Our Indianapolis Colts are at home this weekend to take on the Tennessee Titans. Knowing the party was coming, I sat down with Jimmy Morris of Music City Miracles, SB Nation’s Titans blog. Jimmy can be found on Twitter @jmorrisMCM. We swapped questions about both the Colts and the Titans and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
- The Titans came into 2022 as the reigning back-to-back AFC South champions. Even though the Titans lost star receiver AJ Brown, expectations were the Titans, led by 2021 Coach of the Year Mike Vrabel, would come out of the gate as a dangerous team. Instead, they have gone 1-2, losing to the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills and holding on to beat the now 0-3 Las Vegas Raiders despite putting up zero, second-half points. I will die on the hill that we have no idea who a team is in the first month of the season, obviously, you want to win games but some teams need to figure out how to win and that can take time. So what has gone wrong so far for the Titans and do you believe Mike Vrabel will figure out a way to get the Titans back to the top of the AFC South by the end of 2022?
JM: I do still believe that the Titans win the AFC South. The Titans have once again had some pretty rough injury issues to start the season. They lost OLB Harold Landry to an ACL injury the week before the season started. CB Kristian Fulton didn’t play in the Buffalo game. OLB Bud Dupree and LT Taylor Lewan were both injured early in that game. Lewan is out for the year with a knee injury. Dupree didn’t play last week against the Raiders and his status for this week is very much in question. It’s tough to generate a pass rush without their top two EDGE guys.
Then there are the issues on offense. The offensive line has struggled and now doesn’t have Lewan. Derrick Henry hasn’t had a lot of holes to run through in the first three games. They also have one of the worst offensive coordinators on the planet in Todd Downing. He was bad last year and shockingly is still bad this year. His opening scripts to games have been good - they have scored a TD on their opening drive in all three games - but they don’t have a counterpunch in the second half. They have scored a total of 7 points in the second half through three games. You can’t sustain success that way.
- The Titans drafted Treylon Burks in the first round to replace the aforementioned AJ Brown. Looking at the box scores, all things considered, it seems Burks is doing as much as any rookie could be expected, to replace a superstar in his prime. Is that assessment of Burks correct, and have there been any noticeable changes in the Titans offense with Burks and Robert Woods on the outside?
JM: Burks has been fine. They should find a way to get him the ball more, but that would require a competent OC, and we’ve already talked about that. Can he eventually be A.J. Brown? Maybe. He is a big guy that has some run after the catch skills. We were all a little worried about him after having a rough offseason, but he has been good since camp started.
Robert Woods had his best game as a Titan against the Raiders. Again, they should find a way to get him the ball more.
The offense hasn’t changed a whole lot with AJ gone. The biggest thing is no one has established himself as an alpha on the outside yet. That will come with time.
- The Colts have had a ton of trouble giving Matt Ryan a clean pocket to throw from. The Titans have been middle of the pack in pressuring the QB so far this season. Will the Colts finally give Ryan time to throw or will the Titans use the opportunity to improve on their pedestrian pass rush?
JM: That will depend a lot on whether or not Bud Dupree is able to play. They had a great pass rush at the end of last season, but as I mentioned before, they have been hit hard by injuries. The pass rush can still be really good with Dupree, Rashad Weaver, Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry (thanks for him, by the way). Without Dupree for most of the Bills game and the entire Raiders game, they were not able to generate much pressure. They only have two sacks combined in those two games after having five sacks in the opener.
- As of the time of this writing the Titans are 3.5 point underdogs according to DraftKings Sports Book, is that fair?
JM: It’s probably fair. If you figure in three points for the Colts being at home you basically have a pick em game. I do believe the Titans are the better team here, but I understand why they would be the underdog.
- I think we’re going to hear about it all week but this weekend we will watch future Hall of Famer Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor square off (sort of, they won’t be on the field at the same time, but I expect that’s how this one will be billed). Father time is undefeated, at some point, the king will have to pass his crown off to the next in line. Colts fans, obviously, believe this happened last season and Taylor was the guy in line. I don’t expect you to agree (if I were in your shoes I probably wouldn’t) but can you state your case for him still being the best back in the league and realistically how long do you believe Derrick Henry will continue to produce at an elite level?
JM: It wouldn’t even be a debate if Lucas Oil Stadium didn’t break Henry’s foot last year. He would have had another 1,800+ yard season, a third straight rushing title, and a punched ticket to the Hall of Fame. There isn’t another player like him in the league. How many guys in the history of the league have you seen that are 6-3’, 247 pounds and can break off huge runs like Henry? Zero. The answer is zero. Taylor is a great back, but he just isn’t Derrick Henry.
With all of that being said, it seems hard to believe that he can produce at that elite level for more than another year or two because, as you said, farther time is undefeated. He’s 28 years old and has almost 1,500 carries in the NFL.
Writers note: seems a little aggressive to blame Derrick Henry’s injury on the entire stadium. Here’s what I wrote about Henry’s usage before the Colts and Titans week 8 matchup last season:
The Titans ran Henry into the ground and he broke down after seven games. It’s kind of amazing it took him as long as it did. It’s been a long season and we’re only three weeks in, I can deal with people blaming a lot of people and things for a lot of different things but I cannot abide besmirching the good name of Lucas Oil Stadium. Not like this.
Editor’s Note: Jimmy has a point about Henry in terms of raw size, but there is a player that came before Henry who had the same traits in terms of speed and power. His name was Earl Campbell and given that Campbell played for the Houston Oilers, which means that he played for the same franchise that is now the Tennessee Titans, I’m somewhat sad that Jimmy wouldn’t have acknowledged him as a part of his answer. Henry is great, he’s transcendent, he is a Hall of Famer. He is a mix of speed and power that has been incredibly rare in this league. He is a mix of size at the position that perhaps hasn’t ever been seen. But Earl Campbell would run over you, through you, around you, and if he got by you there was no catching him. I’ll take Earl Campbell in his prime over Derrick Henry in his - but that’s just me. Also, Eddie George was damn good and he was close to Henry’s size. But look at me waxing poetic about former Titans/Oilers. I’m going to wash my hands, feels dirty typing this stuff.
- Bonus question because I’m curious: given that we both watch the AFC South in similar ways, are you as worried about Trevor Lawrence as I am?
JM: I’m a little worried, but he plays for the Jaguars. They will find a way to screw it up.
I would like to thank Jimmy Morris of Music City Miracles for his professionalism and the time he took to answer these questions. I truly appreciate it. If you’re betting on this game, I wish you luck. Like most weeks I’m going to be putting together a parlay I deem safe and I’ll be betting no more than $5 because according to people who monitor such things, I’m not much of a gambler.
No matter what you do with your money, you can find updated lines at DraftKings Sportsbook.