INDIANAPOLIS — The Tennessee Titans came into Sunday's pivotal AFC South Division matchup against the Indianapolis Colts boasting one of the hottest offenses in the league, having scored at least 36 points their previous three games, including a dominant 47-25 victory over the Green Bay Packers last week in Nashville.
Their formula to success has been simple: make sure DeMarco Murray, the league's second-leading rusher, get the ball early and often, and allow the run game to open up completions down field for second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota.
But just because an offense's general gameplan is simple doesn't mean it's easy to stop by any means. So the Colts' defense came in on Monday, fresh off its bye week, with a mission.
"We told each other at the beginning of the week, 'Hey, I'm going to trust you to stay in your gap, I'm going to trust me to stay in my gap, and we're going to run in pursuit of the ball," inside linebacker Edwin Jackson said.
The "do your job" approach paid off for the Indianapolis defense on Sunday, as Murray was held to just 3.3 yards per carry — his third lowest average of the season — on 70 total rushing yards, and the pressure on Mariota was constant throughout the game, as the Colts earned a hard-fought 24-17 victory to move to 5-5 and take over second place in the division.
"That's something that's preached to us every day; just do your job and play 60 minutes and fly around and make tackles, get off blocks," said Jackson, who got the start at WILL linebacker on Sunday and had five total tackles and a sack. "The thing about doing your job is you have to trust your guy next to you … and that's exactly what we did. We held up our promise, and we finished up strong."
The Colts' defense put in perhaps its finest half of football in the first half of Sunday's game, as it allowed just 145 total yards, including just 16 net yards rushing to the league's third-best running team, as well as just 2-of-6 third down conversions in the first two quarters.
Included in that first-half effort were three sacks: plays by outside linebackers Robert Mathis, Erik Walden and nose tackle David Parry.
"You're just playing with high effort," said Parry, who earned his second sack of the season. "When everybody's doing their job, good things seem to happen. So all the guys were out there having each other's back, and that's what happened."
The 2006 Super Bowl team reunited at the week 11 game against the Tennessee Titans.
Although the Colts took a 21-7 lead going into halftime, they knew they needed to prepare for a furious comeback effort by their division rivals; the loser of Sunday's game really puts themselves behind the eight ball when it comes to the playoff picture and various tiebreaker scenarios ad the end of the season.
The Titans (5-6) did just that, as Mariota began to get into more of a groove throwing the ball, and Murray, who caught a touchdown pass right at the end of the second quarter, started to find a little more success on the ground.
After jumping out to a 21-0 lead, the Colts allowed 17 straight points, culminated by Ryan Succop's 47-yard field goal with 12:14 left in the fourth quarter.
This time, the Colts, who would get just one more field goal the rest of the way, needed their defense to step up and close the door. They responded to the tune of two more second-half sacks, earning five total sacks against an offensive line that had allowed just 13 sacks all season coming into the game, tied for the third fewest in the league.
Two of those sacks were the first sacks of the year allowed by Titans' left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Jack Conklin.
Walden said getting Mariota to the ground is no easy task, but the fact they were able to do it five times was "huge."
"Mariota, man — one of the rising stars. He's going to be in this division a long time, so it's just something we're going to have to deal with," said Walden, who increased his career-high to eight sacks. "But you've gotta give them credit — their O-linemen are playing well; today we just wanted to make some plays and be effective and effect the quarterback, and we were able to do that today."
In the end, however, the Colts needed to make one big play on defense to seal the victory. On 4th and 1 from the Indianapolis 19-yard line, the Titans went to their horse, Murray, to get just one yard to try to extend what they hoped would be a game-tying drive.
What they got instead was a monster tackle by safety Clayton Geathers, who brought Murray down at the 19 for no gain, earning the turnover on downs to give the ball back to the Indianapolis offense.
One first down later, the Colts had everything they needed to go into the victory formation and send their home fans happy with a big win.
"I feel like we all just came together as a group and said, 'Hey, we're gonna win this game. We didn't come out here and practice all week and did all this for nothing to lose,'" Jackson said. "And when you want it more than the opponent, and you're really just executing like we did and you do it for your brothers, you're going to win."