Atop AFC South, Titans have rare chance to sweep Colts again
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans know too well how much the Indianapolis Colts, especially owner Jim Irsay, want to flip the script in this AFC South rivalry.
The Titans have won four straight and five of six against a team that dominated this series when the Colts had Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck at quarterback.
Win again Sunday, and the Titans would have their second straight season sweep and only the fourth since these teams became division rivals in 2002.
“We understand that their owner and their entire team, their entire city wants to beat us,” two-time All-Pro Titans safety Kevin Byard said. “So we have to go in there with that type of mindset. Obviously having a home game, expecting a nice crowd out there at Nissan (Stadium). So should be a pretty good game.”
The Titans (3-2) are not only the two-time defending division champs, they sit atop the AFC South despite an 0-2 start. They’re coming off their bye on a three-game win streak that includes a 24-17 victory at Indianapolis on Oct. 2 and a 21-17 triumph at Washington on Oct. 9.
Worse for Indy, 2021 NFL rushing leader Jonathan Taylor and three-time All Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard were hurt in the loss to the Titans. Taylor has missed the last two games with an injured ankle. Leonard broke his nose and suffered a concussion.
Running back Nyheim Hines is working through the concussion protocol and missed the Colts’ 34-27 comeback win over Jacksonville last week. This is the fifth of the Colts’ six divisional games. Despite being 1-2-1 in the division, the Colts have won three of four to sit right behind the Titans.
Indianapolis coach Frank Reich noted the Titans also were the AFC’s No. 1 seed last season.
“All roads go through Nashville,” Reich said.
HENRY’S FRANCHISE RUN
Derrick Henry not only has put together consecutive 100-yard rushing games, he has tied Pro Football Hall of Famer Earl Campbell for second in franchise history with 73 career touchdowns. Henry is one shy of tying Eddie George’s team mark of 74.
Henry has watched film of how Campbell ran through the league and gotten to meet the 1979 MVP. George lives in Nashville and coaches Tennessee State. Now Henry has a chance to further cement his status with those men and this team.
“They are the epitome of this franchise and the running back position as far as how they played it, the physicality, the success they had,” Henry said.
Last week, Reich moved second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger ahead of former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles on the depth chart.
Reich explained Ehlinger earned the promotion but noted it was done, in part, because Ehlinger’s versatility gives Indy more options. It’s unclear whether Ehlinger and Foles, who attended the same Texas high school as Drew Brees, will remain in the same order this week.
“We haven’t discussed a package this week, so I don’t know what the plan for that is for that,” Ehlinger said Wednesday. “Last week, there were a few situations we talked about. Obviously didn’t end up running any of them, so I think this week we’ll see what happens.”
The second half remains an issue for the Titans, who’ve been outscored 71-14 combined in the third and fourth quarters. They have yet to score a single point in the final 15 minutes of any game, and Titans coach Mike Vrabel blames too many three-and-outs.
“You are going to have to have some X plays. You are going to have to have some third-down conversions and you are going to have to avoid the critical mistakes and the critical penalties,” Vrabel said. “That is how you move the ball into the red zone.”
Once there, the Titans are the NFL’s best, scoring touchdowns on 92.3% of their trips inside an opponent’s 20, including their last 11. Ryan Tannehill has the NFL’s best passer rating at 132.3 in the red zone, completing 13 of 16 passes for 100 yards with five TDs and no interceptions.
Indy’s offensive line was supposed a strength. Instead, it’s been a glaring problem.
The Colts have allowed 21 sacks, fifth-most in the NFL, and are gaining a paltry 3.5 yards per carry, tied for third worst. Reich has used three different lineups in the past three weeks. Indy allowed no sacks for the first time this season while scoring a season-high 34 points in the win over Jacksonville.
“I thought all six of those guys played well,” Reich said, referring to rookie Bernhard Raimann, who started at left tackle, and veteran Dennis Kelly, who finished the game in that spot. “Dennis played well, but we’re going to anticipate staying with how we were. We’ll evaluate that as we go.”
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed to this report.
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