This Sunday, the Tennessee Titans travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to play the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC South interdivisional matchup. Kickoff happens at 12:00 PM CST.
This game is the second time the Titans and Colts face one another in 2016. In their first meeting the Colts won 34-26 thanks to quarterback Andrew Luck, who completed 69 percent of his passes for 353 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers.
Tennessee is surely looking for redemption, especially since this matchup has large implications for the divisional standings. The Titans (5-5) are one game behind the Houston Texans (6-3) and one game ahead of the Colts (4-5).
Let’s consider some pivotal matchups for the encounter.
The Titans vs. the Colts’ mental edge
After Tennessee lost to Indianapolis in Week 7, ESPN reporter Paul Kuharsky commented, “The Tennessee Titans have better personnel on the offensive line, on the defensive line, at running back … yet they lost their 10th consecutive game to the Colts and their 15th in 16.”
He then posited, why then did the Titans lose? “A lot of it is confidence, execution, belief … [the Titans] don’t match up in mental fortitude.”
Kuharsky makes a fair point. The Colts have a mental edge that comes from years of beating the Titans. So even though the Titans have better personnel — the team ranks better in total offense and total defense — they must overcome the past if they wish to beat the Colts for the first time since Week 8 of 2011.
Mariota vs. his hot streak
In recent weeks Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota has garnered a fair amount of national attention, which certainly is not a common phenomenon regarding the Tennessee Titans.
In his last six games, the second-year quarterback has completed 68 percent of his passes and averaged a passer ratting of 122.1, all while throwing 17 touchdowns on just three interceptions.
This recent hot streak from Mariota, in large part, has guided the Titans offense to the top of the league. The team currently averages 386.1 yards per game, 6th overall in the NFL, and through the past three week the Titans have scored 36, 35, and 47 points.
On another note, the hot steak has bolstered belief in and support of Mariota. Last week when Packers’ nose tackle Letroy Guion hit the defenseless quarterback, tackle Taylor Lewan got ejected for his heated reaction. Then after the game tight end Delanie Walker commented, “when the time comes, [Mariota] can lead us to the promised land.”
A betting man would predict that Mariota’s hot streak continues versus the Colts on Sunday. Indianapolis allows 287.9 passing yards per game (31st), 1.8 passing touchdowns per game (25th-tied), and has just three interceptions on the season (32nd-tied).
Titans secondary vs. Hilton
This is a battle of lopsided units.
T.Y. Hilton is not only the Colts’ best receiver but also one of the league’s best receivers. This season he has 791 receiving yards (6th) and 17 receptions of 20 or more yards (2nd).
Meanwhile the Titans’ secondary is the soft point of their defense. Opposing quarterbacks heavily target cornerback Perrish Cox and Brice McCain on third and longs. Plus the unit allows 267.7 passing yards per game (24th) and 1.6 passing touchdowns per game (18th).
On a positive note for Tennessee, Hilton has struggled the past two weeks versus the Kansas City Chiefs and the Packers. Through that time period he caught 7-of-14 targets for 102 yards and no touchdowns.
Colts pass rush vs. Titans’ offensive line
Questioned through the first half of the season, there is little doubt now that the Titans offensive line is one of the strongest units in the league. The current front five — Taylor Lewan, Brian Schwenke, Ben Jones, Josh Kline, Jack Conklin — have allowed just two sacks and five quarterback hits through the past three games.
In the same time period the Titans also have rushed for 456 yards on 92 carries; an average of 152 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry.
The Colts on the other hand have a struggling front seven. Pro Football Focus grades their four line players — linebacker Robert Mathis, right end David Perry, left end Arthur Jones, linebacker Erik Walden — at below 50-of-100.
The trenches therefore favor the Titans. Perhaps it is here, at the line, where Tennessee can begin to overcome Indianapolis’ mental edge and snap their storied losing streak.