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5 Things To Watch: Colts Vs. Titans, Week 8

Get inside this week's pivotal Colts-Titans matchup with a look at how the defense looks to slow Derrick Henry and what Carson Wentz's mindset is heading into this rematch with Tennessee. 


1. Inside the Colts' efforts to slow down Derrick Henry – again.

The Titans are 22-3 when Derrick Henry rushes for over 100 yards – including in Week 3, when Henry rushed for 113 yards on 28 carries in the Titans' 25-16 win over the Colts in Nashville.

But let's look at this another way: The Titans have lost 13 games since the start of the 2019 season. Henry had over 100 rushing yards in just three of those losses.

The Colts' goal for every game is to hold opponents to under 100 rushing yards and fewer than 3.7 yards per carry. That doesn't change based on the opponent. But to accomplish that goal against Henry requires a particular level of focus, hustle and physicality.

"Any time we play the Titans we make a big emphasis on 11 versus one," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "We gotta gang tackle, we gotta knock him sideways or backwards and that's how we approach every game in the run game, but obviously Derrick Henry, he's a different type of guy and different type of back. He's a big back so we gotta make an emphasis on tackling low, for the guys in the back end getting the leg up and the hamstring tackling and gang-tackling. I feel like we've been doing a pretty good job getting bodies on him."

Buckner's right – the Colts did a good job against Henry in Week 3, even if he still had more than 100 yards. Guys like Kenny Moore II did a tremendous job bringing Henry down by his legs, which carries the risk of a powerful stiff-arm that'll land the recipient on a highlight reel.

And while someone like Moore plays close to the line of scrimmage (his average depth of tackle, per PFF, was about a yard beyond the line of scrimmage), bringing Henry down requires plenty of support from off-ball safeties and cornerbacks.

"I don't think that we have any issues in the back end when it comes to tackling anybody," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "I believe in them and everybody in this organization believes in them. So, there is no fear, there's no quit and we're going to make sure we get him down."

2. Carson Wentz and Darius Leonard have three healthier ankles in this rematch.

Carson Wentz was asked this week how his ankles heading into Week 8 compare to where they were heading into Week 3.

"Much better," Wentz chuckled. "Much better."

Wentz was a true game-time decision for that Week 3 game against the Titans, which came seven days after he suffered sprains in both his ankles against the Los Angeles Rams. He played with extremely limited mobility – he said he felt at times like his feet were stuck in mud – and didn't record a rushing attempt for just the second time in his career. While Wentz felt like he still could've made more plays, his production (19/37, 194 yards, 66.7 passer rating) in Week 3 has become a pretty clear outlier in his season (141/219, 1,695 yards, 102.8 passer rating).

"I think we've all developed in trying to just more or less find our identity and who we are and how we want to attack defenses, putting guys in the best position to succeed and I think it's been fun to see that each week come to life, find a way to be explosive, create plays down the field and it just creates a different tempo to our offense," Wentz said. "We're taking shots, we're running the ball, we're throwing screens. Just kind of those things that I think we've all kind of meshed together and it's been cool to see come to life."

Wentz, though, is not the only player who will take the field in this rematch feeling better about his ankles. Two players, actually: Rock Ya-Sin will return after missing Week 7 with an ankle injury, and linebacker Darius Leonard said his ankle is feeling about 80 percent better now than it did in late September.

3. Will the Colts' O-line be whole?

The Colts have been without left tackle Eric Fisher (Week 1), left guard Quenton Nelson (Weeks 4-6) and right tackle Braden Smith (Weeks 2-7) at times this season. But with Smith questionable – he was a full participant in the Colts' practices Thursday and Friday – there's a chance the Colts' offensive line will be at full strength on Sunday against the Titans.

If Smith plays, he will not be on a snap count, head coach Frank Reich said.

But even with guys like Nelson and Smith out recently, the Colts have seen their offensive line trending up over the last few weeks. Chris Reed played so well at left guard that the Colts began rotating him with Mark Glowinski at right guard in Week 7. And Reich praised the play of Matt Pryor at right tackle, who was solid filling in for Smith recently, too.

"Our mentality of course is I always feel like we have our starters in there," Reich said. "That's just how I feel. Do I feel a little bit of excitement that some of these guys are back? Yeah, I mean just for them and for us, as a team. I just think we keep getting better, the depth of the team gets better. I think what happens is the guys who step in grow in to starting-type player roles. So, I'm excited about them as well."

4. Other returns will bolster the Colts' depth.

Smith is questionable to play Sunday, as is T.Y. Hilton (quad) and Xavier Rhodes (calf). But two players who didn't play in Week 7 – Ya-Sin and defensive end Kemoko Turay (who hasn't played since Week 5) were not listed with a game status designation, meaning they're in line to take the field against the Titans.

If Rhodes plays along Ya-Sin, the Colts will have their top three cornerbacks available for just the third time this season. And Turay's return will boost the Colts' depth at defensive end just in time to face the run-heavy Titans, with Al-Quadin Muhammad, Kwity Paye, Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu and Isaac Rochell all available, too. Being able to rotate defensive ends in and out of that group should help keep the Colts' fresh up front for what promises to be a 60-minute heavyweight battle.

5. Can the Colts win the turnover battle again?

Teams that won the turnover battle 3-0 are 101-12 (.894) in the last five seasons. The Colts were one of those 12 teams to lose when they won the turnover battle 3-0 in Week 3 against the Titans.

The Colts enter Week 8 second in the NFL with a +9 turnover differential, and their 16 takeaways are tied with the Buffalo Bills for the league lead. Interestingly, the Colts have those 16 takeaways without getting after opposing quarterbacks as much as they'd like – the Colts enter Week 8 26th in pressure rate.

But this defense is also confident those pressures will start to be more frequent, especially as guys like Paye and Turay (and Dayo Odeyingbo) get healthier.

"The takeaways, they can come a lot of ways," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "It's anytime the ball carrier, when he's carrying the football, and being relentless in our pursuit to get that and really the technique that we use. Then the hustle, the hustle is a big part of it because when the ball does come out, you have to be there. You have to understand what kind of fumble it is and how to recover those fumbles and the appropriate way to get those balls when they're on the ground.

"There's a lot that goes into it but no question that in the history of football, those come in the pocket and we're looking forward to getting more of those."

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