TITANS // COLTS OVERVIEW
The “find a way to win” Titans are now sitting at 5-4 after their dominant home victory over the Patriots, and they will travel to Indy this week to take on a 4-5 Colts team that has won three straight since their loss to the Jets. This division is wide open, with the 6-3 Texans in the lead but carrying plenty of question marks of their own — setting this up as an important game for each franchise moving forward.
Indianapolis and Tennessee have gotten here in completely different ways, with the Colts ranking first in the NFL in pace of play while the Titans rank 31st. Early in the season, the Colts were also the most pass-heavy unit in the NFL, though they have leaned more on the run lately with the emergence of Marlon Mack. The Titans, unsurprisingly, throw the ball at the second lowest rate in the NFL.
Indy has the more attackable defense, as they rank 23rd in yards allowed per game and 26th in points allowed per game, while Tennessee ranks sixth in yards allowed and first in points allowed — on the strength of the best red zone touchdown defense in football. Tennessee has allowed the fourth fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, they are one of only two teams that has not yet allowed a tight end touchdown, and their three touchdowns allowed to running backs is the best mark in the league. The Titans have been most attackable with wide receivers — allowing a middling mark of 11 touchdowns (with seven of these allowed by Malcolm Butler).
Unsurprisingly, Vegas has sided with the home team in this spot, installing the Colts as two point favorites. In keeping with a seeming theme in this week’s slate: this game has an aggressive Over/Under of 49.0 — a mark that no Titans game has topped all year…but that five of the last six Colts games have topped. The Colts have recently allowed 26 points to the Jags, 28 points to the Raiders, and 42 points to the Jets. They have scored 29 or more points in five of their last six games, and they quietly rank sixth in the NFL in points per game.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
The Colts have tried to establish a Tampa 2 foundation on defense — relying on speed to get to the quarterback and force throws before the coverage breaks down. Much like Dan Quinn in Atlanta: Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus will take speed over size at every position except defensive tackle — and while this defense still needs some more pieces before they can be “good,” there are a few things they are doing well already, with no team in the NFL forcing a lower aDOT than this squad. Much like the Tampa defense itself, however, the Colts are allowing an enormous catch rate (Tampa is the only team allowing a higher rate of completed passes), which is still leading to the Colts ranking 25th in yards allowed per pass attempt, in spite of the low aDOT.
Downfield passing has not been a huge part of the Titans’ attack this year, with Marcus Mariota notching a middling average intended air yards of 7.8, and with alpha Corey Davis ranking third in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards in spite of an average depth of target of only 10.1.
Coming off the monster showing last week against New England (7-125-1 on 10 targets), it is worth noting that Davis also saw 10 targets in Week 9 against a Cowboys team that — similar to Indy — allows a big increase in catch rate. In that game, he went 6-56-0. Davis has seven or more targets in six of his nine games this season, with his dips below seven targets coming against Baltimore, Buffalo, and Jacksonville, so he is a very safe bet for seven or more targets, with something like eight to 10 looks his expected range. Given the high catch rate Indy allows, he’ll carry nice floor this week — though while upside is present, it is no guarantee.
Further solidifying Davis’ floor is the total lack of involvement for pass catchers behind him. Tajae Sharpe has topped four targets and 33 receiving yards only once all season; Taywan Taylor is on track to miss again, but even if he plays, he has not topped two targets in a month and a half; Cameron Batson went 2-36-0 last week on three targets in Taylor’s absence; and Jonnu Smith — in spite of back-to-back games with a touchdown — has not topped three targets in a game all season. (Indy has allowed the ninth most receptions and the seventh most yards to tight ends, if you want to bet on the idea that Jonnu’s role is still growing in this offense, which is not an outlandish idea.)
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
Although he disappointed in the box score last week, Dion Lewis played 49 out of 65 snaps for the Titans (75.4%), while Derrick Henry played only 14 snaps in a game the Titans controlled throughout — one week after playing only 14 of 70 snaps and ceding 59 to Lewis. Until further notice, Lewis is operating as the clear lead back on this run-heavy team.
Indy has been solid against the run — ranking 10th in adjusted line yards and seventh in fewest yards allowed per carry. The Colts have allowed only six total touchdowns to running backs (the eighth best mark in the league), though they have allowed the third most receptions to the position, creating opportunity for Lewis to carry strong floor in this spot (recent target counts of 9 // 4 // 2 // 6 // 4 // 2), with some yardage and touchdown upside mixed in.
Henry, of course, remains a “hope for multiple touchdowns” option, as he has yet to top even 60 rushing yards in a game.
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
Although the Titans have been tremendous in the red zone this year, they have been susceptible to quality receivers, with DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Alshon Jeffery, Tyrell Williams, and Julian Edelman all topping 100 yards against them, as part of a fairly soft passing schedule that has included games against the Dolphins, Jaguars, Bills, and Cowboys. With Tennessee playing such tremendous defense in the red zone, they have allowed the second fewest passing touchdowns in the league this year — which has put a cap on upside against them. But with Andrew Luck entering this game with an incredible three or more passing touchdowns in six straight games (including matchups against Jacksonville and Buffalo), there will still be opportunity for this passing attack as a whole to produce.
The issue in targeting this passing attack, of course, is that the yards and the touchdowns do not always match up on this squad. On the season, Luck has 26 passing touchdowns, but T.Y. Hilton (who leads all wide receivers on this team with 430 receiving yards) has scored only four of those touchdowns…while Eric Ebron has scored four total touchdowns across his last two games, in spite of playing only 38 snaps (28.6%) and piling up only six catches for 106 yards in that stretch.
Hilton has target counts of only 4 // 5 // 7 since returning from his injury (after seeing double-digit looks in each of his first three games on the year), and only eight teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Titans, making this a difficult spot for Hilton to hit for huge upside. Naturally, Hilton’s speed on the turf gives him a chance to hit in any matchup if the targets are there, but he cannot be considered a high-floor play at the moment.
Behind Hilton, Ryan Grant played only 28 snaps last week in his return from injury and saw only one target. If he returns to his early-season role, he’ll regain some possession looks, with a shot at going something like 4-45-0. He would need to regain his role and score a touchdown to truly provide value.
Dontrelle Inman saw another four targets last week but played only 18 snaps. Chester Rogers has back-to-back games of only one target.
Of course, this passing attack is flowing through the tight ends more than ever before, with Jack Doyle playing 48 of 55 snaps last week and Mo Alie-Cox outsnapping Ebron 23 to 21. Doyle has seven and three targets since returning and should be in line for five to seven looks in this difficult spot. Alie-Cox saw four targets last week, but it was the first time all season he had topped two looks in a game.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
The Titans have been solid against the run this season, allowing a respectable 3.89 yards per carry to running backs while allowing the fewest running back touchdowns in the NFL. The Titans rank top 12 in fewest rushing yards allowed to backs, and only two teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to the position.
The Colts’ backfield belongs to Mack right now, as he has played 61.7% of the team’s snaps across their last two games, with touch counts across his last three contests of 21 // 27 // 14. Mack is steadily seeing two to four targets each game, which gives him a little more upside than pure “yardage and touchdown backs,” and his ability to score from anywhere on the field gives him upside as well. The matchup, of course, does not set up in his favor.
On the Titans’ side, I like Corey Davis as a guy who doesn’t pop off the page, given the inconsistency of this passing attack, but who carries solid floor and a strong shot at upside. If he were featured like a true alpha, he has the talent to warrant a top-end price tag — so with double-digit target potential, he’s very much worth considering. Alongside Davis, Mariota is interesting as a salary saver with upside. The Colts’ zone-heavy defense is not conducive to big quarterback rushing lines (only four teams have allowed fewer rushing yards to the position), but the high completion rate allowed by the Colts opens opportunities for things to hit for quarterbacks. This offense wraps up with Dion Lewis — who doesn’t pop the way he did last week in a matchup that set up better for him, but whose workload (recent touch counts of 19 // 23 // 22) still makes him one of the more underpriced plays on the slate, at under 10% of the salary cap on all three sites.
On the Colts’ side: I see this passing attack as an interesting unit to “stack multiple ways” in large-field tourneys, as it is likely that one or two pieces hit given how well Luck has played lately. But with this team spreading around targets and this matchup setting up poorly for tight ends, it will be difficult to do more than simply guess on the right plays on this attack — likely leaving it out of Main Build consideration for me. As for Mack in the Colts’ backfield: I’ll likely mix him onto a few large-field tourney builds, as he is the kind of explosive player who can post a big game in a difficult matchup with a couple long plays — but he’s not a standout piece this week, with the matchup setting up poorly for touchdown upside and for production on the ground.