Five intriguing storylines surrounding the Titans’ AFC South showdown with the Colts

The 5-2 Tennessee Titans are coming off two Statement wins against the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs. This week, they have the opportunity to take a nearly insurmountable lead on the AFC South with a victory over the 3-4 Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts are going to be a desperate team who will do everything possible to stay alive in the division race. The Titans must take this opportunity to put their foot on the Colts’  throats and send them into the realization that they’re hunting for a Wild Card spot. 

There’s a ton of intriguing storylines in this one but let’s take a look at the five that stand out the most. 

Can Ryan Tannehill keep his hot streak going?

If you go by numbers only, Ryan Tannehill has had a relatively pedestrian season by his standards. He’s only thrown seven touchdowns in as many games and already has five interceptions, eight turnovers in total. Outside of the Seattle game, Tannehill hasn’t been able to eclipse the 300-yard mark this season.

A lot of this statistical regression can be attributed to the fact that Tannehill is the most sacked quarterback in the league. The Texas native has been sacked a total of 21 times, most of those occurring from Weeks 1-5.

When Tannehill has been adequately protected, he has been phenomenal. Fortunately for him and the Titans, Tennessee has started to turn the corner in pass protection. The Texas A&M product has only been sacked one time over his last two games and his efficiency has bounced back to the Tannehill we’ve all grown to love. 

The Titans’ quarterback has been on fire over his last six quarters of football. He completed his final 10 passes against the Bills and then continued that by completing his first 11 passes against the Chiefs.

Tannehill finished the game by completing 20/27 passes for 270 yards and one touchdown. His completion percentage of 77.8 and his quarterback rating (QBR) of 87.8 were both season highs for the veteran 10th-year quarterback.

This week Tennessee travels to Indianapolis to face a much more stout defense than they saw last week. If Tannehill continues to play well behind this revamped protection, the Titans are going to be a difficult team to stop going forward. 

Be on the lookout to see if Tannehill can continue his efficient play on Sunday to help his team put a stranglehold on the AFC South.

Derrick Henry bounce-back game on the ground?

You know you’re a different breed of a superstar when you get 86 rushing yards and everyone is wondering how the Chiefs “stopped” you. To be fair, it was Henry’s lowest yards per carry output of the season.

The superstar running back only averaged three yards per carry, but his presence is what continues to make the difference for this entire offense. Whether he’s doing Derrick Henry things himself, or creating throwing lanes behind linebackers, defenses must account for where No. 22 is at all times.

Now King Henry and the Titans take on an opponent they have more success against than anyone else does. Since the arrival of Colts’ defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus in 2018, Indianapolis has the NFL’s fifth-best run defense.

The Colts’ defense under Eberflus has only allowed four 100-yard rushers during his tenure. Who were those four running backs? Derrick Henry, Derrick Henry, Derrick Henry, and Derrick Henry. Most recently was on September 26th when the former Heisman winner accounted for 113 rushing yards in his team’s 25-16 victory.

If there is anyone who knows how to eat against an Eberflus-led defense, it’s undoubtedly the Titans’ superstar running back.

After having his lowest yardage output since the season opener, Can Henry get back over the century mark against a stout familiar opponent? We shall see in just a few days.

Will Tennessee’s defensive line continue to get pressure with only four?

Arguably the biggest plot twist of the season has been the dominant emergence of Tennessee’s front line on the defensive side of the ball. You have Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons who are trending towards stardom. Denico Autry who’s outplayed his contract. Bud Dupree who is starting to earn his. And then you have the likes of Teair Tart, and Ola Adeniyi who often provide an impact of their own when they’re out there.

These last three weeks in particular have been incredibly impressive. Tennessee has been able to generate constant pressure when bringing just four guys. Since Week 5, the Titans have produced nine sacks when using a standard four-man pass rush. That is the second-most in the NFL over that span.

Tennessee has also held the last three opposing quarterbacks to an average QBR of 30 while only allowing 6.1 yards per every drop-back. Impressive numbers by any means, but it really hits home how impressive they’ve been when you realize those last two quarterbacks are Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes.

The sky legitimately becomes the limit for this team if this becomes a consistent trend going forward where the Titans are able to frequently rush four and drop seven. That would allow the defense to continue masking some of their deficiencies on the backend by being able to have extra bodies back there.

Keep your eyes peeled to see how frequently Tennessee rushes four against the Colts and if it remains as efficient as it has been over the last two weeks.

Julio Jones’ potential statement game

One of the more underrated storylines of the day was finally having Julio Jones finish a game. It wasn’t a dominant outing or anything, but it was nice to see Jones in there throughout the game without having any glaring setbacks.

The Titans’ receiver only finished with 38 yards on two catches, but he did have a 21-yard reception called back for an illegal pick set by Anthony Firkser. He also could have possibly had a touchdown on the teams’ first field goal drive of the half. Unfortunately, it was one of the few ill-advised throws from Tannehill on the day as Jones really didn’t have much of a chance for it. 

This upcoming week feels somewhat similar to the lead-up to his monster Week 2 performance. After dealing with hamstring issues for most of camp, Jones came out and only had 29 yards in his first game.

However, after knocking the rust off the previous week, Jones looked every bit like the future Hall of Famer the following week. Jones produced over 100-yards before halftime and was robbed of a beautiful touchdown grab. His performance in that half alone put fear into Seattle’s defense the rest of the game which helped alleviate the box for Henry to run through in the second half.

The following week, Jones was nearly halfway to 100-yards at halftime(47). He produced several big plays for his team, including a crucial fourth-down conversion. And then at some point in the third quarter, Jones re-aggravated his hamstring injury and we have only seen the future Hall of Famer in spurts since then.

Whenever he is on the field, Jones has been awesome. He is averaging over 17 yards per catch and still looks physically superior to everyone else. Tennessee has to find a way to maximize their value with Jones on the field without putting him at unnecessary risk.

Now that Jones has had a game to shake off the cobwebs, if there are no setbacks, this could be the perfect opportunity for Jones to get back on track. The Colts’ secondary is banged up in its own right and Jones still has unfinished business from the game he never got to complete back in Week 3.

The Titans are still seeking that first dominant outing where all three of their offensive superstars are rolling at once. This Sunday with a chance to all but clinch the division seems like the perfect opportunity to do so. 

Will it happen? We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out. 

Can Tennessee’s secondary continue to thrive despite the injuries?

Tennessee’s secondary has been going through it this season when it comes to injuries. Starting safety Amani Hooker got hurt Week 1 and was out for several weeks. Then their talented young cornerback, Kristian Fulton, hurt his hamstring and was put on injured reserve for at least three weeks. Then Caleb Farley, their first-round draft pick who already has a concerning injury history, tore his ACL in his first career start.

Fortunately for the Titans, several players have stepped up and have helped minimize the impact felt by these losses. Whether it’s Elijah Molden, Dane Cruikshank, even newly-acquired Greg Mabin, whoever is out there is usually prepared and ready to go. They’re going to have to do so once again on Sunday as they get ready to play a desperate Colts’ offense that is rolling right now.

Fulton and obviously Farley is going to be out of this one but there is a chance that Hooker gets back on the field after having a setback last week.

Be on the lookout for how this thin secondary group does in this crucial AFC South matchup. 

Author: Shaun CalderonShaun Calderon resides in El Paso, TX after graduating from the University of Texas at El Paso in December 2019 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology and a minor in education. Shaun is currently a full-time teacher and is also pursuing a career in the sports journalism world. He has been writing since August of 2019, where he started with the Fansided network and contributed there for one year. In August of 2020, Shaun was offered the chance to move over to USA Today Sports’ NFL Wire network to contribute for ‘Titans Wire’ where he was consistently featured on national platforms such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo Sports, MSN, USA Today, and more. On top of teaching and writing, Shaun does live radio reporting for local high school sports through the ESPN-El Paso network. He hopes you all enjoy his content as much as he enjoys creating it.

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