NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** The Titans face the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Marcus Mariota's return?
Mariota practiced on a limited basis in practices Wednesday through Saturday, and both coach Mike Mularkey and the Titans quarterback expressed optimism while talking about a Monday Night Football return. Mariota missed last week's game against the Dolphins because of a hamstring injury. Mularkey indicated Mariota could be a game-time decision, so he'll need to feel good leading up to the game to have a chance. His presence on the field in uniform would ignite the home crowd, and his teammates around him.
The Titans are handing out "Exotic Smashmouth Football" t-shirts to fans, so it would seem like a perfect night to get the running game going. Running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry have had their moments through the first five weeks, but the Titans haven't been nearly as consistent as they'd like to be – or need to be – here. The team hasn't eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in back-to-back losses. Coaches have promised to include Henry more moving forward, but the Titans will look to use a 1-2 punch vs. the Colts.
Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton has been a pain to deal with again this season, and he's been a real thorn in the side of the Titans in recent years. Hilton has 230 yards (115 per game) and two touchdowns in the last two meetings against the Titans. He's coming off a seven-catch, 177-yard game for the Colts last week, and has 150-plus receiving yards in two of his last three games. The Titans will be paying close attention to Hilton, who already has 466 receiving yards.
Andrew Luck remains sidelined for the Colts, so Jacoby Brissett will be behind center for Indianapolis. Brissett has shown improvement, but he's still relatively inexperienced. The Titans need to turn up the heat, and make Brissett uncomfortable. The Titans have just eight sacks through five games. While pressure has been good at times, they need to get more QBs on the ground. Brissett and the Colts could give the Titans chances – Brissett has been sacked 14 times, and he's been known to hold the ball too long.
Monday night fun
It's been a few years since Monday Night Football visited Nissan Stadium, so it should be a fun night. Country music artist Trace Adkins will perform the National Anthem, when Challenger the Bald Eagle will fly from the upper deck. Adkins will perform at the half as well. The crowd should be fired up on a crisp night in Nashville, when the Titans and Colts have the NFL spotlight on them. I'm looking forward to seeing how loud the crowd will get.
That ugly streak
No one wants to talk about it, but it can't be ignored – the Colts have won 11 straight games in the series, and 16 out of the past 17 games. Of course the majority of the Titans weren't around for all those games, and a good number didn't even play in games last season vs. Indianapolis. Fans, of course, are sickened by all back luck against the horseshoe helmets, and would like to see the streak end on Monday night.
A look back at the Titans over the years on Monday Night Football. (Photos: AP, Donn Jones)