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Colts vs Titans: Matchups to watch

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Colts face yet another tough and critical home game as they fight to drag themselves back into contention. They’ll host the Titans on Sunday in a game that will have implications deep into the season. Andrew Luck has never lost to the Titans, and he certainly won’t be interested in starting now. Given the significance of this game, let’s take a look at some of the big matchups that will help decide Sunday’s game.

Offensive line vs Jurrell Casey

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jurrell Casey is among the top defensive linemen in the NFL. He is not a statistical monster, but he is still a disruptive force against the run and pass, and easily the Titans’ best defensive player. This season he has 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 7 tackles for a loss. When the Colts sat down to begin formulating their protection plan for the week, you can bet Casey was at the very top of their list of guys to deal with.

The Colts offensive line is doing an incredible job protecting Andrew Luck, having kept him upright for 4 weeks running. They will have to come ready to go yet again against a creative and tough Titans defense. The Titans have a solid defense all around, but if Andrew Luck is given time to throw, the Colts are going to score points. The offensive line winning the battle up front will likely tell the story of this game and if Jurrell Casey is able to be a big factor, it will spell trouble for the Colts.

Eric Ebron vs Titans’ Secondary

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans enter this game having given up precisely 0 touchdowns to a tight end. That sounds pretty stunning if you don’t look through their schedule, but becomes a bit less shocking when you see the list of tight ends they have faced. Zach Ertz is by and large the only really talented player they have faced at the tight end position, and he gashed them for 110 yards, but no touchdowns.

By comparison, Eric Ebron will step onto the field on Sunday with 10 touchdowns on the season and a habit of embarrassing defenses. I broke down every touchdown he has on the season here, and his ability to end up all alone is almost as impressive as his ability to go up and get a jump ball. I am not going to say that Eric Ebron is definitely going to end that streak of no touchdowns by tight ends, but I am going to say that one of the tight ends on this team will. The Colts have used their tight ends too well, and are simply too talented at that position to be shut out.

Kevin Byard will be a tough challenge for Ebron, but he made a talent like Jalen Ramsey look silly, and hasn’t exactly been up against scrubs all season. I don’t anticipate this game going all that differently in terms of the impact the tight end position will have for the Colts.

Darius Leonard vs Dion Lewis

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans have two solid running backs in Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry. Henry certainly has his strengths, but he is not the player that worries me with this Colts team. Dion Lewis has been a major weapon for the Titans over the last 3 games. He is averaging over 100 yards from scrimmage, much of it coming from the passing game. If Lewis can keep his momentum going this week and be an active part of the passing game, it is going to be tough on a Colts defense that couldn’t get a stop against a Jaguars team that killed them with short passes that went for long gains.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, they’ll need a big performance from rookie linebacker Darius Leonard. Leonard is their most valuable playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, and has regularly made the plays they need in a pinch. He will need to be on his game because with Lewis catching passes and Mariota utilizing his mobility, this is a team that could present trouble for the Colts’ defense that has had trouble stopping just about everyone. If Leonard can create a turnover that may be all the offense needs to pull out a win.

Frank Reich vs Mike Vrabel

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It is the showdown of two first time head coaches who will face each other twice each year. Both Frank Reich and Mike Vrabel have been lauded for the jobs they have done getting their respective teams ready to play. It would be pretty tough to argue that Vrabel hasn’t simply coached his team around the slew of injuries they have been dealt. Given all they have lost this season, having them still in contention is pretty impressive.

Colts fans know the job Reich has done. While the numbers are still skewed against him in the win/loss column, that is turning quickly, and there are some very easy to measure changes that signal a very different team. For example, the fact that the Colts have been night and day different in terms of their ability to protect Andrew Luck. Additionally, they’ve converted on 52.4% of 3rd downs, and are averaging 28.9 points per game for the season. Reich has this offense humming.

This will be a very interesting matchup to see which coach manages the game better, who has their team prepared the best, and who is able to use their talent most effectively. In an offensively driven league, my money is on the brilliant and experienced offensive mind.

So what about you? What matchup will you be watching this weekend?