Colts vs. Titans: What to watch for Sunday

Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts gives a thumbs up to the crowd after winning the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Other than the fact Reggie Wayne’s name will be added to the Ring of Honor at halftime, that is.

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Broadcast: CBS4

  • Strength vs. strength: Something’s gotta give. The Andrew Luck-led offense ranks 10th in scoring (28.9 ppg) while the Titans bring the NFL’s stingiest defense (16.8) to town. The Colts have scored at least 24 points in six straight games for the first time since 2005 (10 straight). The Titans have allowed more than 23 points just once, and that was in a season-opening 27-20 loss at Miami. The Colts are averaging 36 points during their three-game winning streak while the Titans limited the Tom Brady-led Patriots to one touchdown and 10 points in a dominant win last Sunday.

“It’s a tough defense,’’ Luck said. “They’ve got playmakers all over the field. (Brian) Orakpo, (Jurrell) Casey – I know those guys are game-wreckers. They’ve got linebackers that can run. They’ve got cover guys: safety corner, everywhere.’’

The Titans probably want to turn the game into a street fight with tackle Jurrell Casey (44 tackles, including 6 for a loss), a three-time Pro Bowl selection, leading the way. They’re allowing just 99.8 rushing yards per game and 3.9 per attempt. Look for Frank Reich to remain in his aggressive spread-‘em-out, uptempo mode that maximizes his versatile tight ends.

Colts tight ends lead the NFL with 15 TD catches and are second with 70 receptions. Eric Ebron already has caught a career-best 9 TDs, tops among tight ends and second to Steelers’ wideout Antonio Brown (10). The Titans have yet to allow a TD pass to an opposing tight end.

Again, something’s gotta give.

  • Streaks on the line: You’ve seen numbers. The Colts have tied a franchise record by not allowing a sack in four straight games. Luck has attempted 185 passes without being sacked, the longest stretch of his career and one short of Peyton Manning’s team mark. The return of left tackle Anthony Castonzo has stabilized an offensive line that will start the same group for a fifth straight game. Not only hasn’t Luck been sacked, he’s been hit just 8 times during the four-game streak, according to NFL game books.

“They are playing well,’’ Luck said of his offensive line. “They are doing their jobs.’’

The Titans figure to put pressure on Luck and the offensive line’s impressive streak. Their 23 sacks rank in the middle of the pack, but they’re adept at getting pressure. Take it for what it’s worth, but Titans’ coaches have credited defenders for generating 107 pressures in 9 games, including 33 by Casey, 13 by linebacker Jayon Brown and 11 by Orapko.

A key to Tennessee’s pass rush is figuring out where it’s coming from. First-year coach Mike Vrabel’s group ranks 8th in the league in blitz percentage (27.7).

“Their defense is No. 1 in the league as far as the lowest quarterback rating against them when they pressure,’’ Reich said. “So when they blitz you, they are effective in their blitz. It’s hard to get to (Tom) Brady and they put pressure on him and they were effective with their pressures.

“So, that will be good on good. We’ve been pretty good in that area.’’

Added Luck: “It’s a defense that presents a bunch of different looks. It’s hard to get a bead on what they do.’’

The Titans sacked Brady 3 times and were credited with 4 other hits. They’ve had at least 3 sacks in five of nine games.

  • Streak, Part II: OK, this isn’t a one-man show, but it’s impossible not to consider Luck’s success against the Titans. He’s 9-0.

“I am aware of that, yeah,’’ he said, quickly dismissing the notion the streak serves as motivation. “You learn quickly in this league, what has happened has happened . . . good, bad, ugly. It does not matter. It has no bearing on this game.’’

The Titans, though, are keenly aware of Luck’s dominance. That’s especially true for Casey, a former USC standout who faced Luck twice while Luck was at Stanford.

Along with the 0-9 mark with the Titans versus Luck, Casey noted he “lost to him twice (at USC). And now I’ve played him so many times here and lost to him every time here. We definitely have to get after him.

“He’s a baller, man, and he never gives up.’’

Luck’s stats against the Titans are relatively modest: 15 TDs, 8 interceptions, 20 sacks and a 92.4 passer rating.

But most important, 9-0.

The Colts have won 16 of the last 19 meetings with the Titans, but Tennessee swept the series in 2017. When Luck was out with his shoulder issues, of course.

There are two more Luck-related streaks of note. He has at least one TD pass in 32 straight games, which is the NFL’s longest active streak and 2nd-longest in team history. Last Sunday, he joined Tom Brady (10 games) and Peyton Manning (8) as the only quarterbacks with at least 3 TD passes in six straight games in the same season.

  • And the winner is: Colts 27, Titans 20. We’re still in mid-November, but the Colts find themselves in win-or-else mode. They’re looking for their first four-game winning streak since 2014 and need it to remain in any serious discussion for post-season considerations. After dealing with the 5-4 Titans Sunday, they close a three-game homestand against 5-5 Miami. After that are division games at 3-6 Jacksonville and 6-3 Houston.

The early-season losses to Cincinnati, Philadelphia and the Texans have greatly narrowed the Colts’ margin for error. And they know it.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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