INDIANAPOLIS – One of the most important games the Colts will have all season long is here.
That’s the case on Thursday Night Football, when the Colts take on the Tennessee Titans in an 8:20 PM kickoff.
Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts (5-3) play their lone Thursday night game of the year:
1. No Let Up Against Henry
Honestly, the most consistent aspect of Frank Reich’s tenure here has been the Colts run defense.
That group has taken it to another level in 2020.
They will face their toughest individual challenge of the season on Sunday, in Derrick Henry. Since Matt Eberflus took over the Colts in 2018, Henry has averaged 5.6 yards per carry against Indianapolis (other NFL running backs have averaged 3.73 YPC). There can be no let up against Henry, knowing he’s capable of busting a big one in the second half.
2. Find Offensive Rhythm
With middling talent at quarterback and wide receiver, along with an underachieving run game, there are some questions about where the Colts offense is at right now.
How will the Colts find a jolt?
Perhaps with some up-tempo pace, especially after the Titans has 5 defenders play all 77 defensive snaps against the Bears just a few days ago.
3. Control The Play-Action
The Titans passing game continues to be an efficient aspect of the Tennessee offense.
Ryan Tannehill has been a tremendous red zone QB since taking over for Marcus Mariota last season. The Titans have ranked very high in red zone efficiency in that span.
If the Colts can limit Henry first, that should help control the play-action passing game.
4. Running Back Play Time
Fantasy owners are fed up with the Colts in how they have handled their running back play time.
Against the Ravens, Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines combined for just 2 touches in the final three quarters.
You have to think the Colts will give Taylor another chance (especially after he had a solid opening quarter against Baltimore) and Hines must be a factor in that hybrid RB/WR threat.
5. Handling A.J. Brown
In last week’s win over the Bears, Titans wideouts not named A.J. Brown caught one pass.
Brown is a one of the emerging star wideouts in the league, playing big and physical, even larger than his 6-0, 226-pound frame.
He’s averaging an eye-popping 18.2 yards per catch in two NFL seasons, so the Colts must be prepared to limit him.
6. Wide Receivers Stepping Up
Michael Pittman? DeMichael Harris?
Honestly, those might be the two best bets for the Colts having a wideout emerge in the coming weeks. Of course, you also have T.Y. Hilton (groin) as a possibility to give it a go on Thursday night.
Somebody, anybody, needs to breakout from this wideout group if the Colts are going to make noise the rest of the season.
7. Relish The Division Challenge
Thursday will be the first AFC South game for the Colts since Week 1, when they lost to the Jaguars.
For so many playoff reasons, the Colts need to find divisional and/or conference wins. Getting one over the AFC South leader would be monumental.
AFC South struggles of recent have been a huge reason why the Colts have missed out on postseason play. It’s time to change that.
Bowen’s Prediction: Titans 24-20. Funky things happen on Thursday Night Football. And that’s good news for the Colts, in preparing for another physical challenge just 5 days after playing the Ravens. The Colts are built very well to handle Derrick Henry and force the Titans to play left-handed. Although, that didn’t lead to second-half success against the Ravens last week. I still see Henry doing enough damage for the Titans to move the ball and play off his attention. Right now, I can’t say with any confidence the Colts offense will produce more than 20 points. I’ll go with the Titans in another close one.