INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Every week, Bob Kravitz chats with a reporter who covers the Indianapolis Colts' opponent. This week, he has an email conversation with Joe Rexrode, a writer covering the Tennessee Titans for The Tennessean.
KRAVITZ: One week, I watch the Titans and think they're for real, a playoff contender who can do some things in the post-season. The next week, I think they're the same old Titans. You watch them closely every week: Who are these guys? Have they shown you they're capable of eventually becoming a special team, at least this year?
REXRODE: Yeah, good question, I ask myself that a lot. At this point, 10 games in, I think they're a pretty good team that will probably make the playoffs. And it's hard to go beyond that. Entering the season, I thought this team could be solid on defense and potentially great on offense. I thought this could be one of the best offenses in the NFL, with all the pieces back from one of the league's best running games in 2016, Marcus Mariota in his third season and more weapons outside. But the running game has been a disappointment. Some of that is up front, some of it is Demarco Murray simply not returning to his form from the first half of 2016. It's been one nagging injury after another since a foot injury he suffered last season vs. Jacksonville. And the Titans aren't willing to pass the torch to Derrick Henry yet. On the outside, rookie Corey Davis has missed most of the season with a hamstring injury. A weaker running game and a drop-off in protection have hurt Mariota, though all of his struggles can't be pinned elsewhere. I just have a hard time seeing this team being "special" this season, which to me means a team that can win January games. But a playoff bid would still be a big step for the organization.
KRAVITZ: When the Colts last played the Titans, Mariota was coming off the hamstring injury and basically remained stationary in the pocket all game (and still lit up the Colts). Is he fully recovered, and is he back to scrambling and using his legs on designed runs?
REXRODE: Yeah, the Colts will see a very different Mariota on Sunday. He has his legs back and will use them as a threat in this game. His touchdown run at Pittsburgh was, as is often the case with Mariota, a startling burst of speed that appeared to have no chance to reach the end zone when he started it. As you said, he was good when confined to the pocket vs. the Colts, but this offense is better with his run threat, and the run game really needs that look.
KRAVITZ: OK, the picks. The Colts have played significantly better the last three weeks, especially defensively; that said, they've found a way to lose two out of three. I just don't see this team changing the script they've used all season: They'll compete, they'll hang around and then they'll fashion an interesting way to lose in the end. Make mine Titans, 27-21. What's your pick and why?
REXRODE: I'm going 27-17 Titans, a close game throughout with a late Titans touchdown to make it a two-score final. Though the 40-17 score at Pittsburgh doesn't reflect it, I think the Titans actually are making some progress on defense and will do a better job against Jacoby Brissett and Co. than they did in the first half in Nashville. And I just don't trust that Colts defense much at all.