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Colts titanic challenge after Jonathan Taylor agrees to multi-year deal

Indianapolis Colts v Dallas Cowboys
Jonathan Taylor #28 of the Indianapolis Colts warms up against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on December 4, 2022 in Arlington, Texas.
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor agreed to a three-year, $42 million extension Saturday and was activated to the 53-man roster ahead of Sunday’s Week 5 divisional matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

A roar of cheers may be heard booming outside Lucas Oil Stadium once Taylor’s name is announced in 24 hours. Indianapolis has not witnessed a Colts victory inside Lucas Oil Stadium in six consecutive games, since defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 34-27, nearly a full calendar year ago on Oct. 16, 2022.

Taylor made his first practice appearance earlier this week and indications were that the 24-year old was on the verge of making his anticipated season debut. Indianapolis will premiere its dynamic duo in the backfield with Taylor alongside rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson. The Colts are one of six teams to score 20-plus points in every game this season under head coach Shane Steichen’s dangerous run-pass-option play designs.

Taylor will play on a pitch count, with RB Zack Moss sharing the workload in the ground attack. A significant factor in Sunday’s Week 5 matchup will be the battle in the trenches at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee’s stout front seven is the NFL’s fourth-best against the run, allowing just 70 rushing yards per game and a league-best 2.9 yards per carry. Colts offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter mentioned during Tuesday’s zoom meeting the Titans’ film shows a physical defense that sets the edge and knocks opposing offensive lines backwards.

Perhaps the best offensive stat through the first month of the season is the Colts carry the third-highest red zone scoring percentage (72.7%) in the NFL. The Colts have reached the end zone in seven of the last eight red zone drives, so when the offense sustains drives inside enemy territory, they tend to score touchdowns. Tennessee in comparison is one of the four worst teams in converting red zone drives (38.5%) into touchdowns.

If there is an advantage in favor of the Colts’ offense on Sunday, it will be finishing drives in the blue turf and presenting the element of the unknown. The next time Richardson carries the leather past the goal line, the 21-year old will tie Andrew Luck for the most rushing touchdowns (5) by a Colts quarterback in a single season.

The biggest question for the defense is can the front seven limit Titans RB Derrick Henry? Tennessee’s 2020 Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year has rushed for 100-plus yards in six of his last seven games against the Colts, averaging an astounding 121.9 rushing yards per game during that span. Indianapolis’ defense is known to bend, but not break, leading the NFL with 27 tackles for loss, five strip-sacks and eight forced fumbles.

Indianapolis’ secondary could not defend Los Angeles Rams’ rookie receiver Puka Nacua during the Week 4 overtime loss and lost a starter in cornerback Dallis Flowers after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. Another factor is 11-year veteran DeAndre Hopkins and how he fares against the Colts young secondary. Hopkins leads the Titans’ receivers with 18 catches for 216 yards, but has not scored a touchdown this season. The three-time All-Pro is older than every player on the Colts 53-man roster.

Indianapolis aims to claim regular season win No. 550 with a victory over its AFC South divisional rival and all four divisional teams tied posting a 2-2 record. The Colts have three starters listed as out, including left tackle Bernhard Raimann and defensive end Kwity Paye unable to clear NFL concussion protocol and linebacker Shaquille Leonard is out with a groin injury.