The Titans ended their two-game losing streak against the Bears with an impressive defensive performance. It has been no secret that Tennessee’s defense has been lackluster all year, and at times a liability. The Titans newest arrival, Desmond King, made an immediate impact, recovering a fumble for a 58-yard touchdown. The Titans were in desperate need of a cornerback before the trade deadline and stuck a deal with the Chargers to acquire King for a sixth-round pick.
The Indianapolis Colts are fresh off a loss to the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday. The Colts looked in control in the first half, limiting the former MVP and the Ravens’ potent running attack to zero offensive points. However, their offense was not able to muster up any significant plays or points in the second half. The Colts have one of the league’s top rushing defenses, and will be ready for Derrick Henry on Thursday. They will also welcome back T.Y. Hilton, whom they desperately need for an offense that is lacking playmakers.
Can Tennessee’s Defense Continue Their Momentum?
The Titans defense finally stepped up and had an impressive performance this past Sunday for the first time since their Week 5 win against the Buffalo Bills.
Although they faced a much-maligned Nick Foles-led offense, the arrival of Desmond King and hopeful return of Adoree’ Jackson can help give this defense new life. The Titans had to make a change after two abysmal back-to-back defensive performances against the Steelers and Bengals, respectively. The Steelers and Bengals combined to convert on third down about 70% of the time against the Titans. That is simply inexcusable.
Tennessee could not afford to continue to wait for Adoree’ Jackson’s return and pulled the trigger on an important trade.
Desmond King is a talented slot cornerback. The former Chargers defensive back was a first-team All-Pro cornerback in 2018 and was listed as a second-team punt returner. King has the highest PFF grade of all defensive backs since 2017 at 91.1. A cornerback who excels in zone coverage will fit like a glove for a Titans defense that primarily plays zone coverage.
Against the Bears, the Titans held their opponent to 2-of-15 on third-down conversions. This is a significant improvement from their previous two weeks. They sacked Nick Foles three times, which is also an improvement for a non-existent pass rush.
The Colts offense has a lack of playmakers and will hope T.Y. Hilton’s return will give them a boost. Indianapolis converts on third down 38% of the time, which ranks 28th in the NFL. They had struggled against the Ravens as well, only converting 2-of-12. However, they protect their quarterback Phillip Rivers well. The Colts have allowed the fewest sacks this season.
The Titans must continue their momentum and get off the field on third down. They will have to bring the blitz if they want to take down Rivers, especially considering their inability to get to the quarterback when rushing only four. However, it may be wiser to play basic zone coverage and take T.Y. Hilton out of the game.
Derrick Henry’s Struggles Against Top Defenses
The Titans receivers and tight ends will have to make crucial plays in order for the offense to sustain drives against the Colts.
The Colts have one of the league’s best rushing defenses, only allowing 83.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the NFL. Against the league’s best rushing attack, the Colts only allowed 110 rushing yards, which is well below the Ravens game average. The last time the Titans faced a top rushing defense, Derrick Henry was held to 3.8 yards per rush against the Steelers. Henry even struggled last week against the Bears. Although the former Heisman winner is second in the NFL in rushing yards, his numbers are a bit inflated when you consider his big performances against some of the league’s worst rushing defenses.
In the three games in which Henry has averaged over 4 yards per rush, they have come against the 20th, 29th, and 32nd-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. Against the league’s worst rushing defense, the Houston Texans, Henry ran for over 200 yards.
While these statistics are simplistic, it suggests that we should expect Henry to struggle and will force Tannehill’s arm to beat the Colts defense.
Titans Pass Catchers vs. Colts Secondary
The Titans offense — and particularly, their passing offense — have cooled down over the past three weeks. Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 220, 233, and 158 yards respectively in the last three weeks. The Titans have not scored over 24 points in this span as well.
The Colts also have an impressive secondary, as well. They allow only 206 passing yards per game, which ranks third-best in the league. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging a passer rating of only 78.5 against the Colts, which ranks best in the NFL among defenses.
The Titans will have to generate big plays to get into the red zone in which they thrive.
A.J. Brown is an important weapon for this offense. The second-year receiver is averaging almost 20 yards per reception in his last three games. If Tannehill can connect with Brown for chunk plays and get into the red zone, they will set themselves up for success. The Titans are second in the NFL in red zone touchdown-scoring percentage. They score touchdowns 80% of the time they are in the red area. Although the Colts have an impressive defense, they are mediocre when it comes to defending the red zone. They allow opponents to score a touchdown in the red zone 66% of the time. Expect Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to dial up some big plays for A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith.
Divisional games are usually closely contested around the NFL.
In the Titans’ last two divisional games this season, they won by one possession. I would expect no different this Thursday night.
I believe the Titans will edge out the Colts and take a lead on the division. The Titans have more playmakers than the Colts on offense, and unless they lose the turnover margin — which they rarely do — I expect Tennessee to win.
Pick: Titans 23, Colts 16
(Featured Image Credit: TennesseeTitans.com)