Titans and Colts play for first place in AFC South

Tennessee Titans

(Courtesy: Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It is game 11 of 16 for the Titans (7-3) and Colts (7-3) but it is arguably the biggest of the season for both teams with first place on the line in the AFC South Sunday in Indianapolis.

After dropping the Titans 34-17 in Nashville just 18 days ago the Colts can grab a commanding lead in the division because their one game lead would really be like two because of the two head to head victories. 

The Colts have flat out dominated this series winning 20 of their last 24 meetings. Indianapolis comes into the game 7-3 and boasting some lofty stats with the top ranked offense and second ranked defense in the NFL. Defensively the Colts are giving up only 298 yards per game, second only to the Los Angeles Rams at 291.

The Titans put 17 first half points on the board in their first meeting in Nashville, but were shutout in the second half by the Colts physical front.  That front is down some key pieces with star defensive lineman DeForest Bucker out with Covid-19, so is Denico Autry.  Linebacker Bobby Okereke will miss the game with an ankle injury.

Wednesday when the news about Buckner broke it raised a few eyebrows, his 6-7, 295 pound frame is impossible to miss and often impossible to block. “I would imagine they’re going to call the game the same way that they have,” said Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, “He’s a talented player but they’ve got active guys that are waiting to step in there and play. A lot of moving parts on that defensive line, they’ve got guys that can play outside and inside, got length. It’ll still be a challenge.”

The Titans offensive line is also dealing with injuries. Tennessee has lost two left tackles for the season with Taylor Lewan and Ty Sambrailo both going down with knee injuries. David Quessenberry is expected to fill the void for the Titans.

The good news for Tennessee is center Ben Jones and guard Rodger Saffold are both recovering from injury and expected to play. Despite the injuries the Titans rank 5th in the NFL rushing the football at over 151 yards per game led by the NFL’s leading rusher in Derrick Henry.

NFL Leading Rushers
1. Derrick Henry 1,079 Yards 2. Dalvin Cook 1,069 Yards 3. James Robinson 762 Yards
In the last year, the Colts have only surrendered 100 yards rushing to an opponent two times and both times that player has been the Titans Derrick Henry.  With the Colts issues up front the Titans will likely look to exploit those matchups, especially on the right side behind guard Nate Davis and tackle Dennis Kelly. 

Defensively the Titans have to find a way to put more heat on Indianapolis quarterback Phillip Rivers who leads the second ranked passing attack in the NFL.  The Colts are averaging over 290 yards passing game and they are doing it without a lot of household names at wide receiver, but rookie Michael Pittman Jr. could become one very soon.

Colts Leading Receivers

Zach Pascal – 31 Rec. 384 Yards TY Hilton. – 29 Rec. 327 Yards Michael Pittman – 24 Rec. 302 Yards
Rivers also likes to utilize his running backs in the passing game putting a lot of pressure on the Titans linebackers and that could be stressed more than ever with the Titans losing Jayon Brown for the season.  Will Compton, Daren Bates and David Long Jr. are expected to try and fill that void for Tennessee.  That will have to do better than Brown did in round one against Indianapolis when running back Nyhiem Hines caught 5 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.

The Titans corners are also expected to put more pressure on the Colts receivers at the line of scrimmage.  In the game in Nashville they gave plenty of cushion at the line and Rivers picked them apart with short throws rarely allowing the Titans pass rush any chance of getting to him. 
Special teams were a disaster for the Titans in their loss in Nashville, but there is reason for optimism after a solid effort last week in Baltimore and with the return of punter Brett Kern who missed three weeks with a wrist injury.

In that game the Titans gave up 17 points on special teams after a blocked punt, a shanked punt and a missed field goal. Both teams have injuries and illness, both teams have a lot on the line and both teams have to show they learned something in that first matchup.

Most of all the Titans have to be physical and they have to do it for four quarters.  The Colts have dominated their last two opponents in the second half outscoring the Titans and Green Bay Packers 41-3.  If the Titans can not match their physicality the Colts could pull away again in the final 30 minutes and take a huge step towards hosting another playoff game. 

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