Colts hope to rebound on road against Henry, Titans

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Sep. 25—INDIANAPOLIS — Julian Blackmon became animated at the very mention of Derrick Henry's name.

The Tennessee Titans running back is renowned for many things, but his devastating stiff arm likely tops the list.

It's a move the Indianapolis Colts will anticipate early and often Sunday at Nissan Stadium, and they'll need to flock to the football to have a chance against it.

"With him, he's strong," Blackmon said. "So you've really got to like punch that thing down and do it another time and then maybe try to get other guys like, 'Look at me. Come help me out.' I'm over here slapping his hand down. Somebody's gotta come running. So we've just gotta make sure that we're on our P's and Q's and take care of it."

Henry is unique among NFL rushers. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he's not just a hammer. The Titans do a good job of getting him into open space and allowing him to combine speed with power to truck over undersized defensive backs.

There are highlight reels filled with Henry punishing defenders, and Indianapolis has been on that film plenty of times in the past. He averages 5.9 yards per carry in this rivalry game, and he's topped the 100-yard mark in each of the last three meetings.

And he's hot.

Henry carried the ball 35 times for 182 yards and three touchdowns and added six catches for 55 yards in the Titans' 33-30 overtime victory at Seattle last week. So the Colts are well aware of the challenge ahead.

"As soon as you pause, you're on a highlight," Blackmon said. "You're on ESPN. That's what you're on. You can't just second guess. You've gotta go in there and want to tackle. It's a mindset."

For all the concern about the status of the quarterback position in Indianapolis and all the attention Titans wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones rightly command, Henry's success is the most important factor in a game with huge early season implications.

Tennessee (1-1) is the AFC South leader after Houston's loss Thursday night, and a win Sunday would give the Titans a two-game lead over their biggest divisional rival. It would also deepen the sense of chaos currently surrounding the Colts.

Indianapolis (0-2) hasn't started a season 0-3 since 2011, and there are major questions about the offensive line, pass rush and secondary that have helped sink the team's chances in the first two weeks. Now challenges have arisen at quarterback that have helped install the Colts as 5.5-point underdogs on the road.

It's still too early to use the term "must win," but the storm clouds are only growing darker on the horizon.

"Every week's urgent, and then you add in an urgency of a division game," Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle said. "That adds urgency to it. And then obviously wanting to get in the win column in the season to start that trend, get that ball rolling. But you don't press, though, at the same time.

"You dig deeper into the process that you know works. And that's getting to practice, and that's getting the reps, and that's getting better every single day. And the results and things like that will fall into place."

That's easier said than done.

After losing three straight in the series from 2018-19, the Titans have won two of the last three meetings. Interestingly, the Colts have fared better recently in Nashville than they have at home.

Tennessee has won the last two games at Lucas Oil Stadium, but Indianapolis has taken the last three meetings in the Music City. The Titans' last home win in the series was a 36-22 decision on "Monday Night Football" in 2017.

But that won't bring the Colts much comfort this week if they can't reverse some of the issues that have plagued their two-game losing streak.

Chief among them in relation to this game has been the run defense. Indianapolis ranks 18th in the NFL with 241 yards surrendered on the ground and an average of 4.3 yards per carry.

That has allowed opposing offenses to do whatever they want in the passing game, and opponents are averaging 6.7 yards per play overall against the Colts. It's a black eye for a defense with hopes this season of joining the league's elite.

Nobody feels that more keenly than defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. He missed last year's home game against Tennessee because of COVID, and he admits there's a little extra juice to this matchup.

"Yeah, the Titans — all of our division games are always circled," Buckner said. "They're big games. Obviously, missing that second game (last year), I feel like I let my team down for sure and I just have to come out, be prepared and be ready to rock on Sunday."

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