8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Titans -7.5, Over/Under: 47
A key AFC South clash caps off a wild Week Six as the Tennessee Titans host the Indianapolis Colts from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, in a meeting in which both teams look to climb back into contention in their division. The season of waiting continues for the Colts (2-3, 3rd in AFC South), who have been nervously treading water since the campaign began with the anticipation of some good news in regards to their missing Franchise Quarterback Andrew Luck. The former No. One Overall Pick has missed the entirety of the term thus far rehabbing from surgery to repair a Torn Labrum in his throwing shoulder, with the timetable for his return still frustratingly vague. After months of misinformation from a host of important figures inside the organization including Head Coach Chuck Pagano, General Manager Chris Ballard, and even Owner Jim Irsay, the proverbial dam had collapsed, as Luck himself released the statement that he was targeting tonight’s meeting with the Titans for his return, though that news was quickly dismissed before he was officially ruled out of action over the weekend. At this point, it’s really anyone’s guess as to when exactly the three-time Pro Bowler will suit back up, with most reports out of Indianapolis pegging his return to be sometime in November. Needless to say, getting No. 12 back on the field could change the entire dynamic of the AFC South, and the Colts know it; Luck has gone 43-27 since entering the league back in 2012, taking the Colts to three Division Championships, while more importantly owning his direct competition, posting a sterling 20-5 record against the South, including a 5-0 mark at Nissan Stadium. When you couple that with the division’s perpetual mediocrity (Jacksonville is currently in First Place at 3-3), and you get the sense that this team is quite confident that they can turn things around in relatively short order once they get their leading man back under Center. However, until that does (actually) happen, Pagano and his charges will continue to lean on Jacoby Brissett, whom has played quite admirably given the circumstances of arrival nearly two months ago via trade from New England. Despite still getting acquainted with his surroundings and operating on an abridged playbook, the second-year signal-caller has done enough to keep Indianapolis alive, going 2-2 as the starter after Scott Tolzien led the team to a disastrous 46-9 defeat in the Season Opener at Los Angeles. Through four starts, Brissett has completed 60.6% of his Attempts for an average of 236.5 Yards per Game on 6.46 Net Yards per Attempt, with two Touchdowns and three interceptions, while exhibiting playmaking ability with his legs, rushing for eighty-three Yards and three more scores on twenty-two Carries. Fortunately for Pagano and his Staff, this kid has shown signs that he’s becoming more comfortable in the Offense, particularly after his latest performance in a 26-23 victory over the struggling San Francisco 49ers last weekend; Brissett tossed a career-high 314 Yards on an efficient 22-of-34 passing, while rushing for a Touchdown to give his side a commanding 23-9 lead, though the hosts had to quell a furious comeback that saw the affair extend to Overtime, where a 51-Yard Field Goal from the ageless Adam Vinateiri ended the day. As a unit, the Offense functioned better than it has at any point this year, churning out a season-best 444 Total Yards, including 159 on the ground, with Frank Gore tallying forty-eight Yards on fourteen Carries. It was a special day for the veteran Tailback who moved seventh on the All-Time Rushing List (1,3304 Yards), against the Niners no less, whom he spent the first ten years of his career with.
Meanwhile, this was supposed to be the season in which the Titans (2-3, 3rd in AFC South) made their move in the AFC South, which has annually been the NFL’s most winnable division for years now. In comparison to their three neighboring franchises, Tennessee was the only one that possessed anything that could be described as positive momentum heading into 2017; with the aforementioned Luck’s absence looming large over Indianapolis, Houston going through the (supposed) growing pains of raising a Rookie Quarterback, and Jacksonville…. well, still being Jacksonville, Mike Mularkey’s charges were supposed to take advantage of the rest of the division’s instability, and earn their first AFC South crown since 2008, which was coincidentally the last time this franchise appeared in the Playoffs. So what’s gone wrong in Nashville, you ask? First, we’ll begin under Center where Marcus Mariota (60.0%, 198.0 Y/G, 3 D, 3 INT), whom BIG things were expected from in 2017, has performed below expectations, and now has suffered injury. The third-year stud strained his hamstring two weeks ago in the Titans’ embarrassing 57-14 debacle at the Texans, and was withheld from last weekend’s disappointing 16-10 loss at the Dolphins, in which the Matt Cassel-led Offense could only muster 188 Total Yards. While news out of Tennessee has Mularkey and Co. expecting Mariota to indeed suit up, it remains to be seen just how effective the dual-threat will be with a tender hamstring. Needless to say, this kid’s legs are a rather significant component to his success; Mariota has rushed for 717 Yards and seven Touchdowns in thirty-one career games, including 116 Yards and three scores this season. Furthermore, in addition to featuring heavily in the Rushing Attack, much of what Mularkey has crafted in the Passing Game is built off of his Quarterback’s threat as a runner. If that’s no longer there, then things start to get ugly… Rushing is the key to this team’s success, and that’s been clearly evident in 2017; in their two wins the Titans have averaged a whopping 187.0 Yards per Game, while only managing a meager 83.3 in their three losses, punctuated by a season-low sixty-nine Yards last Sunday. Granted, a lot of that had to do with Mariota’s absence, but this is still a unit possessing all the necessary components to a strong ground game, with DeMarco Murray (56 CAR, 273 YDS 1 TD) and Derrick Henry (43 CAR, 187 YDS, 1 TD) churning out Yards behind an Offensive Line littered with high Draft Picks. Last season, Tennessee averaged 136.7 Yards per Game on the ground (3rd Overall), averaging a healthy 4.6 Yards per Carry (4th Overall), while breaking the 100-Yard Threshold in all but four of their sixteen outings. However, they’ve since seen the number of times their actually rushing the football drop from 29.8 Carries (4th in 2016) to 26.2 (17th in 2017), which has been effected in large part to the fact that they’ve been trailing in games of late. Five Turnovers in the debacle at Houston absolutely killed any thought of establishing the run in a game where the visitors ended up with just NINE First Downs, while the void left by Mariota made the ground game much more predictable against Miami. And you know who else would benefit by these guys running the ball successfully? The Defense, of course, who have been gashed for the second-most points in the league at 28.4 Points per Game (31st Overall). Granted, that figure is skewed a bit from the fifty-seven allowed to the Texans, but this unit would be far better served by being on the field LESS. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau’s Defense is built to play with a lead, so that they can pin their ears back and rush the Quarterback in short spurts, not languish on the field defending 29.8 rushing plays a day (27th Overall).