Colts’ Opponent Preview: Tennessee Titans Redux
The Indianapolis Colts had their bye last weekend, and now things get started in the home stretch with a sequel against the Tennessee Titans. Indy sits at 3-7, looking up at Houston (4-6), Tennessee (6-4), and surprising Jacksonville (7-3) in the AFC South standings. A lot has changed in the six weeks since the Colts and Titans dueled on Monday Night Football in Nashville. Most notably, Andrew Luck was put on ice for the season after his rehab from offseason shoulder surgery did not go as planned. The Colts have also lost Robert Turbin, Jack Mewhort, Henry Anderson, and Malik Hooker for the season and sent Vontae Davis packing. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?
Tennessee fans have more reason for optimism, as quarterback Marcus Mariota has returned from the hamstring injury he had suffered two weeks before playing the Colts the first time. Mariota has definitely regressed from the promise he showed last season, but he is dangerous nonetheless. First round pick Corey Davis was supposed to give Mariota a shiny new toy at wide receiver, which has not yet come to pass (literally). Davis got injured in September and missed all of October; he returned, though, at the beginning of November and has played in the last three games. On the season, he has yet to snare more than six passes in a game or eclipse 100 yards through the air. He has also not scored a touchdown to date. Wanna bet that one comes on Sunday?
Offensively, this Titans team is stuck in neutral. They rank 20th in yards per game (327.4), 21st in pass yards per game (209.9), 12th in rushing yards per game (117.5), and 15th in points per game (22.2). If that’s not the definition of average, then I don’t know what is. While Mariota has taken a step back and Davis has yet to assert himself, former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry has impressed. Henry has accumulated only two fewer rushing yards (443 to 441) than DeMarco Murray on 16 fewer carries (117 to 101). At 6’3” 245, Henry looks more like Babe the Blue Ox than a typical NFL running back, yet he has broken a long run of 72 yards and picked up 22 first downs on the ground this year. Tennessee coaches would be wise to give him the ball more. Just saying.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee’s stunning averageness continues. Despite their run defense standing at fifth in the league (89.2 yards allowed per game), they are giving up 25.3 points per game, which is 24th league-wide (Indianapolis is still last at 28.0). In a bit of a statistical anomaly, the Titans boast the league’s leading interceptor (safety Kevin Byard—more on him in a minute) but are minus-three in turnover margin overall. And despite being 6-4, this team has been outscored by 31 points. Sometimes, the NFL just doesn’t make sense.
Adoree’ Jackson is a cornerback by trade (who has broken up 11 passes and forced a pair of fumbles so far), but he gets some gadget touches on offense. He has no receptions but averages 11 yards per carry and serves as the team’s kick/punt returner too. In a league dictated by matchups and speed, Jackson can be a game breaker. He has thoroughly outshined his first round counterpart Corey Davis, and he will be vital in the Titans’ push for the playoffs moving forward.
Byard has been a revelation in his second season out of Middle Tennessee State University. He has six interceptions to go along with 13 pass breakups and three tackles for loss. He is rangy and aggressive, and Jacoby Brissett needs to know where he is before letting loose on a deep pass. Jackson and Byard make a formidable pair in the back end of Tennessee’s defense, which is bad news for the long-term hopes of Colts quarterbacks and receivers.
Clayton Geathers returns to a rousing ovation and makes a handful of tackles on Henry and tight end Delanie Walker. The team looks refreshed in the first half, building a double-digit lead,only to watch it slip away once again in the fourth quarter.
Titans 28, Colts 27.