The Tennessee Titans host the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium on Sunday for a Week 7 NFL matchup. Kickoff is at 12:00 PM CST.
The game has large implications for AFC South standings.
The Titans (3-3) currently rank second in the Division, one game behind the Houston Texans (4-2). The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3) rank third, and the Colts (2-4) rank last.
In other words — If the Titans beat the Colts, and the Denver Broncos beat the Texans on Monday Night Football, Tennessee will lead the Division (tied) for the first time since Week 1 of the 2015 regular season.
Let’s consider four pivotal matchups in Tennessee versus Indianapolis.
Dick LeBeau versus the Colts’ offensive line
Titans’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is not shy to discuss his defensive intentions. He plans to pressure the opposing team’s quarterback.
“Our main goal is to keep consistent pressure on the quarterback,” LeBeau told NFL media last week. “The big thing is you can’t let that quarterback get real comfortable, or at this level, [he is] going to hit you.”
There is little reason to believe that LeBeau will deviate from this game plan versus the Colts on Sunday, since the Indianapolis offensive line ranks last in the league for pass protection. Through Week 6, they have allowed 23 sacks (3.8 per game) and 42 quarterback hits (7.0 per game).
Meanwhile, the Titans’ front seven ranks highly for getting after the quarterback. They are fifth in the league for total sacks (18); they tallied six sacks on Browns’ quarterback Cody Kessler last week; and Brian Orakpo has at least one sack in five consecutive games.
Andrew Luck is certainly an excellent quarterback. However, consistent pressure is an ‘Achilles Heel’ to all passers, even those with the likes of Luck. This being said, Luck knows what is coming.
“Aggressive and attacking style of defense… It’s always a great challenge. Not just the sacks they are a top-10 defense.”
Colts’ mental edge versus the Titans
The Colts have a significant mental edge over the Titans on Sunday.
They’ve won the last nine matchups and 14 of 15 versus Tennessee. In fact, the Colts haven’t lost to the Titans since Week 8 of the 2011 season. And the most-recent loss after that one happened in Week 8 of the 2008 season.
On ‘The Midway 180’ Titans’ tight end Delanie Walker commented on the psychology of the matchup.
“Probably [the Colts] think they can come in here and beat us and get back on track. But this is a different team, different organization, different coaches. Out mindset is to have them come up here and we’ve got to put that whooping on them. That’s the only way we’re thinking is get the W.”
Marcus Mariota versus Colts’ defense
Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota started 2016 poorly.
Through the first four weeks of the season he averaged a QBR below 50, a 59 percent completion percentage, and 1.25 interceptions for each touchdown.
In Week 5 versus the Dolphins and last week versus the Browns, Mariota has taken a turn for the better. During the two game stretch, the second-year quarterback completed 37-of-53 passes (70 percent) for six touchdowns versus a single interception. He also recorded an average QBR above 90.
Against Indianapolis, Mariota has a good opportunity to continue his recent passing successes. The Colts have the 29th overall pass defense. They allow 294 passing yards per game, have made just two interceptions, and sacrifice an average completion of 69 percent to opposing quarterbacks.
On top of these numbers, the Colts’ front seven has struggled to pressure the quarterback. They have eight sacks on the season, which ties for third least in the league.
This statline is another benefit to Mariota, since he has made most of his turnovers while under pressure.
T.Y. Hilton versus Perrish Cox, Jason McCourty
The Titans had done well to contain opposing wide receivers until last week versus the Browns, as Terrelle Pryor caught 9-of-13 targets for 75 yards, three first downs, and two touchdowns.
Next up is Colts’ wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
Outside of Luck, Hilton is the strongest offensive player on the Colts’ roster. He grades as the NFL’s 12th overall receiver, has 10 receptions of 20 or more yards, and averages just under 100 yards per game.
The onus of pass protection therefore falls on cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Perrish Cox. McCourty is Tennessee’s best cover corner and has done well in his matchups this season. Cox, on the other hand, has struggled in certain games.
Therefore, the matchup between Cox and Hilton will be worth watching.
The Titans win and improve to a 4-2 record, thanks to the performance of their defense. Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey and company stifle the Colts’ offense by bringing constant pressure on Andrew Luck, while DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry allow the Titans’ offense to control the game clock.
Titans win, 20-17.
David Arteaga covers the Tennessee Titans for Sports and Entertainment Nashville.