The Tennessee Titans, despite all of the injuries and other maladies they’ve suffered over the course of the season, have a clear path to earning a victory against the Indianapolis Colts.
Such a victory would earn the Titans a place in the postseason for the second year in a row. It would also be the team’s first-ever victory over Colts QB Andrew Luck.
Throughout the week, Titans coaches and players, as well as the team here at A to Z Sports Nashville, have identified the keys to Tennessee defeating their rivals from Indy.
Here is a look at what could be the three biggest elements of a successful evening for the Titans and a recap of some of the content brought to you this week by A to Z Sports’ Titans writing staff.
Key #1: Embrace “The Streak”
#Colts QB Andrew Luck is a perfect 10-0 vs the Titans in his career
Since 1970, only HOF QB John Elway has 10 wins and 0 losses vs a single opponent
Will Luck get the win and stand alone on Sunday? pic.twitter.com/lUHWfeiofM
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 26, 2018
No NFL quarterback has won their first eleven games against a particular opponent. Against the Titans on Sunday night, Luck will have the chance to do just that.
It’s a streak that is, quite frankly, embarrassing for the Titans franchise. Sure, many of Luck’s wins have come against very bad Titans teams—as Joe Rexrode of The Tennessean aptly noted this week—but several of them have come as a result of the Titans simply not finishing the job.
The streak needs to end if for no other reason that the Titans and their fans are surely tired of hearing about it. There is no better time for that to happen, and no better atmosphere, than Sunday night.
David Bradford, who covers the Titans and Vols for A to Z Sports, wrote a column earlier in the week detailing why it’s time for the Titans to finally grow up and defeat Luck. In the column, he compares the Titans’ relationship with Luck to that of a pair of future Hall of Fame Quarterbacks.
Find David’s column here: It’s time for the Tennessee Titans to grow up and beat Andrew Luck
Because of the significance of this streak, there will be a temptation for the Titans to see Luck as some kind of unbeatable boogeyman. It’s a temptation that multiple players said they are trying to combat.
The way they will try to combat it is with an attitude of fearlessness.
I wrote following Wednesday’s practice about what Kevin Byard, Rashaan Evans and head coach Mike Vrabel had to say about the importance of a fearless attitude.
Read their thoughts here: Defense Adopting “Fearless” Attitude in Facing Andrew Luck
Key #2: Let the Big Man Eat
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) December 19, 2018
A month ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of writing that a key to a Titans victory would be feeding running back Derrick Henry. Yet, here we are.
Henry has been a near-unstoppable force during the month of December. He has 492 yards and 7 touchdowns in this month alone.
There are really two reasons why Henry should be a major part of the Titans’ game plan against Indianapolis.
First, QB Marcus Mariota probably won’t be at 100%. He is almost assuredly going to play, but the stinger he suffered against Washington could limit his ability to push the ball downfield.
There is a very realistic chance that the version of Mariota that takes the field against the Colts will be very similar to what we saw him look like against Jacksonville. He effectively managed the game, delivered accurate passes in the intermediate area of the field, and used his legs to pick up crucial first downs.
An effective running game would be a massive help to the ailing Mariota, who spoke to reporters on Wednesday afternoon about his condition.
Here’s what Mariota had to say about his injury: Marcus Mariota Updates His Injury, Status For Sunday
Second, Henry has become a star player that needs his touches to get going. He has refound his favor with Titans fans, and there will undoubtedly be plenty of “Henry, Henry, Henry!” chants coming from a sold-out Nissan Stadium on Thursday night.
Henry’s breakout could not have come at a better time for the Titans. Just when they needed a spark from their offense in the middle of a thick playoff race, they got it out of the third-year back from Alabama.
Several of Henry’s teammates, coaches and Henry himself spoke last week after the Titans’ win against Washington about his recent success and the reasons behind it.
Read what they said here: Derrick Henry Has Emerged as a Star at Just the Right Time
Key #3: Make Andrew Luck Uncomfortable
This one is easier said than done.
A big reason why 2018 has been a season of resurgence for the Colts is that their offensive line seems to have finally found a groove. They have made Luck’s life a lot easier this season, arguably allowing him to play at an MVP level.
Not only are the big guys up front on the Colts offense good at preventing pressure, but Luck is also one of the hardest quarterbacks in the NFL to bring down. He is big, strong, and slippery.
“He’s a great pocket passer,” said Titans safety Kevin Byard of Luck. “We all know what he can do with his legs, but his willingness to stand up in the pocket, step up in the pocket, and let guys run around him no matter what.
“He steps up in there, two hands on the ball, with great ball security. He’s just a smart guy as far as making all the right decisions and reads. It’s definitely going to be hard to trick him as far as disguising the coverage, but we’ll try to do what we can and see if he can throw us one.”
If the Titans want Luck to “throw them one” as Byard suggested, they will need to make him uncomfortable. This can be accomplished through tight coverage and an effective pass rush.
The Titans have, historically, struggled to get pressure in Luck’s face. Luckily for the team, they might have finally found the head coach who can put them into position to succeed in that regard.
Zach Ragan, who covers the Titans and Vols for A to Z Sports, wrote a column on Sunday detailing why hiring Mike Vrabel was clearly the correct choice for the Titans this offseason and why his leadership has helped them navigate a strange season.
Find Zach’s column here: The Tennessee Titans made the right decision to hire Mike Vrabel and there’s no debating it
Following these keys could go a long way toward the Titans taking advantage of the opportunity in front of them.
On Monday, the team will either be taking the day off to rest up for the playoffs or cleaning up their lockers. Sunday night’s spectacle will show us which of those two scenarios will come true.
Cover image: USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel