For the second consecutive year, the Colts' schedule is front-loaded with AFC South opponents. In 2022, five of the Colts' first seven games were against divisional opposition; they went 1-3-1 in those contests.
Four of the Colts' first six games are against the AFC South in 2023, with Sunday's Week 5 game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium the third of those four. The Colts lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1 and beat the Houston Texans in Week 2; after Week 6's trip to Jacksonville the Colts won't play a divisional opponent again until December.
"Obviously all games are important," head coach Shane Steichen said, "but I tell the guys, if you want to win a championship you have to win the division."
And it's hard to win the division without a winning record against your divisional opponents.
That's the starting point of Sunday's game against the Titans, a matchup which also carries two streaks the Colts are looking to break. The Titans are winners of five straight against the Colts – dating back to the 2020 season – and the Colts haven't won at Lucas Oil Stadium since Oct. 16, 2022.
"We all know what's at stake," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "It's a big week. The Titans have beaten us the past five encounters we've had them. I think it's time to break that streak. The guys got to get out there, we've got to start fast. We can't start slow, especially against a division opponent. We just have to make sure we bring this one home for Lucas Oil."
The 2023 Titans are a tough team to get a handle on. They've scored 27 points in home wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals – two playoff teams from last year – but lost road games to the New Orleans Saints (16-15) and Cleveland Browns (27-3).
But one thing the Colts know about the Titans is, no matter who's on their roster or how they played the week before, they're going to bring physicality and effort on Sunday.
"With Tennessee, knowing coach (Mike) Vrabel's going to have them ready to play," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "Knowing they're going to rally behind 22 (Derrick Henry). Knowing that (Ryan) Tannehill, regardless of what anybody says about him, he's tough as nails and he's a competitor and he's going to go after it. It's going to be a battle for four quarters."
With all this in mind, let's look at a couple of stats that'll be important to track over the course of Sunday afternoon in downtown Indianapolis:
Anthony Richardson's yards per pass attempt: Richardson completed 11 of 25 passes in Week 4 against the Los Angeles Rams, but seven of those completions went for 15 or more yards – generally considered to be an explosive passing play. Five of those 25 passes were completed for over 20 yards while three went for over 30, including a 35-yard touchdown to tight end Mo Alie-Cox and a spectacular 38-yard strike to wide receiver Alec Pierce.
Thanks to those explosive plays, Richardson averaged 8.0 yards per pass attempt. He didn't throw an interception, either, making him the first quarterback since Lamar Jackson in 2021 to have a completion percentage under 50 percent on at least 25 attempts with no interceptions and a yards per pass average of 8.0 or higher.
Richardson completed 64 percent of his passes over his first two starts (30 completions on 47 attempts) but averaged 5.9 yards per pass. The Colts were pleased with his efficiency and decision-making in those games against the Jaguars and Texans, but we saw in Week 4 the kind of explosive passer he can be when opportunities are presented to him.
Notable here are the yards per attempt averages the Titans have allowed to four opposing quarterbacks this season. Tennessee is 0-2 when the opposing quarterback averages more than eight yards per attempt, and 2-0 when that average drops below eight:
- Derek Carr (Saints, Week 1): 9.2
- Justin Herbert (Chargers, Week 2): 7.4
- Deshaun Watson (Browns, Week 3) 8.8
- Joe Burrow (Bengals, Week 4): 5.5
"You create explosive plays offensively, your percentage of scoring goes way up," Steichen said. "Shoot, when we started hitting those chunk plays last week, we started scoring points. So anytime you can create those explosive plays, it's going to help."
Derrick Henry's yards per rush attempt: Since Vrabel took over in 2018, the Titans are 30-16 when Henry averages at least four yards per carry; they're 14-14 when Henry goes under four yards per carry. This isn't the end-all to stopping the Titans offense, clearly, but limiting Henry's efficiency is usually a good starting point.
(As a side note: Henry has rushed for over 100 yards while averaging under four yards per carry four times since 2018; no other player has done that more than once.)
This isn't anything new – Henry's rushed 253 times for 1,287 yards with seven touchdowns in 14 games against the Colts since his debut in 2016. But every time the Colts face the Titans, it's a good reminder: Tennessee's chances of success on offense usually start with Henry.
"He's a heck of a runner – big-time runner, has explosive speed, big guy, hard to tackle," Steichen said. "We've got to get population to the football and make sure our defense is flying around and swarm tackle because he is hard to bring down."