The 5-2 Tennessee Titans travel to Indianapolis to take on their AFC South Rival. The 3-4 Colts are coming off two straight wins and look like a much better team than the one the Titans beat 25-16 earlier this season.
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 once again hunting for a Wild Card spot.
There are plenty of key players on both sides in this one, but let’s take a closer look at which Titans players we should be keeping a close eye on come Sunday.
QB Ryan Tannehill
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 his steadily improving protection, the Titans are going to be a difficult team to stop going forward.
RB Derrick Henry
You know you’re a different breed of a superstar when everyone is wondering what happened after “only” accounting for 86 rushing yards. 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 king things himself or creating throwing lanes for Tannehill because linebackers have to respect the play-fakes, defenses must account for where No. 22 is at all times.
Now, King Henry and the Titans take on a familiar opponent that he has more success against than anyone else does.
The Colts’ defense under Eberflus has only allowed five 100-yard rushers during his tenure. Four of those five were Derrick Henry. Most recently occurred on September 26th when the former Heisman winner tallied 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 desperate divisional opponent?
WR Julio Jones
Last week Julio Jones finished the game without any glaring setbacks to his nagging hamstring. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case since he has yet to practice this week.
This has undoubtedly been frustrating for everyone involved. 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. But for that to have a chance at happening, Jones likely needs to step on the practice field by Friday. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine that he goes out there on Sunday.
The Titans practice later today so be on the lookout to see what his official designation is following Friday’s practice.
LT Taylor Lewan
Before being knocked out with a concussion, the Titans’ star left tackle was in the midst of a drastic turnaround. Lewan was starting to consistently play well again, starting to show signs of being that dominant anchor on the blindside once again.
Unfortunately, that got cut short a few weeks back when Lewan was stretchered off the field in what was a scary scene. As expected, Lewan missed all of last week. Mike Vrabel tends to rest guys who suffer any type of serious head injury. As a former player, he genuinely understands that you only get one brain and no matter how bad you want to win, it’s never worth it.
Lewan was back at practice this week on a full-time basis so it seems like he is on track to get back on the field for Sunday’s AFC South showdown. If so, it will be interesting to see how Lewan bounces back after getting hit with yet another dose of adversity.
DT Denico Autry
Arguably the Titans’ most productive off-season acquisition has sneakily been Denico Autry. After having to play against him for many years, it’s nice to see the impact he’s now having in a Titans uniform.
Autry played three seasons with Tennessee’s division rival down in Indianapolis from 2018-2020. He may not be a household name, but since Autry’s arrival into the league, he has consistently made every defense better the second he arrives.
After signing with Indy in 2018, Autry produced 20 sacks during his next three seasons with the Colts. Yet, when it came time to re-sign the Mississippi State product this past off-season, Indianapolis didn’t make him a high priority. In fact, they chose to let him walk to a division rival knowing that they will have to see him two times a year.
After signing with the Titans, Autry didn’t shy away from saying how he really felt about the Colts letting him walk. Autry called the two games against Indy “personal”. Mostly because Indianapolis, “knew what they had in me”.
Despite the extra motivation, Autry was relatively quiet in his first game against his old team. However, he is seemingly hitting his stride at the moment. The former Colt is coming off his best game of the season. Last week against the Chiefs, the Mississippi State product produced: three tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits.
Now, Autry gets to play his first game in Indianapolis since moving on. Look for the big man to try and make a statement inside the same stadium that he once wreaked havoc in for three years.
EDGE Harold Landry
If there’s one thing that contract years tend to do, it brings out the absolute best in someone. There’s no denying that motivation is at an all-time high during a contract year. Especially for a premier position like a pass rusher where you could realistically make north of $20 million per year.
With that said, if you think that’s the only reason that Landry is motivated and has seemingly hit his peak, you haven’t been paying close enough attention. Landry has always been a high-effort pressure player but he is finally finishing the plays himself rather than just being an assister.
When rushing the quarterback, the Boston College product has one of the most natural bends from any active edge rusher. Landry consistently displays rare ankle and hip flexibility which allows him to explosively get around offensive tackles at an elite level.
It also probably helped that outside linebacker coach, Ryan Crow, forced Landry to work on the rest of his pass-rush arsenal all off-season.
But the biggest difference this year is the fact that he finally has adequate help all along the front line. Landry isn’t being asked to be a one-man wrecking crew these days. At the moment, Tennessee has arguably their most talented defensive front since their “chain gang” days of the mid-2000s.
These last two weeks in particular have been incredibly impressive. Tennessee has been able to generate constant pressure when bringing just four guys. Over the last three weeks, 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.
A large reason for this has been the evolution of Landry developing from a good player, to a borderline elite one.
Landry is currently fourth in the league in quarterback pressures with 31. He’s also second in the league in sacks with 7.5 through seven games — just 1.5 sacks short of his previous career-high of nine.
With a sack against the Colts on Sunday, the former Boston College star has the chance to break Jevon Kearse’s franchise record for most sacks through eight weeks (eight).
EDGE Bud Dupree
It’s no secret that Bud Dupree got off to a slow start in 2021. It really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise either considering he tore his ACL so late into last season. Dupree tore his ACL on December 2nd. Most ACL injuries take around 10-12 months to recover from. Yet, Tennessee’s prize-free agent pickup somehow made it back by the start of the season — just over nine months from when the injury happened.
Dupree may have been on the field, but it was pretty obvious he wasn’t exactly the same Bud Dupree. The former Steeler later admitted that he let his pride get in the way and rushed his way back before he was truly ready. He eventually got to rest his knee for a few more weeks and that has started to make all the difference.
Since his return on the field, Dupree has started to gain back some of the explosiveness and brute power that he consistently displayed pre-knee injury.
Last week, Dupree looked like his old self again. He displayed powerful punches with his hands to help create leverage, and more importantly, he was able to bend around the edge again at full speed.
Dupree recorded his first sack as a Titan while constantly helping his teammates make plays all day long. The Titans’ ceiling massively increases if Dupree can continue to get healthier and more explosive with each passing week.
This week, he gets the chance to help his team all but clinch their division with a win on Sunday. Look for Dupree to continue wreaking havoc against a steadily improving Colts’ offense.
S Amani Hooker
One of the more devastating blows for the Titans happened right out the gate. Safety Amani Hooker suffered a foot injury in the season opener and was placed on injured reserve shortly after.
Hooker eventually made his return against the Bills on Monday night football and he didn’t take much time to get settled back in. Following the game, the former Iowa Hawkeye received the highest PFF grade on the team with a 91.9 after recording nine tackles and one forced fumble.
Things didn’t go perfectly though, at some point, Hooker aggravated his groin which ultimately sidelined him for last week’s victory over the Chiefs.
Hooker is expected to return this week against the Colts so look for the Titans’ safety to try and pick up where he left off.