NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Titans running back Derrick Henry continues to do special things. In addition to leading the NFL in rushing yards (869), Henry also leads the league with 10 rushing touchdowns. With 131 rushing yards on Sunday, Henry would become just the third player ever to reach 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in his team's first eight games of the season, joining Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1958) and Terrell Davis (1996). The Colts, of course, are expected to devise a defensive game plan focused on stopping him. Henry ran for 113 yards in the Titans-Colts game on September 26, and he's gone over 100 yards four straight games against Indianapolis. Can he make it four 100-yard games in a row on a day when the Titans try to extend their winning streak to four games?
Throw With Success
The Chiefs did a nice job defending Henry, holding him to just 86 yards on the ground, and 3.0 yards per carry. But stacking the box to slow down Henry came at a cost – Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was able to pick their secondary apart. Yes, it's a real Catch-22 situation. Receiver A.J. Brown has come alive in recent weeks, with 15 catches for 224 yards in the past two games combined. A year ago in Indy, Brown had 98 receiving yards, including a 69-yard touchdown reception. The Titans will need to make some plays through the air against the Colts, and to do that they'll need to protect Tannehill, which they've done with success of late – he's been sacked just once in the past two games after being sacked 20 times in the first five contests.
Stop the Run
The Colts, like the Titans, love to run the football while displaying a physical brand of football. And, they have a pair of good backs to do it. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor has 1,748 career rushing yards since entering the league as a second-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Since the beginning of the 2020 season, only Henry (2,876) and Dalvin Cook (1,923) have more. The Colts also have Nyheim Hines, who is versatile and dangerous. The Titans know they're in for a slugfest on Sunday, and they'll need to be prepared to play physical, and tackle well. If they can slow down the Colts on early downs, they'll have a chance to make plays on third down.
Harass Carson Wentz
When the Colts visited Nashville last month, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz had not one, but two bad ankles. So, instead of keeping plays alive with his legs, Wentz regularly got rid of the ball when he faced pressure. A month later, Wentz looks like a different player – and he's playing well. Through seven games, Wentz has thrown for 1,695 yards with 11 touchdowns and only one interception. On a lot of plays, he's thrown the ball up downfield, and let his receivers either win one-on-ones, or draw penalties. The Titans need to get after Wentz like they got after Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. If they're able to do that, the defense should come alive once again.
The Turnover Battle
After a slow start, things have changed for the Titans in the takeaway/giveaway category. A week ago, the Titans forced three turnovers, and they're now a minus-1 (8 takeaway/9 giveaway). While that doesn't sound great, it's a heck of a lot better than where they were early in the season. The problem is the Colts have feasted off the mistakes of other teams, while making few of their own. Indianapolis is a plus-9 here (16 takeaways/7 giveaways). The Titans managed to beat the Colts back in September despite turning the ball over three times. That's usually a bad formular, so it doesn't need to be repeated. The team that makes the fewest mistakes on Sunday figures to put itself in the best position to win it.
AFC South Ramifications
This category, of course, will be one to watch not during, but after the game. Heading in, everyone knows what is at stake. The Titans, with a 5-2 record and a win in hand over the Colts, have a chance to bury the 3-4 Colts with a win on Sunday. If the Titans find a way to win, they'd have a three-game lead in the AFC South, with control of the first tiebreaker (head-to-head). The Colts could change the look of the race with a win, and when you consider what's on the horizon – the Titans travel to the Rams next Sunday, while the Colts host the Jets – it's easy to see just how tight things could get quickly. Colts linebacker Darius Leonard called this game a must-win for the Colts, and Titans safety Kevin Byard said the same thing. Sunday can't get here soon enough to see how this one plays out …