Five storylines surrounding the Titans’ AFC South showdown with Indy

It’s time to start putting last week’s thrilling overtime victory in the rearview mirror in order to start focusing on Colts week.

Indianapolis is coming off two consecutive losses to start their season meanwhile the Titans finally looked like the team we knew they could be. There’s a lot to talk about anytime the Titans and Colts meetup, but these are the five biggest storylines leading up to this AFC South showdown.

Offensive line injuries 

Prior to last Sunday’s victory, Titans’ left tackle Taylor Lewan aggravated his knee during warm-ups and was a last-minute addition to the team’s inactive list.

Guard Rodger Saffold on the other hand left the game with a shoulder injury. Saffold tried to tough it out, but untimely went back to the bench after just 34 snaps.

This was extremely disappointing for Tennessee’s former perennial Pro Bowler who was coming off one of his worst performances in recent memory. Lewan finished Week 1 with a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 39.7 after he accounted for two sacks and five total pressures allowed.

Lewan had the chance to silence his critics last week but unfortunately only amplified them. Hopefully, this is the week that Lewan can return and can start trending towards the comeback season he intended for himself.

Vrabel gave a bleak update on both Lewan and Saffold at Monday’s press conference:

“No (update), obviously Rodger didn’t finish and Taylor wasn’t available. So I think we’ll know more as we work our way through the week and we’ll see if we get both of those guys back.”

If Lewan and/or Saffold are unable to go against the Colts, look for tackle Ty Sambrailo and guard Aaron Brewer to step in as starters for their respective positions. Both have been reliably steady when forced to play extended action over the last year.

Can the defense continue the momentum from the second half of last Sunday?

Something that has gone relatively unnoticed is how much improvement this Titans defense has made compared to last year. Yes, they have allowed over 30 points in both appearances thus far, but in the first game, they were put in a ton of bad positions by the offense. Tennessee was forced to defend the goal-line following a fumble that put the ball on the one-yard line and to their credit, nearly forced a field goal attempt before ultimately succumbing on third and goal.

However, it was this previous Sunday in Seattle where you really started to see it come together for Shane Bowen’s unit. In the second half, in particular, the Titans held the Seahawks to six points over the last half of football meanwhile their offense scored a total of 24 points.

Outside of a horrible mental error that led to an easy touchdown for the Seahawks, Tennessee’s defense was flying around, making plays, and looking fundamentally sound.

Denico Autry, Jeffery Simmons, and Ola Adeniyi combined to sack Russell Wilson three times. One of which should have been a game ending safety in overtime but Tennessee got one of their many suspect calls on the day that ultimately saved Seattle once again.

If Tennessee’s defense is able to carry over their production from the second half while also fixing these occasional miscommunication issues, this Titans team is going to be a scary outing for any opponent as the season progresses.

Bounce back performance from AJ Brown?

One of the more unfortunate sights from Tennessee’s 33-30 victory over the Seahawks was the performance of A.J. Brown. On a day when the rest of the offensive skill players seemed to be clicking, Brown had arguably the worst outing of his pro career.

The day started rough for Brown as he dropped a beautiful deep ball from Tannehill that would have been on the plus side of 50 yards and possibly a touchdown knowing Brown’s YAC ability. 

Brown’s day proceeded to get worse in terms of catching the ball as he dropped another three on the day.

Fortunately for the Titans, what Brown lacked in the receiving game on Sunday, he made up for with his impeccable effort to block for Derrick Henry. Brown helped throw a key block on safety Jamal Adams that helped lead to Henry’s massive touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

As awesome as Brown’s blocking was, look for him to get back to being the true superstar that he is on Sunday by making plays with the ball in his hand. Anytime Brown has had a game riddled by the occasional drop, he tends to bounce back in a big way to remind everyone how good he really is.

In fact, last season against the Colts, Brown had a couple of bad drops in their first matchup they lost to Indy. He then responded with a monster outing against Baltimore, and two weeks later when he got to see Indianapolis again, Brown made sure to take his first catch to the house.

Brown finished that game with 98 receiving yards on four catches and two total touchdowns. Look for the Ole Miss product to remind everyone just who Arthur Juan Brown really is on Sunday. 

Denico Autry revenge game 

Ever since Denico Autry signed with the Titans back in March, he has had his eyes towards one opponent in particular. Autry signed a three-year deal worth $21.5M, He gets $9M guaranteed and $14.25M over 2 years. Those contract numbers seem like a bargain for someone who produced 20 sacks over the last three years —7.5 of which came in 2020 alone.

Autry agreed with that belief and didn’t shy away from expressing his disappointment that the Colts didn’t want to match Tennessee’s offer. Instead, Indianapolis chose to let Autry walk to a division rival despite being an integral part of their defense.

Autry called Tennessee’s upcoming two games against Indy “personal”, because: “the Colts knew what they had in me”.

The former Colt is coming off an impressive performance against Seattle. That may have been the perfect tune-up for the first of two “personal” games that Autry undoubtedly has had circled since schedule release day.

Autry finished last week’s victory with three tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hits in 37 defensive snaps (69 percent).

Can this Titans team be the ones to end the home drought to the Colts?

If this 2021 Titans team wants to prove to this fanbase that they really are different, start by beating the Indianapolis Colts at home.

Over the last 12+ years, the Titans have only won two out of their last 12 home games against the Colts with their last victory inside Nissan Stadium dating all the way back to 2017.

To add more context to this lopsided rivalry, from December 2008-September 2017, Indianapolis won 16-out-of-17 straight matchups. The Titans’ lone victory in that period occurred over the Curtis Painter-led Colts back in 2011. A victory that was eventually meaningless as they lost their second game to Indianapolis that season — a loss that gave Indy their first win of the year. 

That gut-wrenching loss to the Dan Orlovsky-led 0-13 Colts ultimately helped play a large role in keeping the Titans out of the playoffs that year.

The 2021 Titans won’t be able to make up for those failures of previous generations, but they have the opportunity to start a new era on Sunday by beating Indy inside Nissan Stadium for the first time in 47 months.

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