It’s Thanksgiving week, and Titans fans are still feeling pretty thankful for Derrick Henry.
The NFL’s lead rusher carried the ball 28 times for 133 yards, including a 29-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime to carry the Titans to a crucial 30-24 win at the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. At 7-3, the Titans now look to the biggest game of the season. It’s a rematch with the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium, just two weeks removed from a second half collapse that led to a 34-17 loss to the Colts in Nashville on Thursday Night Football.
It almost feels as though the Titans got a mulligan with the first matchup. That loss surrendered control of the AFC South to the Colts, but here we are two weeks later, and the stakes are the exact same. The Colts also stole away a dramatic overtime win against Green Bay on Sunday, so both teams are 7-3 with a chance to take the division lead.
How do the Titans avoid getting swept by Indianapolis for the first time since 2018? Steering clear of the same mistakes that led to the Week 10 loss in Nashville would be a good start.
3 things to watch:
Special Teams: No, I am not copy and pasting last week’s primer. The fact is most of the reasons the Titans fell to the Colts at home point to special teams. A shanked punt that put the Colts in excellent field position led to a touchdown, a blocked punt led to a touchdown, and a missed field goal all led to a 17-point loss. This area was actually much improved in Baltimore. Trevor Daniel booted two punts for a total of 93 yards in place of Brett Kern, and Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three-for-three with a long of 40. This feels like a huge step forward for Gostkowski, whose issues all season have come from kicking within 50 yards. Last season, special teams helped the Titans to a 31-17 win in Indianapolis, with a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. The two-toned blue needs another good week from this unit.
Overcoming injuries: The injury list is piling up for Tennessee. The Titans were able to win in Baltimore without guard Rodger Saffold, defensive end Jadaveon Clowney, wide receiver Adam Humphries, safety Kenny Vaccaro, and punter Brett Kern. This doesn’t include Taylor Lewan, who is lost for the season with an ACL tear. To make matters worse, Lewan’s backup – Ty Sambrailo – was banged up on Sunday, cornerback Adoree Jackson has yet to make an appearance this season and cornerback Kristian Fulton hasn’t seen action in multiple weeks. Oh, and middle linebacker Jayon Brown is out for the year with a dislocated elbow. The picture will grow clearer as the week goes on, but the Titans hope to return players like Vaccaro, Saffold, Humphries, and Kern back to the lineup soon. This defense and offensive line have been hit hard. Vrabel and his staff have shown a propensity to overcome tough situations, and they’ll have to find a way to put Philip Rivers on his back and keep Ryan Tannehill upright on Sunday despite missing several players that would be instrumental in that effort.
Titans offensive front: We’ll know more as the week goes on, but let’s assume the Titans are without left guard Rodger Saffold and left tackle Ty Sambrailo this week. What then? Undrafted rookie Aaron Brewer came in and played surprisingly well on Sunday, he will almost certainly be in the shuffle this week. Will we finally see rookie first-round pick Isaiah Wilson at tackle, simply out of necessity? There are a lot of question marks for a unit that was a big strength of this team early in the season before the injury bug hit. This group found some success running the football against the Colts two weeks ago, as Derrick Henry was the first running back to hit the 100-yard mark against that defense this season. The issue, however, was Ryan Tannehill’s time in the pocket. The offensive line must overcome these issues to keep this Titans offense in a rhythm against one of the NFL’s top defenses. The Colts will likely be without star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner after placing him on the COVID/reserve list on Wednesday, so this is a big opportunity for this offensive front.
The Titans win if…
The Colts are No. 3 in the NFL this season in forced interceptions with 12. If the Titans can avoid turnovers and give Tannehill enough time to find AJ Brown and Corey Davis on a consistent-enough basis, they will have a chance to win. As bad as the special teams unit was in the first matchup with the Colts, the offense was shut out in the second half and struggled to move the ball. This team is also at its best when it remains balanced. We know how effective Derrick Henry is in the second half of games, so it is crucial to keep him involved late. That means avoiding falling behind and being forced to throw the ball on nearly every down.
Players like Aaron Brewer, Breon Borders, Will Compton, and others will have to step up to fill the void of players out due to injuries. Defensively, the Titans were only able to muster one sack on Philip Rivers two weeks ago. Rivers gets the ball out quick and often has a low trajectory on his throws, so quarterback pressure and batted balls at the line of scrimmage could be this defense’s best chance.
The top spot in the AFC South is on the line. The Titans have not won this division since 2008. A win on Sunday would be a massive step towards doing so.
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts (-3)
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana (Lucas Oil Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, Evan Washburn
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Referee: John Hussey
Gameday hangout/giveaways: Jonathan’s Grille in Germantown; Titans gloves