INDIANAPOLIS —We've got the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts matching up on Monday night in their 2017 Week 6 AFC South showdown at Nissan Stadium.
With an inside scoop on the opposition heading into the game, we check in with Jim Wyatt, a senior writer and editor for the Titans and their website, TitansOnline.com (follow Jim on Twitter @jwyattsports):
Walker:Colts and Titans, Monday Night Football, first foray into AFC South play on this side, at least. Before we get into anything else, I've got to ask: what's the update on Marcus Mariota? I understand you all were told Monday that it could be a gametime decision. Now, Jim, I promise you, nobody from the team will see this: do you think Mariota plays on Monday?
Wyatt: **"We'll probably have a better idea at the end of the week, just because it will really depend on what he's able to do in practice. Leading up to this past week's game against the Dolphins, he was very limited in practices, and I know the plan this week is for him to do more — at least the expectation or hope is he can do more. But probably not going to have a real good feel until the end of the week, maybe even leading up to the game."
Walker:Fair enough. Now if Mariota can't go, the team had Matt Cassel under center last week against the Dolphins. He was 21-of-32 for 141 yards with a touchdown, but he was sacked six times, so no matter which quarterback is playing, that kind of pressure isn't going to help. Then you factor in going 2-for-13 on third down. How can the Titans, if Mariota doesn't play, do a better job on offense on Monday against the Colts?
Wyatt:"Well, they've got to run the ball. That's one thing that would help. They had inconsistencies on Sunday against the Dolphins, and another slow start, which has really plagued this team through the first part of the season. They've got to be able to start faster, not be in a hole, and that will allow them to run the ball. They'll have to protect better; you mention the six sacks — some of that's on the O-line, some of it's on Cassel for holding the ball too long. And guys will just have to be better around him. I would think that another week of practice would help him. Again, the hope is that the starting quarterback is back, but if it ends up being Cassel, they'll just have to play better around him, is the way Mike Mularkey has described it."
Walker:The Titans' defense, meanwhile, played very, very well last week — Miami had just 92 yards passing and just twice did the Dolphins have a drive that went for more than 20 yards. It seems like it's been an up and down type of season for that unit so far overall, though. What's the story of the Tennessee defense in 2017?
Wyatt:"It was up, but then just kind of bottomed out against Houston. I mean, it's been a pretty good defense, up until a game down in Houston where they lose 57-14; they gave up 50 points — one of them was a pick six, so that doesn't necessarily count against the defense. But it was just a shaky performance. I mean, they were not very good in coverage, they allowed Deshaun Watson just too much time, and he was able to escape some pressures. It's different than what we've really seen here in other games. They bounced back against the Dolphins. I think that (Texans) game hurt their pride a little bit, and certainly made them dig in when people were questioning them. Dick Lebeau said before that (Dolphins) game, 'Hey, that's not us. We're going to prove it,' and I think against the Dolphins they did that. But it's a long season — 11 games left. Just because you fix it one week doesn't mean it's fixed for good, so they'll have to continue to play at a high level against a Colts team that certainly has had their number in recent years."
Walker:Yeah, and off of that, it's well known how the Colts have defeated the Titans now 11 straight times, and in 16 of their last 17 matchups. I know each game is different, so I don't know how useful it is to try to figure out exactly why Tennessee hasn't been able to clear this hurdle in so long, but it's obviously staring them in the face. Do you think it's something the players or coaches are talking about or does it give them any extra motivation this week? You know they're going to get asked about it this week.
Wyatt:"They'll be asked about it, and I will say that Mike Mularkey, I'm sure that he will answer it the same way he has any other streak that's come up: it's a different team. I've been around for all of those games; I've witnessed every one of them in the series. So I know how this series has played out, and some of those games the Titans were not able to close the deal; some of them the Colts were just flat better than they were. But it's a long streak that everyone here knows needs to end. Now, there's so many new faces on both the Titans and the Colts — I think the Titans have 15, 20 guys that weren't even on the team last year. They don't know much about (this) history, and guys that maybe have come from other teams weren't a part of those long streaks. So there's some guys that have certainly been around for a chunk of those, but it's a new team, it's a new season, you want to end it just to get the Titans fans out of their misery — because it's been a miserable streak having to deal with that for so many years — but I think the players are looking at this like, 'Hey, this is a chance to get to 3-3, get a chance to get to 2-1 in the AFC South and is a chance to set back a team in your division.' So that's the motivation this week."
Walker:Also, I see a tweet from our good friend Mike Chappell: Last two Titans quarterbacks to beat the Colts were Matt Hasselbeck in 2011, and Kerry Collins in 2008. That's going way back, isn't it?Wyatt:"Yeah, it is. I mean, because that's skipping over the Jake Lockers of the world and the Zach Mettenbergers of the world and Marcus Mariota, obviously has not done it yet, so it's been a while. And, again, I've witnessed every one of those games and I've seen them play out differently. The Titans will be ready for this game on Monday, coming off back-to-back losses, so they'll be ready to play — but it won't be because wanting to end the streak; it'll because, hey, this is a big game for the Titans."