Each week, Colts.com will speak with a writer who covers the team the Colts are set to play that upcoming Sunday.
In Week 13, the Colts are facing the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. To gain more insight, we caught up with Jim Wyatt, the senior writer and editor for TennesseeTitans.com.
Colts.com: The last time you and I spoke, Ryan Tannehill was the Titans' starting quarterback. However, that's changed in recent weeks with rookie Will Levis taking over. With five starts under his belt, how would you evaluate Levis' play so far?
Jim Wyatt: I think he's done pretty well for the most part. It hasn't been perfect and that's what you'd expect with a rookie quarterback, but I think he's shown poise. I think he's shown good leadership for a rookie. I think for the most part, he's made good decisions. Certainly, things around him could be better, that would help him even more - that includes protection and that includes running the football. But, I think for a guy in his first five starts, I've been mostly impressed by him and I think it has to be encouraging for the team moving forward.
Colts.com: It's been a mixed bag for Derrick Henry over the past four games. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers he had 75 or more rushing yards, averaged over four yards per carry and scored three total touchdowns. Then against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars, he failed to top 40 yards, averaged less than four yards per carry and didn't score any touchdowns. What do you think is the reason for Henry's uneven play?
Jim Wyatt: Well part of it is that they fell behind in a couple of those games and just had to abandon the run. Part of it too is their blocking I don't think has been great. I think if you asked Derrick, he'd tell you he could be better in that regard as well. The Titans have had a lot of issues up front from a performance standpoint to an injury standpoint, which has forced them to re-shuffle that offensive line many times. As a result, there have been uneven performances. They've lacked some chemistry up front and I think that's affected the run game a lot. I think what's key for the Titans is they need to be able to be in games early and not fall behind where you have to be predictable on offense. I think Derrick Henry has proven that he's still capable of producing for this football team, but they've got to put him in positions where he can do so.
Colts.com: When we last spoke, you described DeAndre Hopkins as a guy who 'can make big catches in big situations.' Seven weeks later and with a new quarterback getting him the ball, he's still doing it. With the changes that the offense has undergone this season, how big is it to have a consistent presence like Hopkins in tow?
Jim Wyatt: Well, that's big. He's definitely kind of lived up to the billing when he came here. He's been available every week, he practices on a regular basis. I think he's a tone-setter not only on Sundays but during the course of the practice week. He is a veteran, proven commodity that a rookie quarterback can lean on and he holds guys accountable around him. I'm sure he probably would love to have even more opportunities, but he's in a situation now where he just has to make the best of the opportunities he gets. I think he's done that for the most part. I can't imagine how this team would be from an offensive standpoint if they didn't have him.
Colts.com: Ahead of the trade deadline, the Titans decided to trade two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard to the Philadelphia Eagles. A big loss on the field and in the locker room, who have you seen step up in his absence?
Jim Wyatt: Well, it's certainly different watching Titans' games without Kevin Byard on the defense because he has been such a key part for, them. I think Amani Hooker, who is the fellow safety opposite Kevin, has been a proven leader here as well. He's continued to do that. Elijah Molden is the player who on the field, has replaced him. But they've used a lot of different combinations kind of on the back end as well. It kind of takes everybody and it hasn't been perfect, but the reality is it wasn't perfect when Kevin was here either. The defense has been good some weeks, other weeks it hasn't been good enough. I think for the Titans, if they're gonna have a chance to make it interesting down the stretch, they're just gonna have to be more consistent. That's not only on the back end, but that's from a pass rush standpoint because when they're good on defense, they're able to rush the passer.
Colts.com: The last time the Colts and Titans played, the Colts gained over 400 yards of offense, including 193 yards on the ground. What does the Titans' defense have to do to keep the Colts' run game from taking over?
Jim Wyatt: Well, I think it starts with playing with more of an attitude and being more disciplined. Arden Key, one of the Titans' edge rushers, started this week by saying that they felt like the Colts pushed them around in that game and they were the more physical team. He called it the worst defensive performance for the team this season. I think the Titans remember that game well because it was a Sunday where they kind of got beat at their own game. The Colts did control the line of scrimmage, they just kind of bludgeoned the Titans all game with that running game. So, the Titans got to be more disciplined, not get out of gaps, not play what Mike Vrabel calls, 'peekaboo' defense and guys have got to just be sound. They've got to tackle better and they've got to show up with an attitude that that's not going to happen again. I do think the mindset is going to be right going into this game, it's just a matter of whether or not they can execute like they need to do.