As the Indianapolis Colts try to get their first win of the season this week against the Tennessee Titans, the conversation will once again be dominated by the quarterbacks.
Will Carson Wentz be able to recover in time to play? Will Jacob Eason get the first start of his NFL career? Will we see Brett Hundley get some snaps on Sunday?
So many questions surround the most important position for the Colts. It’s certainly not the best time to have that, especially with a huge divisional matchup containing potential playoff implications on the horizon.
Putting the quarterbacks aside, the top priority for any team when facing the Titans is trying to contain running back Derrick Henry. When Henry isn’t able to take over a game, the Titans are a much different football team.
“Limit the explosive runs, get him to stop his feet in the hole, gang tackle,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus explained. “Everybody will say the same thing. Try to get him to go backwards or sideways in the run game. Easier said than done and everybody will say that. What we have to do is play as a unit and play as a defense to be able to limit his plays.”
Last year in the first meeting between the two teams, Henry had 103 yards on 19 carries with no touchdowns and the Colts came away with the win. The second time around Henry dominated for 178 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries as the Titans ran away with the victory. Colts’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was not out there for that second matchup, and he knows how big of a challenge Henry poses.
“Obviously, everybody doing their job in the run game,” Buckner said when asked what it takes to limit Henry. “Being in the gaps, their assignments and also, tackling him low. Coach (Matt Eberflus) preaches about hamstring tackling and also team tackle. We need hats on the ball, especially against a guy like him.”
Buckner will play a key role in stopping Henry, but the guy that could be the biggest factor in stopping the Titans’ running back is defensive tackle Grover Stewart.
Stewart burst onto the scene in 2020 and stood out numerous times for being a cog in the middle of the Colts’ defensive line. The Colts rewarded Stewart with a three-year, $30.75 million contract extension to pair with Buckner in the middle.
2021 has not been the start Stewart wanted. Stewart has only totaled eight tackles and no sacks in the first two games. The Colts as a team are giving up 4.3 yards per carry, a stat that reflects on Stewart as one of the team’s best run defenders.
This doesn’t seem like a good recipe to stopping Henry, who is coming off a 182-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
It can be assumed that Buckner will receive most of the attention as the Titans try to neutralize the biggest threat along the Colts’ defensive line. This allows Stewart to have one-on-one matchups where he must take advantage. If Stewart cannot make an impact, Henry could be in for another big day.
Stewart has certainly not gotten off to the start he wanted in 2021. Before the season started, Stewart mentioned having Pro Bowl aspirations and wanting to take that next step to be amongst the elite at the nose tackle position.
"I want to have that Pro Bowl title to my name," Stewart told Colts.com. "That's what I'm working for this year. Because a lot of people don't know me. But they're going to get to know me."
A big game against the Titans and stopping Henry would certainly be a step in the right direction.
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