick Henry is beginning to pick up steam. In his last outing against the Commanders, Henry ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns. In the team's first matchup vs the Colts this season, Henry had a season-high 147 scrimmage yards (114 rush, 33 receiving) and a rushing touchdown. The Titans need to see Henry keep it going against a Colts team he has 819 scrimmage yards (136.5) and five rushing touchdowns against in the last six meetings. On Sunday, Henry needs one touchdown to tie Eddie George (74) for the most touchdowns in franchise history. Henry needs just 28 rushing yards on Sunday to give him 3,400 rush yards and 30 rushing TDs over his last 30 games played. The Colts, by the way, are allowing 121.0 rushing yards per game (21st in the NFL).
Stop the Run
The Colts are expected to get running back Jonathan Taylor back on Sunday. Can the Titans stop him like they did in Week 4? Taylor, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, led the NFL in rushing in 2021 after Henry's season was cut short by injury. Taylor (3,308 yards, 30 TDs) trails only Henry (3,372 yards, 32 TDs) for the most rushing yards and touchdowns since 2020. Henry outperformed Taylor in their first matchup in Week 4, when Taylor managed only 42 yards on 20 carries (a 2.1-yard average). Henry has also been much more productive than Taylor in their previous four matchups (Henry 99.5 rush yards average, 117.0 scrimmage yards vs Taylor's 47.0 rush average and 68.5 scrimmage yard average). Taylor and the Colts would like to change this, of course. The Titans need to tackle well to keep it from happening.
Fluster Colts QB Matt Ryan
A crazy thing has happened since the Titans last saw the Colts: Indianapolis QB Matt Ryan has been throwing the football all over the place. Ryan threw 58 passes in last Sunday's game vs the Jaguars, when he completed 42 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns. The week prior to that, Ryan threw the ball 41 times vs the Broncos. With Taylor and fellow Colts running back Nyheim Hines both expected back, the Colts likely won't keep the air raid going. But, when they do throw it, it will be important to get Ryan off his spot, and make him uncomfortable. Ryan has been sacked 21 times in six games this season, but he's been getting the ball out really quick of late. The Titans pass rush should get a boost with the return of edge rusher Bud Dupree, but it's going to take everyone. Getting hands up and deflecting footballs is a part of Tennessee's plan.
How about this stat: The Titans are just the second team since 1940 to have a three-game winning streak despite allowing 300-plus passing yards and throwing for fewer than 260 yards in each game. Yes, that's an ugly stat, and a lot of things can fix it, including the previously mentioned pass rush. But the Titans are going to have to be a lot better in coverage, and in individual matchups vs Indy's big receivers. The deep ball is an area where the Titans have been victimized all season. The Titans are allowing a league-high 287.6 pass yards per game, and they've allowed the most deep-pass yards (526) in the NFL. Heck, they're the only team to allow 400-plus such yards. The reality is the Titans simply are going to have to do a better job with the ball in the air.
Ryan Tannehill and the Offense
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been splendid in the red zone. His 132.3 passer rating in the red zone leads the NFL, and he got it by completing 81.3 percent of his passes in the red zone, with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. One of the problems: The Titans haven't aren't getting to the red zone enough. Another problem: Tennessee's success on offense has been limited to the first half for the most part. The Titans need to be better throwing the football, and it needs to start with pass protection. Tannehill has been pressured 85 times this year (and sacked 12 times in six games) compared to just 56 pressures through six games a year ago. If the Titans could give him more time, they'd have a better chance of stretching the field – Tannehill's 36 downfield pass attempts (10-plus yards in the air) are the fewest among all QBs with 100-plus pass attempts in 2022. The problem is the Colts have allowed the 2nd-fewest completions on downfield passes this season.
A Big Step?
It's a big game on Sunday. The Titans know it. The Colts know it. And, the folks who do the playoff percentages know it. Hey, it's Week 7, and there's a lot of football to be played. But here's another interesting stat as it relates to the future: A win on Sunday would improve Tennessee's record to 4-2, and since 1990, teams with a 4-2 mark after six games have made the playoffs 63.6% of the time, and they've won their division 33.8% of the time. Meanwhile, teams that have started 3-3 have made the playoffs just 34.5% of the time, and they've won their division just 16.6% of the time. So, a win on Sunday would give the Titans a more sizeable lead in the AFC South, and a reason to be a little more optimistic.