Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts: Matchups, prediction for a crucial AFC South rematch

How does this Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts matchup break down, and what is our prediction for this AFC South rematch?

For the second time this season, we will see this Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts matchup, and the stakes are high given their respective positions in the current 2021 NFL standings. With the Titans riding high and the Colts desperate for a win, let’s take a look through the matchups and then make a prediction about how the game might turn out in Week 8.

Tennessee Titans offense vs. Indianapolis Colts defense

Through the first seven weeks, Tennessee’s offense has largely done what was expected of it. After a struggle in Week 1, they have scored 24 or more points in six straight games and 30 or more in two of their last three games.

Meanwhile, Indy’s defense has been matchup-dependent this year. They have allowed fewer than 20 points in three of their last four, but their toughest tests have seen them give up 25 or more points in four games this year. Let’s take a look at the smaller matchups within the bigger picture.

Ryan Tannehill vs. Colts defense

When you look over Ryan Tannehill’s numbers for this season, they are generally lower than his previous two seasons in Tennessee. Now, his performance in 2019 was extraordinary, but this year is even lagging behind 2020. His completion percentage (65.1) and yards per attempt (7.6) are slightly down. Meanwhile, his touchdown rate (3.1%) is less than half last season, while his interception rate (2.2%) is up 50% from 2020.

Tannehill’s OVM grade

Pro Football Network’s Offensive Value Metric, which grades NFL players based on their performance within factors under their control, shows a similar downturn from Tannehill. His OVM grade has dropped from being the second-highest at his position in 2020 to just marginally above-average value within his environment this season.

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The addition of Julio Jones alongside A.J. Brown was supposed to help catapult Tannehill to the next level as a QB. So far, that is not happening as planned for the Titans.

However, there is an opportunity for success for Tannehill in this matchup. The Colts’ defense is allowing a ninth-worst 7.2 net yards per attempt and the second-worst passing touchdown rate at 7.2%. In their Week 3 meeting, Tannehill threw 3 touchdowns, although he did throw 2 interceptions as well. That is something he needs to be cautious about — Indy’s defense ranks ninth in interception percentage (3.1%).

Tannehill’s ability to make plays with his legs should not be discounted. This season, he is averaging 19.9 yards per game (139 yards) and has scored 3 touchdowns. Of those 139 yards, 56 came on 5 carries against the Colts in Week 3.

Advantage: Titans

Titans skill players vs. Colts secondary

The return Tennessee has gotten from Jones and Brown this year has been somewhat disappointing. Both are averaging 60 yards per game. For two of the most talented receivers in the league, that is an uninspiring output given both are averaging more than 5 targets per game.

Brown has been especially disheartening, catching just 25 of his 43 targets (58.1%). Even when he does catch the ball, his numbers are down. After averaging a gaudy 20.2 yards per reception as a rookie, those numbers dropped to 15.4 in 2020. This year, he is averaging 14.2 yards per reception and is below 10 yards per target for the first time in his career. He has also dropped 3 passes, putting him on pace to beat his career-high 5 drops.

The absence of Jones this week is frustrating. While it has not been an exciting year, his numbers actually sit around or above his career average for the majority. His talent is tough to replace for any offense.

Beyond those two, the Titans’ skill-position players have lacked consistency. Derrick Henry has impressed catching the ball, with 18 receptions on 20 targets for 154 yards. Josh Reynolds has been reliable, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine has added spark. However, neither they nor tight end Anthony Firkser has really stood out.

Indy’s cornerback woes

The Colts have really struggled to get consistent play out of either Xavier Rhodes or Rock Ya-Sin at the cornerback position. Both have allowed a completion rate over 70%, with Rhodes allowing 15.1 yards per reception.

Slot cornerback Kenny Moore has not fared any better. He is allowing a 74.5% completion rate and has given up 3 touchdowns in coverage. As a trio, they are not making enough plays on the ball for Indianapolis. Rhodes is questionable for Sunday and could open the door for the talented Isaiah Rodgers to start.

Rodgers has been impressive in limited opportunities this year. On 25 targets, he has 1 interception and 15 receptions allowed. His 180 yards given up come at just 7.2 yards per target. Not incredible numbers but actually marginally better than the more highly regarded Rhodes.

Advantage: Titans

Titans offensive line (and Derrick Henry) vs. Colts defensive line

In Week 3, Henry had 113 yards on 28 carries (along with 56 rushing yards from Tannehill). Putting Tannehill’s mobility next to Henry creates a potent duo for opposing defenders to deal with.

The beauty of having Henry is that Tennessee’s run blocking only has to be average or slightly above to have success. Henry is so dangerous in one-on-one situations that the line just has to give him a chance to make people miss.

Per Pro Football Reference, Henry leads the league in rushing yards before contact at 437, but he also has an incredible 432 yards after contact and has broken 10 tackles this season. His yards after contact alone would place him ninth in total rushing yards this season.

The Colts’ defensive line is also marginally above average, allowing a 12th-best mark of 4.2 yards per attempt. However, they have allowed 100 rushing yards in five of their seven games this year, including each of their last two. Additionally, their worst performance of the season (180 rushing yards allowed) came in Week 3 against this Titans offense. Containing both Henry and Tannehill is a tough thing to do for a full game.

Advantage: Titans

Indianapolis Colts offense vs. Tennessee Titans defense

The Colts’ offense is doing exactly what we hoped in terms of being balanced. The only place they are really letting themselves down this year is converting on third downs (21st — 38.8%) and in the red zone (31st — 46.2%). Let’s take a look at how this matchup shapes up between Indy’s offense and Tennessee’s defense.

Carson Wentz vs. Titans defense

For the most part, Carson Wentz is doing exactly what the Colts would have asked of him coming in this season. His 7.7 yards per attempt matches a career high, while his 64.4% completion rate and 5% touchdown rate are above his career average.

For the most part, he is avoiding making the costly plays as well, at least when passing the ball. His 3 lost fumbles (including the bizarre-looking play against the 49ers in Week 7) are a problem, but among qualified QBs, he leads the league in interception rate at 0.5%. That is a welcome change after he threw a league-high 15 interceptions in 12 starts for the Eagles last year.

It is hard to know what to make of the Titans’ defense that Wentz goes up against this week. In Week 4, they looked like they were lost trying to stop the Jets and Zach Wilson. Then, in Week 5, the Jaguars ran for 198 yards against them. However, they have held the Bills and Chiefs to a combined 34 points in the last two weeks. Granted, that was helped by the Chiefs only mustering 3 points, but the signs of improvement are there.

What is interesting is that the Titans have forced 7 turnovers in their last four games. That proficiency for turning the ball over recently is intriguing when put alongside the security Wentz has shown when throwing the ball. The winner of the turnover will be a key factor in this game. If Wentz can keep the ball secure as he has this season, he should be able to move it at least somewhat comfortably.

Advantage: Colts (marginally)

Colts skill players vs. Titans secondary

The emergence of Michael Pittman Jr. this year has been timely for the Colts. With T.Y. Hilton once again on Indy’s injury report (he’s been active for just one game this season), Pittman has had to step up and lead the team. His performances have been mixed, but he has had some big games, including a 4-catch, 105-yard, 1-touchdown performance in Week 7.

For Pittman to really become the leader, the Colts need him to continue to develop that consistency. Right now, he is on pace for over 1,200 yards and is catching 70% of the balls thrown his way. Around Pittman, Zach Pascal has had his moments, and the combination of Nyheim Hines, Jonathan Taylor, Mo Alie-Cox, and Jack Doyle at RB and TE have provided valuable additions to this offense.

Depth options for the Titans

The secondary for the Titans has been ravaged by injuries this year. Kristian Fulton had been superb for them, but he’s now on injured reserve (along with rookie Caleb Farley). That leaves a combination of Janoris Jenkins, Breon Borders, Chris Jackson, and Elijah Molden as the main corners on their 53. The Titans also have a couple of options on their practice squad they could elevate for Sunday.

Jenkins and Molden have both struggled at times this year, giving up a combined 5 touchdowns in coverage. Borders has also given up 1 touchdown on just 7 targets, while Jackson has been better but is still allowing completions on over 70% of his targets.

They will need to lean heavily on Kevin Byard (who has allowed a 41.7% completion rate but 2 touchdowns on 24 targets) and Dane Cruikshank (who has not allowed a touchdown on 18 targets). Tennessee should have Amani Hooker back this week, which might allow them to get creative in the secondary.

After a brave performance in Week 7, the Titans need their defensive backs to step up again against what should be a somewhat easier matchup.

Advantage: Push

Colts offensive line vs. Titans defensive line

Speaking of units that have been ravaged by injury, we arrive at the Colts’ offensive line. Given they have had Quenton Nelson for just four games and Braden Smith for just one, it is no surprise this unit ranks in the bottom half of our best offensive line rankings through seven weeks.

Matt Pryor has performed admirably at right tackle, but there is concern over Mark Glowinski at right guard. Chris Reed has begun to split time with Glowinski, which is frustrating just as the rest of the line is getting back healthy.

The results have been mixed. Indianapolis’ running game ranks seventh at 4.8 yards per attempt. However, a big part of that is that Taylor ranks second in the league in yards after contact with 301 and averages a broken tackle once every 9.5 rushing attempts. To put Taylor’s 5.5 yards per attempt into context, Hines and Marlon Mack are averaging a combined 3.5 yards per rush attempt.

The good news for the Colts is that the Titans’ defensive line is largely below average against the run. They are allowing an eighth-worst 4.5 yards per attempt this season.

In terms of the pass rush, the Titans could have an edge if the Colts remain unsettled. Their sack percentage (6%) might be league average, but their pressure rate (28%) and hurry percentage (14.3%) are among the best in the league. Meanwhile, Indy’s offensive line is ranking in the middle of the pack with a 6.3% sack rate allowed.

The Colts should have the advantage in the run game. However, that could be countered by the Titans having an advantage getting after Wentz.

Advantage: Push

Betting line and game prediction

It’s surprising the Colts are 3-point favorites in this game. Even if we remove 2.5 to 3 points for home-field advantage, that still means the sportsbooks have this as roughly even. The Titans have just knocked off two of the best teams in the AFC.

Meanwhile, the Colts’ 3-4 record is built on wins against the Dolphins, Texans, and 49ers. Those three teams have combined for a record of 4-13 in their other games. Sure, the Titans lost to the Jets in Week 4, but that was without both their key weapons in the passing game. The Titans should win this, and if they don’t, it should be roughly a field-goal margin if the Colts sneak it.

Titans vs. Colts Prediction: Titans 24, Colts 21

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