Colts vs. Titans: 5 things to watch in Week 8

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The fate of the AFC South will be much clearer after Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts have their rematch with the Tennessee Titans.

A Colts win will get them to a .500 record and one game closer to tying for the division lead. A victory for the Titans would give them a three-game lead for the AFC South crown, the sweep over Indianapolis and would be basically wrapping up a home playoff game by the midpoint of the season.

Barring a collapse in the second half of the year of course. Frank Reich won four of his first five matchups against Tennesse, but he has lost the last two times the franchises faced.

Health didn’t favor the Colts in the first meeting this season. Carson Wentz played on two sprained ankles and a number of players left the game because of injuries, which included Quenton Nelson.

Since then, players are getting healthy, and the roster is starting to play to their capabilities. This is a game that Reich has to get his team to lay everything on the line and grab back the playoff hopes that were barely in their viewpoint when they lost to the Titans.

Here are the top five things to watch for when the division rivals clash:

Can the defense finally take down King Henry?

Syndication: The Tennessean

Derrick Henry has dominated the NFL on the ground this season once again and he’s not looking to stop it anytime soon. During the Reich era, he has averaged 109.1 rushing YPG against the Colts. He has gone over the 100 rushing yard mark in the last four matchups. To no surprise, the Titans won three of those games.

Despite everything that Indianapolis was dealing with in the first meeting, they had a chance to win it going in the second half until Henry took over. In the fourth quarter, he took advantage of his offensive line who was dominating the trenches and played a part in two different scoring drives. Matt Eberflus has to get his unit to show up and stand up to the king.

DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard will need to be the commanders that they are paid to be and get the defensive front to be impenetrable on Sunday. It’s the first step to getting the victory.

A healthy Carson Wentz

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Wentz playing on his two sprained ankles hindered the offense when these two teams faced in Nashville. He had zero mobility to escape the pocket and struggled to step into his throws to deliver the ball. It didn’t help that Reich and Marcus Brady didn’t lean on Jonathan Taylor, who was averaging 6.4 YPC. Wentz ended his day 19/37 for 194 yards.

Since then he has averaged 250.7 passing YPG and has thrown two passing touchdowns in each of his last four games. He’s been pushing the ball down the field and it has opened up the offense. Last week against the San Francisco 49ers he was able to showcase that he’s put the injury behind him when he scampered for a 17-yard run to get a first down and getting a rushing touchdown outrunning defenders to get the edge.

The Titans have had their struggles against quarterbacks this season. They’ve given up 273.6 passing YPG, which ranks 9th in the NFL. The team doesn’t need to have Wentz make another 37 passing attempts to win this game, but he should help make a difference this go around.

Making Ryan Tannehill uncomfortable

Syndication: The Tennessean

Outside of Henry doing what he does, Tannehill was a problem for the Colts’ defense in the last matchup. His boxscore might not say it but he was able to carve up the secondary when he needed to and used his mobility to get first downs throughout the game.

He finished in the air 18/27, 197 yards for three touchdowns and two interceptions. One of his turnovers wasn’t his fault, it went through his receiver’s hands and right into Kenny Moore’s lap. He was a killer when he ran the ball, had 56 yards on five attempts, and his longest was 28 yards.

Eberflus has to make sure that his defense is getting pressure on the quarterback this time and have some sort of spy on him. Last time they were only able to get one sack and two QB hits on Tannehill. He had plenty of time to scan the field and make a decision on if he should pass or run the ball. The inability to get any pressure on Tannehill can’t show up again otherwise history will repeat itself.

Jonathan Taylor's involvement

Syndication: The Tennessean

As I mentioned when I wrote about Wentz, the offense failed to keep their stud running back involved in the offense and didn’t lean on him when their quarterback was severely limited. It was one of the more baffling decisions that Reich made during the first quarter of the season. He only had 10 rushing attempts that he got 64 yards on. His longest of the day was 23 yards. His only target in the passing attack resulted in an 8-yard catch.

Since that afternoon against the Titans, he has taken over as the motor of the offense and has four straight games that he has gone over 100 total yards. He also has six touchdowns in those last four games. He’s averaging 5.5 rushing YPC for the season and worked his way to be second in the league in rushing yards. Reich has his offense working on the ground and in the air which has allowed him to open up his playbook.

He can’t forget to keep his star player fed often and utilize the play-action off of it to take deep shots throughout the afternoon. A healthy balanced attack should make life a lot harder than what it was for the Tennessee defense in Week 3.

Does Frank Reich get the job done?

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After losing to the Titans to fall to an 0-3 record, it was looking like the season was on the verge of being a lost cause. To Reich’s credit, his team never wavered and took it one game at a time to get into this situation. Indianapolis will need to show they can beat a good team and earn their way to a 4-4 record.

All three wins have come against teams (Dolphins, Texans, 49ers) that have a 4-17 combined record. They didn’t lay over in their losses, the Colts did have a shot to get a win over the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens but failed to close the job in the fourth quarter when they needed it.

Reich has an opportunity to show his team will have something to say about the playoff picture with a victory on Sunday. This is one of the biggest games in his career. Despite making the playoffs in two of his first three seasons, he has not won a division title yet.

The organization hasn’t won the AFC South since 2014. The elusive guaranteed home playoff game has escaped Indianapolis anytime they found themselves in the postseason recently. They can’t secure that this weekend, but a win over Tennessee will at least give them a shot to do it this year.

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