INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with AFC South rival Tennessee Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium:
- Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Broadcast: FOX59
- Spread: Colts by 3½.
History lesson, Part I:
The Colts lead the overall series 35-20. Big deal (sarcasm). The Titans have won four of the last five, including three straight and four of the last five in Indy. That’s a big deal.
Owner Jim Irsay is more than a little miffed the Titans have used their mini-streak against his Colts to win back-to-back AFC South championships. That needs to stop.
History lesson, Part II:
The Colts last won the division in 2014. It’s a long season, but failing to take care of business Sunday and falling to 0-2-1 in the AFC South this early once again would place them into serious chasers’ mode. After the quick-turnaround trip to Denver Thursday night, they face two more AFC South games: home against Jacksonville Oct. 16 and the rematch with Tennessee Oct. 23 in Nashville.
Tighten up Ryan’s protection:
This is one of those Or else! issues. The offensive line and the ancillary parts get their act together, or else the passing game will remain a hit-and-miss venture and Matt Ryan’s durability will be sorely tested. There have been times linemen have gotten whipped one-on-one – left tackle Matt Pryor, right guard Danny Pinter, right tackle Braden Smith. Against Kansas City, a glaring lack of communication resulted in at least a half-dozen instances where blitzers had a clear path to Ryan. At least once, it appeared Taylor failed to pick up linebacker Nick Bolton, who lined up over center Ryan Kelly and charged through the A-gap untouched.
Ryan has been hit 18 times and sacked 12 times. He’s also fumbled a league-high seven times and suffered four interceptions. Much of that is a byproduct of his protection putting him in harm’s way.
Tennessee lost top pass rusher Harold Landry to a torn ACL Sept. 1, but has gotten early production from linebacker Rashad Weaver (3 sacks, eight pressures) and second-team All-Pro tackle Jeffery Simmons (2 sacks, 13 pressures). Former Colt Denico Autry also is a threat (1 sack, eight pressures).
Ryan has made plays in the passing game when he’s been afforded time. His supporting cast needs to step up its collective game.
An alarming stat through three games: the Colts have more turnovers (six) than touchdowns (four). They’re 32nd in the league – that’s last – in scoring (13.3 points per game).
Of course. Jonathan Taylor ranks 4th in the league in rushing with 286 yards and is averaging 4.7 per attempt. But we’re still waiting for him to flash his dominant form of 2021. He has a modest eight rushes of at least 10 yards, including a pair of 21-yarders, but has been stopped for no gain or a loss on 25% of his attempts (15 of 61).
Yes, there are times Ryan and the passing game must carry the day. But the driving forces of the offensive roster constructed by Chris Ballard and Frank Reich are the line and Taylor. There should be no better time than Sunday for that approach to assert itself. The Titans bring the 26th-ranked defense to town – it’s tied-29th in points allowed (28) – and Mike Vrabel’s group has been especially vulnerable to the run. Tennessee’s run defense is allowing 145 yards per game (29th) and 5.8 per attempt (32nd).
See, this isn’t a complicated game. Run JT, keep the Titans from leaning on Derrick Henry. Ryan Tannehill has had his moments against the Colts – 65% accuracy, 15 TDs, four interceptions a 100.0 rating in nine games; 141 rushing yards and another TD – but Henry is Tennessee’s irresistible force. You’ve undoubtedly seen his numbers versus the Colts: 1,045 yards in 12 games, 5.2 yards per attempt, five 100-yard games, including four in the last five meetings.
But what can’t be ignored is the NFL’s two-time rushing champion finds himself in a six-game funk. Henry has averaged a pedestrian 68 yards per game and 3.1 per attempt during that stretch. And let’s not forget he missed the second half of last season after breaking a bone in his right foot in the week 8 meeting with the Colts in Indy.
Henry faces one of the league’s stingiest run defenses. The Colts rank 3rd in fewest yards allowed (77.0) and 1st in yards per attempt (2.6). Grover Stewart continues to establish himself as one of the NFL’s premier tackles.
The depth of that defense might be tested. Tackle DeForest Buckner is questionable with an elbow injury. If he plays, he might be on a pitch count.
All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard could hit the field for the first time this season after missing the first three games while recovering from back surgery in June. Reich noted Leonard probably won’t be “all the way back . . . He’s not going to be 100%.’’
Leonard being cleared to play would be a result of everyone being confident he’s able to play at a winning level. The defense is coming off a strong performance against Kansas City, but the return of Leonard would provide an emotional boost coupled with his playmaking skills.
And the winner is: Colts 27, Titans 23.
We’re still not convinced we can trust these guys. But if they’re going to make anything of this season, it has to start Sunday.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.