Titans aim to rebound versus Colts
Say this much for Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey: He's got a cheeky sense of humor.
While Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano was conducting a conference call with Nashville media Wednesday morning, Mularkey took his turn as an intrepid journalist to ask his counterpart a question.
"Hey, Chuck, can you tell me Chud's first 15 plays, preferably the first two?" Mularkey queried, referring to Indianapolis offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
One can't blame Mularkey for seeking a little extra edge for his team's first Monday night home game since 2014. The way things have gone for Tennessee the last two games, it needs every little advantage it can derive.
Back-to-back dreary losses -- they were obliterated 57-14 in Week 4 at Houston and 16-10 last week in Miami -- have taken some shine off what many around the organization were pointing to as a red-letter event in their resurgence as a good NFL team.
At 2-3, the Titans are only one game out of first in what is again a very winnable, very mediocre AFC South. Then again, so are the Colts, who have won 11 consecutive meetings, dating back to December 2011.
And Tennessee might be staring at another game without quarterback Marcus Mariota (hamstring) in its lineup. Mariota is hopeful that he can answer the bell, and after watching Matt Cassel's performance at Miami, Titans fans are likely more hopeful than Mariota.
Not that Cassel could totally be blamed for the loss, in which he was sacked six times. But he managed just 141 yards on 21 of 32 passing with no completion longer than 17 yards, enabling the Dolphins to eliminate the deep throw from their thoughts.
Mularkey wants Mariota to be able to move well enough in the pocket and outside of it -- mobility is a vital part of Mariota's tool kit -- before he'll play him.
"He's got to be able to move around pretty good ... and not put himself in a position that he's going to re-injure himself," Mularkey said. "He's got to show that by the end of the week."
While Tennessee might get its regular quarterback back, Indianapolis already knows that Andrew Luck (shoulder) will miss another game. It was hoped that Luck might make his season debut in Nissan Stadium, where he's 5-0, but he was ruled out Monday.
But the Colts appear to have the advantage if this is a matchup of backups. Jacoby Brissett has started the last four games after being obtained from New England, saving Indianapolis from having to play Scott Tolzien after a disastrous 46-9 Week 1 loss at the Los Angeles Rams.
Brissett threw for a career-high 314 yards last week in a 26-23 overtime victory over San Francisco, although he has been sacked 14 times behind a line which hasn't been able to consistently offer its quarterback a clean pocket since Peyton Manning was spraying touchdown passes out of it.
Still, Indianapolis knows its opportunity is abundant. Jacksonville's one-game lead through five weeks is hardly insurmountable, even though its defense is coming of age and Leonard Fournette has given the offense its first identity in years.
Houston is dealing with major injuries defensively, and the Titans have been a bit of a disappointment in the early going after entering the season with high expectations.
"This game, it counts double," Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "It's very important. It's something that we understand."
Hilton has been tough on Tennessee. He owns a pair of 100-yard games against them, including a seven-catch, 133-yard performance last October in a comeback win in Nashville. And the Titans' secondary hasn't exactly been compared to Denver's, although it held Miami's impotent passing game to 78 yards last week.
Tennessee's biggest concern might be reviving the running game around which its offense is built. Its offensive line, which had to play without left tackle Taylor Lewan (knee) for most of last week's loss, didn't open up a lot of holes. The Titans rushed for only 69 yards.
Granted, the Indianapolis defense isn't quite as stout up front. And the incentive of snapping a losing streak that goes back six years and six starting quarterbacks has to count for something, especially under the Monday night lights.
After playfully fending off Mularkey's attempt at beat writing, Pagano took a stab of his own.
"Can you let me know if 8 is going or not?," Pagano said, referring to Mariota.
The answer could determine the outcome.
Updated October 11, 2017