Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: What to Watch For

Sep 18, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Titans win 16-15. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Titans win 16-15. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indianapolis Colts are desperate for their first divisional win of the season as they head to face the Tennessee Titans Sunday afternoon.

The last time the Colts and Titan met was in Week 17 of 2015 with both starting (and in the Colts case backup) quarterbacks out. It was not a game worth watching or remembering and I’m sorry for bringing it up.

Prior to that, the two met in Week 3 of 2015, the last appearance of Andrew Luck for a few weeks after suffering a shoulder injury. That game featured an epic fourth quarter rally with the Colts scoring 21 points in the final frame to eek out a two-point win. At the time, it was thought to be a season saving win. That, um, didn’t really work out.

Back then, Marcus Mariota was a bright eyed young rookie who had his ups and downs that afternoon. His play has improved significantly in season two but is having issues with turnovers this season.

The biggest issue heading into Sunday will be the unreal number of injuries the Colts are suffering from this week (compared to the Titans with basically no one out). The Colts had 13 players show up on the injury report this week (a few more were there for rest, but will play). Right out of the gates, the Colts are at a significant disadvantage.

Here’s what fans should watch for:

  • Targets. Who is Luck going to pass the ball to this week? Dwayne Allen is out, Phillip Dorsett is out, Quan Bray is out, and Donte Moncrief is still out (although should be back soon). Even T.Y. Hilton was on the injury report with a hip injury (but he should be fine). That means Luck will have Hilton, Chester Rodgers, and Tevaun Smith at wide receiver and Jack Doyle and Erik Swoope at tight end. The Colts don’t have a history of running the ball very well, and knowing he’s limited on receiving options the Titans will likely stack the box, blitz, double Hilton and force Luck to rely on shaky options downfield. The Colts are going to struggle to move the ball, not only does Luck have to play flawlessly but so will his receivers and that is a lot to ask from young, untested players.

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  • Protection. This is an obvious one, but the Colts will desperately need Luck upright this week. Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau loves to blitz and bring exotic pressure. Anthony Castonzo is going to have his hands full with Brian Orakpo, who already has seven sacks this season. The Titans rank sixth in adjusted sack rate this season and considering the number of hits Luck has already taken and the lack of receiving options, it could be a very long day for the young QB.
  • Run stuffing. The Colts have to stop the Tennessee rushing attack if they’re going to have any hope Sunday. The Titans feature the seventh most efficient run game in the NFL with a three headed monster in DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and Mariota himself. Murray will get the bulk of the carries and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.  Henry, who has gotten less than a third of Murray’s touches, is giving them 4.6 per attempt. Perhaps more important than stopping the run will be containing Mariota, who is second in rushing yards and average 7.3 per scramble. The Colts defense has to be disciplined Sunday, but we haven’t seen much of that this season.
  • One advantage. The Colts lone advantage is going to be on special teams, an area where the Titans have struggled mightily this season. Shockingly, the Colts have had the most efficient special teams unit in the NFL. Most of that is due to the cannon Pat McAfee has on his right leg and Adam Vinatieri‘s ability to defy time. Conversely, the Titans are dead last on special teams and even fired their coordinator a few weeks ago. Unfortunately they won’t have Bray doing return work, but this is definitely one area that can be exploited for the Colts.

Barring a complete collapse from the Titans, it is hard to see how the Colts can come away from Tennessee with a win. Even at full strength, this would have been a tough out for the Colts given their lack of talent and game planning. But with all the injuries on top of that, their odds of victory are awfully low this week and the margin for error for this team is getting slimmer.