Week 4 is now upon us, and the Indianapolis Colts are set to take on one of their biggest rivals.
After a shocking upset that saw the Colts outduel Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Indy will face the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium. While the Titans come to Indianapolis with a 1-2 record, they are the defending AFC South champions and swept the Colts in 2021. The Colts enter the game at 1-1-1 and are trying to secure their first division win of the season.
This game also sees a matchup between the two players who have won the rushing title over the past three seasons. Reigning rushing champ Jonathan Taylor looks to prove he has taken the throne for good from Derrick Henry as the best running back in the league.
Sunday’s matchup is sure to be a brawl. Let’s look at the keys to victory for the Colts in this AFC South showdown.
Fix the Protection Issues
Until the issue has been resolved, it will continue to be the topic of conversation. As we enter Week 4, the Colts still have problems with protection. Matt Ryan has been running for his life since he joined the Colts, and Taylor has not had many holes to run through.
The struggles of the offensive line have been talked about in great detail. But head coach Frank Reich noted this week that it is not only on the offensive line to fix the protection issues. The entire offense plays a role in that regard.
“It’s been a very big emphasis, it’s very uncharacteristic,” Reich explained. “It’s very uncharacteristic of our teams but we have to own that we put that on tape. So, I think we all take that pretty personal. It’s not just – we talked about this, it’s all 11 guys. Obviously, we talk about the o-line but it involves all 11 guys. Tight ends are involved in it, quarterbacks, running backs, receivers getting to the right spot at the right time. It’s a collective effort.”
One player who will play a key role in fixing the protection issues is Ryan Kelly. Kelly, along with Ryan, handles the protection calls at the line of scrimmage and makes sure all rushers are accounted for. Kelly and Ryan will need to be on the same page to handle the various looks that the Titans’ defense will give them.
The Colts are also facing a very stout Titans defensive line. Led by Pro Bowler Jeffery Simmons, former Colt Denico Autry, and pass rusher Bud Dupree, the Titans put a heavy emphasis on getting after the quarterback. The Colts’ protection plan will need to be at its best on Sunday.
Derrick Henry vs. Colts Run Defense
Henry has been one of the only running backs to give the Colts trouble over the last few seasons. In four years under Matt Eberflus as the defensive coordinator, Henry was the only running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game against the Colts. Stopping him is always the main priority for the Colts’ defense.
However, the Colts come into this matchup with the Titans as prepared as ever to handle King Henry. The Colts’ rush defense has been lights out to begin the 2022 season. Indy is only allowing a league-best 2.6 yards per carry. The 77 yards per game the Colts are giving up on the ground is the third best in the NFL.
Much of that can be attributed to the play of Grover Stewart. Stewart has been on another level this year, breaking through the line of scrimmage and stopping ball carriers in their tracks. Stewart has arguably been the best defensive player for the Colts this season.
“Grover has been phenomenal and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit for what he has been doing,” Shaquille Leonard said this week. “I have been seeing it for five years now – dominating any center that’s in front of him. The way he moves, the way he runs to the ball, the way he just has that relentless effort to make a play and that’s what makes him so good. He’s so strong. I don’t think that a center can block him one-on-one just because of how quick and strong he is and the way that he moves.”
Stewart and Henry have had their battles against one another in the past. Sunday’s matchup will be no different.
Mistake-Free Offensive Football
The start of the 2022 season has been a rocky one for the Colts’ offense. Besides the protection issues that have plagued Indy all season, the rest of the offense has not looked sharp either.
Starting with Ryan, the veteran quarterback leads the NFL with seven fumbles in three games. Combine that with the four interceptions he has thrown so far in this young season, and ball security has become an issue. The former NFL MVP knows he needs to clean things up and better protect the football.
“I’ve typically been pretty good with (ball security,)” Ryan admitted. “It’s an outlier, at least I view it that way, But again, it’s small details that add up to bigger things and it’s a collection of myself, No. 1, even when you’re outside the pocket or whatever, you’ve got to be more secure with the football and I can do that, and protect it better when things go bad.”
He continued, “But at the same time, there are trickle-down effects of lack of detail. You can see how in certain spots, one mistake in one spot affects another and it’s cause and effect. I’ve got to do my part regardless, even when there are lapses in what we’re doing and making sure we’re not turning it over. I can do a better job with that.”
The Colts’ pass catchers also need to continue to step up and give Ryan places to go with the football. Michael Pittman Jr. has certainly done his part and is getting recognition around the NFL for his talents. Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods did their part last Sunday as the rookie stepped up in the win over the Chiefs.
Now, as we get into Week 4, it is about stacking performances and being reliable options for Ryan. Pittman will continue to receive the most attention as WR1. It is up to Pierce, Woods, and the other pass catchers to take pressure off Pittman and make the offense more dynamic.
We have seen glimpses of what this Colts offense can look like when they are not getting in their own way. As Ryan said, paying attention to the details and playing mistake-free football will allow this offense to get back on track and head in the right direction.
Want more Colts content? Check out the latest episode of the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast below as Chad Jensen and Andrew Moore give their bold predictions and keys to victory for the Colts' matchup with the Titans!
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMooreNFL.