The Indianapolis Colts will look to rebound from a crushing defeat to the Texans as they travel to Tennessee to face another division rival this week in the Titans.
It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams, and the Colts have dominated the series. They lead 29-14 all-time against the Titans, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more one-way series in the NFL over the past decade-plus: the Colts have won 22 of their last 26 meetings (dating back to 2003), have won 14 of their last 15 (dating back to 2008), have won each of their last nine games (dating back to 2011) and are 8-0 in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano/Ryan Grigson era against Tennessee. That’s absolute and total domination.
But this week won’t be easy, and it’s a game between teams going in opposite directions. The Colts have had a terrible start to the season, going just 2-4 (and needing fourth quarter comebacks to win both those games) and last week blowing a 14-point lead to the Texans and Brock Osweiler in the final three minutes of regulation. Through six weeks the Colts are in last place in the worst division of football and are 0-2 against their division. The Titans, meanwhile, have begun to show signs of turning things around (slowly but surely). They’re 3-3 on the year, which stunningly marks just the second time they’ve been .500 this late in the season since 2011. They have won their past two games, and they boast one of the league’s best rushing attacks and one of the league’s better defenses.
On offense, they’re led by their rushing game. Marcus Mariota does a good job at quarterback - he’s completing 61.9% of his passes for 1,372 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 10 touchdowns, and six picks this year - but it’s the run game that makes them especially dangerous. Mariota is a big part of that, however, as he is the team’s second-leading rusher with 196 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries (7.3 yards per carry). Meanwhile, the Titans have two good running backs in DeMarco Murray (526 yards and four touchdowns on 4.6 yards per rush) and Derrick Henry (178 yards on 4.4 yards per rush). Murray is fourth in the league in rushing yards this year, and in fact he ranks second in total scrimmage yards (he’s rushed for 526 yards and added 172 receiving), while also scoring six total touchdowns.
That all adds up to lead an offense that ranks third in rushing yards per game (146.7) and second in yards per carry (4.9) in the NFL. And on Sunday, they’ll be facing a Colts defense that is perhaps the league’s worst against the run: they rank 25 in yards per game allowed (117.7), tied for 28th in yards per carry allowed (4.8), and dead last in rush defense DVOA. Especially without defensive linemen Henry Anderson and Zach Kerr (who will both miss Sunday’s game with injuries), that’s a massive mismatch for the Titans. Massive.
So because of that, the Colts will likely need to put up quite a few points if they hope to pull out a win, and the good news is that they’re capable of doing that. Andrew Luck is having a very good season despite the team’s overall struggles, as he has completed 64.1% of his passes for 1,721 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 11 touchdowns, and four picks (a very healthy 1.7% interception percentage) for a passer rating of 94.2, also adding 132 yards and a touchdown rushing (on 6.0 yards per carry). But Luck can’t do it all himself, and this Sunday will test his supporting talent. Wideouts Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett will both be out with injuries, as will top tight end Dwayne Allen and starting left guard Jack Mewhort. That means that Luck’s receivers on Sunday will consist of T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Devin Street, and Tevaun Smith, while his tight ends will consist of Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope, and Chase Coffman - which, combined with the shuffling along the offensive line once again, isn’t a good situation. Sure, there are guys that can make plays like Hilton (who’s having a great year and has caught 38 passes for 556 yards and three scores), Rogers (who caught four passes for 63 yards last week), and Doyle (who has caught 20 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns this year), but overall the Colts don’t have much depth.
The Titans defense also will challenge the Colts quite a bit, as they’re a good unit. The Titans rank tied for 13th in the NFL in points per game allowed, tenth in yards per game allowed, seventh in rushing yards allowed, and tenth in passing yards allowed. In fact, they’re the only team in the NFL so far this year to rank as a top ten team in both rushing and passing defensive DVOA. And in addition to all of that, the Titans also are fifth in the NFL in sacks with 18, and on Sunday they’ll face a Colts team that’s given up the most in the NFL (23) and that will be without one of their top linemen. Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo (who already has seven sacks) has to be salivating at this matchup.
On paper, there’s not a ton of optimism for the Colts in this game. They’ve looked bad for much of their football so far this year, and they face a Titans team that is actually playing quite well this year. The Titans have a top-ten defense, and they also pit their top-three rushing game against one of the league’s worst run defenses. So in other words, if the Colts are going to win this one it will take quite the performance from Andrew Luck and the offense. They’ll need to finish drives, put up points, and start off strong. But while I do think the Colts will keep it competitive on the road thanks to Luck, the Titans stand a great chance to get above .500 on the season and stay very much in the hunt in the AFC South.
Predicted Score: Titans 30, Colts 27