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Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts Prediction: Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor Lead Their Squads Into Key AFC South Contest

Colts, Titans renew their divisional rivalry in the Circle City.

It's weird to think that both the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans are staring down an almost must-win game when they meet Sunday afternoon in Lucas Oil Stadium. But that's the scenario that both teams find themselves in after a seriously underwhelming first three weeks, having been outscored by their respective opponents 145 to 91 and totaling a 2-3-1 record.

Related: NFL Predictions for Every Game in Week 4

The Colts and Titans came into the season considered the co-favorites to win the AFC South, albeit with substantial question marks hanging over their heads; but what we've seen from both squads has been nothing short of lackluster. Even in their respective wins last week, each team left so much to be desired. Now, the rivals are looking up at the surprisingly competent Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional race with almost no room for error on Sunday.

Tennessee (1-2) vs. Indianapolis (1-1-1)

Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Colts -3
Tickets: As low as $62 on SITickets.com

Three Things to Watch

1. Offensive line woes
A team can only go so far as their offensive line will allow them — ask the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs. So, if the Colts or Titans aspire to make a deep playoff run, or even make the postseason at this rate, they each need to shore up their respective up-front operations.

The Colts have the highest-paid offensive line in the NFL. It was that promising front-line protection that helped lure Matt Ryan from Atlanta. Right now, that unit is playing like it was bought at a garage sale. Indy's front line has allowed the third-most sacks (12), as well as the sixth-highest sack percentage (9.3 percent) and pressures per dropback (28 percent). The advanced stats back that up, as they are 30th in the NFL with a 34 percent pass block win rate. This has been bad news for the flat-footed Ryan, who has been the fifth-most blitzed quarterback in the league (38), hit 22 times in the last two games alone, and fumbled a league-high seven times. The Chiefs had an absolute field day against him last week, registering five sacks on 17 blitzes. The early return on investment in the Colts' well-paid offensive line has been Bitcoin levels of bad thus far.

For the Titans, their offensive line was one of the biggest enigmas coming into the season. Since becoming the starter in Tennessee, Ryan Tannehill is the seventh-most sacked quarterback in the league, having gone down 106 times in only 48 games, about seven percent per dropback and 12 percent per completion. Not good, Bob.

Now the Titans are without Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan for the rest of the season (again) after he suffered a right knee injury in Week 2. While the overall sack numbers are down (so far) this year for Tannehill (4 sacks), the Titans' offensive line is still leaving a lot to be desired. They rank squarely in the middle of the league in time to throw (2.7 sec.), pressure percentage (23 percent), and total blitzes (29), per Pro Football Reference. This week, they face a Colts front seven that not only put a hurting on Patrick Mahomes last week, pressuring the former MVP on 38 percent of his throws, but also likely gets All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard back in the lineup as well.

2. Best backs in the game
In this modern, pass-first-run-second era of the NFL, there's nothing I enjoy more than a stellar every-down running back. Just my luck, this game features the league's two best in Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor, the NFL's leading rushers each of the last three seasons. But much like their teams as a whole, it's been a less-than-stellar start for the league's premier ball carriers.

After averaging just 2.9 yards per carry in the first two games, last week against the Raiders, Henry looked the best he's been since returning from the foot surgery that cost him most of last year. He went for 85 yards (4.3 ypc) and a touchdown on the ground, caught five passes for 58 yards, and generally looked like the burst was back in his step, especially at the line of scrimmage.

Against the Colts, Henry will be lining up against one of the league's top rushing defenses. Indianapolis ranks first in rushing yards allowed per attempt (2.6), third in rushing yards allowed per game (77), and sixth in rushing first downs (16) allowed. With Leonard's return imminent, compounded with great interior line play from tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart, the Colts might have enough personnel to keep Henry in check.

In the other backfield, Taylor exploded in Week 1's tie to the Texans for 160 yards on 31 attempts. However, over the next two games, he'd take just 30 handoffs for an offense struggling to find a rhythm. This could be the week Taylor and the Colts find their stride as the Titans' defense has struggled out of the gate, especially when it comes to stopping the run. Tennessee is last in yards allowed per carry (5.8) and 30th in rushing first downs (24) and rushing yards per game (145). They opened the season by giving up 238 yards on the ground to the Giants and followed that up by surrendering 5.1 yards per carry last week against Las Vegas. I'd like to think Colts head coach Frank Reich is smart enough to keep Henry off the field by keeping his own premiere running back busy with at least 25 carries on Sunday.

3. Do the Titans have a No. 1 receiver?
As of now, the answer to that question is no. Coming into the season, Tannehill knew that he was throwing to a wide receiver room filled with unfamiliar faces, most notably Robert Woods and rookies Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips. So far, none of those new names have separated themselves as Tannehill's new go-to guy after the draft-night trade of A.J. Brown to Philadelphia. No player on the Titans' roster has more than nine catches through the first three games of the season, no wide receivers have been on the other end of any of Tannehill's three touchdowns, and only four completed passes have gone for more than 20 yards.

What's even more surprising is the fact that Tannehill isn't finding his wide receivers in the red zone, or even looking for them, really. Of his eight red-zone pass attempts this season, only two were targeted at Burks and Woods. This week, the Titans' receivers face one of the more physical secondaries in the NFL and one of the better defensive units as a whole in Indianapolis. If defensive backs Stephon Gilmore (hamstring) and Julian Blackmon (ankle) are ready to go after sustaining injuries last week, Tannehill could be checking down more to his backs and tight ends with the Colts taking away downfield options, especially if Indy decides to increase its blitz rate (20 percent, 25th in the NFL) against a weary, depleted Tennessee O-line.

Final Analysis

Tennessee has won four of the last five meetings against Indianapolis, including sweeping the series last season. But, I think the Colts' issues in the early parts of this season are more fixable than the general lack of offensive talent on the Titans' roster — Henry aside, of course. With the return of linebacker Leonard and the home crowd behind them, give me the Colts by less than a touchdown. But it won't be pretty.

Prediction: Colts 25, Titans 20

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

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