INDIANAPOLIS – For October, it doesn’t get much bigger than this Sunday in Nashville.
It is the Colts (3-2-1) traveling to take on the Titans (3-2) in Week Seven.
Here are the takeaways from the Colts first practice of the week in getting ready for the Titans:
- Shaquille Leonard returned to practice on Wednesday, participating in a red, non-contact jersey. He remains in the concussion protocol. Leonard has missed the last two games after suffering a concussion and broken nose in the earlier meeting with the Titans (on October 2nd). Frank Reich said the Colts don’t know how much practice time Leonard will need before he returns to game action. It is something they’ll monitor closely in judging if just a week of practice will be enough for Leonard to get back in the lineup. Remember, Leonard’s 2022 debut lasted just 3 series before he suffered the ugly injury. Leonard has played just 16 of 394 defensive snaps this season. Reich did note Leonard was able to get some lower body work in the past couple of weeks, despite not practicing due to his concussion/surgery for his broken nose.
- Frank Reich definitely thought Jonathan Taylor would play following last Friday’s practice (Taylor practiced limited last Thursday and Friday). Reich already had the up-tempo game plan in place if Taylor and/or Nyheim Hines would suit up, or not. Deon Jackson filled in beautifully for a role many assumed Hines would excel in. That entire trio—Taylor, Hines, Jackson—was practicing on Wednesday. It’ll be interesting to see if Jackson earns a consistent role as a 3rd running back, if/when all 3 guys are healthy. Hines still needs to final clearance from concussion protocol.
- There’s no question this past Sunday was the finest offensive performance of the season for the Colts. Outside of putting together repeatable performances moving forward, one definite area for improvement is in how the Colts start games. Despite getting the ball first to begin all 6 games this season, the Colts have yet to score any points on an opening drive. The Colts have been outscored 37-10 in the first quarter this season, and 48-29 in the second (85-39 total in first halves). It’s time for this team to prove they can get a lead, and play from ahead.
- I wouldn’t say the Titans have thoroughly dominated the Colts as of late, but it’s hard to defend 4 straight Colts losses against the Titans. Since winning his first 3 games against Mike Vrabel, Frank Reich has now lost 5 of his last 6. That’s tough to swallow for Jim Irsay, especially when Vrabel was interviewed before Reich during the 2018 coaching circus (the Colts ended up hiring Josh McDaniels, with Vrabel then getting the job in Tennessee). How to sum up why the Titans have had 4 straight wins over the Colts (a franchise record). A little tougher, a little cleaner and better in the critical moments of 3rd down/red zone.
- How much will the Colts use no-huddle move forward? That’s obviously a huge storyline with the success they had last week, compared to lack of success they had using ‘normal’ offense in the first five weeks. In years past, Reich has not relied on the no-huddle too frequently. But given the massive offensive discrepancy seen this year, wouldn’t it be wise to try and dip back into that pretty quickly?
- It’s looking like the Colts will keep the offensive line we saw play the majority of snaps together on Sunday for this week’s matchup with the Titans. That means a grouping of LT-Dennis Kelly, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Matt Pryor, RT-Braden Smith. Kelly is atop the depth chart at left tackle, and Pryor is the starting right guard. Kelly actually was with the Titans from 2016-20. Expect Pryor to see plenty of Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry in this matchup. The Colts had major issues with both guys, as Will Fries started at right guard, back in the Week 4 meeting.
- Like Gus Bradley on Tuesday, Frank Reich had ample backing of Brandon Facyson on Wednesday. If you are going off the depth chart, Facyson is still listed as a starting cornerback in the team’s nickel package (3-corner grouping). At some point though, doesn’t Isaiah Rodgers Sr. deserve a full-time look as that 3rd corner? Facyson has had issues in coverage, in the run game and with penalties. For a defense lacking some instincts in finding the ball right now, that is one of Rodgers’ strengths.
- When you look at the Titans, you are not going to find much flash. They are 31st in yards per game, 28th in yards allowed per game. They are 32nd in pass defense. They are very good in the red zone. Of course, this seems to be how Mike Vrabel teams operate. Not the sexiest bunch, but more often than not, they find ways to get it done. One additional item to note on the Titans, who are coming off a bye week, the Titans are 4-0 after byes under Vrabel. They’ve won those 4 games (against the Cowboys, Jaguars, Bills, Jaguars) by an average of 21 points per game.
- Some of the good and bad from the Colts losing 24-17 to the Titans in Week Four. The Colts tight ends caught all 11 targets for 180 yards. The Colts produced just 1.7 yards per carry, which came against the then 32nd ranked run defense. Derrick Henry ran 22 times for 114 yards, with the Colts top-ranked run D starting a poor (and rare) recent run on the ground. In getting down 24-3 to the Titans, thanks to some early turnovers setting up short fields, the Colts came back, but a Jonathan Taylor fumble in the 4th quarter was a reminder of how thin the margin for error is when digging such a gargantuan hole.
- Didn’t spot Kwity Paye (ankle) or Ryan Kelly at the start of Wednesday’s practice. Paye has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury.
- The Colts are back to their normal practice routine this week, going Wednesday-Friday. They’ll head to Nashville on Saturday for their 1:00 PM kickoff this Sunday against the Titans (3-2).