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Glennon's Take: Five Key Questions for Titans vs. Colts

Posted Oct 10, 2017

The Titans will look to improve on last week's offensive output and build on last week's defensive showing. Indianapolis has already ruled out quarterback Andrew Luck for the contest.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans will face their third AFC South test of the season when they make their return to Monday Night Football for the first time since 2014.

The Week Six contest will mark an opportunity for the Titans to even their record at 3-3, and to snap an 11-game losing streak against Indianapolis that dates back to 2011.

Whether Marcus Mariota or Matt Cassel will be quarterbacking the Titans this week will be determined in the coming days.

Here are five key questions for the Titans looking ahead:

Can the Titans take advantage of their tight ends? – Titans tight ends may just be the top position group on the team through five games.

Delanie Walker (21 catches), Jonnu Smith (eight catches) and Phillip Supernaw (three catches) have combined for 32 receptions, a tight-end total that trails only Kansas City (34) and Baltimore (33) in the AFC.

Those three players have caught a combined 32 of 45 passes thrown in their direction.

Smith (two touchdown catches) and Supernaw (one touchdown catch) have accounted for three of the Titans' four receiving touchdowns through five games. Walker added a rushing touchdown on an end around.

Just for good measure, Pro Football Focus grades Walker as the league's fourth-best run-blocking tight end through five games.

In the Colts' win last week over San Francisco, 49ers rookie tight end George Kettle caught seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.

How will the Titans divide running back snaps this week? – It's likely the ratio will change from last week, when DeMarco Murray was on the field for a season-high 49 snaps and Derrick Henry was on the field for a season-low 11 snaps. Henry's four carries were also a season low.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey said there was no specific reason for the wide disparity.

“We talked about it after that (the Miami game),” Mularkey said. “We probably need to do a better job of getting Derrick some more balls.”

It's worth noting, however, that Henry is actually seeing a higher percentage of snaps than he did as a rookie.

In 2016, Henry was on the field for 25 percent of the team's snaps, compared to Murray's 81 percent, per Football Outsiders. So far this year, Henry has been on the field for 35 percent of the team's snaps, compared to Murray's 67 percent.

Another way of looking at things: Through five games in 2016, Henry had carried 34 times for 151 yards (4.4-yard avg). Through five games this year, Henry has 43 carries for 187 yards (4.3).

How can the Titans improve on third downs? – Cassel and the Titans struggled on third downs against Miami, producing a two-for-13 performance that wasn't conducive to putting many drives together.

One way the Titans can improve on third downs is by reducing the number of yards they need to face in those situations. In Sunday's loss, the Titans faced third-and-nine or longer on six occasions, and they didn't have a single situation of third-and-three or shorter.

The Titans found themselves in pretty good situations on a number of second downs, but didn't take advantage.

“We had a number of second-and-two’s and second-and-three’s, and short seconds that ended up being third-and-longs for one reason or another,” Mularkey said. “Again, I’m going to say this. It was more of us stopping us on second down, putting us into tough situations on third down that we’ve got to clean up.”

In a perfect world, the Titans wouldn't have to worry about very many third-down conversions. On the team's nine-play touchdown drive in the third quarter, Tennessee only faced one third-down attempt.

What's the identity of a Colts team without Luck? – Through the years of Peyton Manning and Luck, the Colts have almost always been a pass-heavy team. But with Luck having yet to play his first game this season due to shoulder rehabilitation, the Colts have developed a solid rushing attack.

The Indianapolis running game ranks 17th in the league, thanks to veteran running back Frank Gore (239 rushing yards, 3.2-yard average), rookie running back Marlon Mack (112 yards, 4.5-yard average) and quarterback Jacoby Brissett (83 yards, 3.8-yard average).

The Colts have scored an NFL-best eight rushing touchdowns this season.

“I know the (offensive) coordinator pretty well, Rob Chudzinski,” Mularkey said. “What he does well to me is he plays to his players’ strengths. Jacoby being kind of new to the system, new to the team, I think (Chudzinski's) balanced it a little bit more with the run game, and they’ve got a run game. But I think he’s done a good job of just playing to who he’s playing with right now.”

It should be noted, though, that Brissett threw for a career-best 314 yards last Sunday in a win over San Francisco.

Can the Titans build on last week's defensive performance? – When the Titans held Miami to just 178 total yards, it marked the stingiest performance by the team's defense since 2010 when Tennessee surrendered just 127 total yards in a 19-11 loss to Pittsburgh.

Granted, Miami's offense has struggled in recent weeks, but the Titans' defensive performance was still a huge turnaround from the previous week's loss to Houston.

They held the Dolphins to just 92 yards passing and to just two drives of more than 20 yards.

This Monday night, the Titans will face an Indianapolis team without quarterback Andrew Luck, one that ranks 26th overall in offense.

One area the Titans would still like to improve upon is the team's sack total, which stands at eight after five games. The Colts have surrendered 18 sacks, which is tied for the fourth-most total in the NFL.

— Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.