Records can be misleading.
FILE PHOTO: Nov 11, 2018; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel looks on during the second half against the New England Patriots at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Look at the 4-5 Indianapolis Colts. Or take a quick glance at the 5-4 Tennessee Titans.
While it might not register as a marquee matchup, there is a lot on the line. The AFC South matchup involving two teams staring up at the Houston Texans who have won six straight and sit atop the division could begin a finishing kick to the postseason or a setback that means no playoffs.
Sunday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis could very well be the most intriguing game of the week and certainly the most-watched game of the year between teams with a 4-5 and 5-4 record.
Tennessee has won two straight and boast the NFL’s leading scoring defense. On offense, quarterback Marcus Mariota is healthy, wide receiver Corey Davis’ talent is beginning to bloom and running back Derrick Henry is running with force.
During the Titans’ modest two-game win streak, Mariota has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 468 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 122.2 quarterback rating.
“I think it’s a lot of things,” head coach Mike Vrabel explained to the team’s website why Mariota had been playing better. “I think protection has probably been better. I think the routes have probably been better. I think his understanding of the offense, and what he is seeing is better. And I guess probably some of his health.”
Health has been a big reason for the resurgence of the Colts with Indianapolis winning three straight. Andrew Luck is looking like the Andrew Luck who set the league on fire in his first two seasons.
“Andrew is playing right now at an elite level,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said as the team prepared to host the Titans. “The next step is to elevate the game of everyone around you, which he is doing. That’s what an elite quarterback does.”
The team has fully bought into Reich’s approach to how the game should be played.
“You believe in your coaches and they have good plan for you,” Luck said. “They’ve done that all year and appreciate Frank’s attitude and that trickles down.”
The offensive line has been superb at pass protection —Luck has not been sacked in four games. For the season, he’s thrown for 2,472 yards and 26 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions.
Tight end Eric Ebron (39 receptions, 463 yards and nine touchdowns) has emerged as Luck’s favorite targets, but by no means the only one. T.Y. Hilton (29 receptions, 430 yards, four touchdowns) is still around and a dangerous deep threat.
Marlon Mack shoulders the load on the ground with 410 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colts’ offense faces a severe test against one of the league’s surprise units, the Titans’ defense.
Under first-year coach Vrabel, Tennessee is giving up a league-low 16.8 points per game. In last week’s demolishing of New England, the Titans held Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense to 284 total yards.
“We’re ready for the challenge,” Reich said. “Their defense is No. 1 in the league in lowest quarterback rating against them when they pressure. When they blitz, they’ve been pretty good.
“But we’ve been pretty good” picking up the blitz and making defenses pay, Reich added.
Luck has had phenomenal success against the Titans – he’s never lost to Tennessee. The Titans did win both games last season, but Luck did not play.
“He’s a baller, man,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said of Luck. “And he never gives up. … (I played against him) twice (in college), and lost to him twice. And now I’ve played him so many times here and lost to him every time here. We definitely have to get after him.”
“He’s 9-0 vs. us, and we definitely want to end that streak,” Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “Vrabes mentioned in a team meeting room. … (Luck) definitely has that confidence when he plays us, so we need to end that.”
—Field Level Media