“All they do is kick our ass.”
That was the gist of the “come to Jesus” meeting Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay called last year after the Tennessee Titans knocked off the Colts 25-16 at Nissan Stadium in Week 3.
Fast forward one year and nothing has changed. The Titans went into Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday and handed the Colts a 24-17 loss on their home turf, extending their win streak to a franchise-best four straight over their division rival, and sending a message that the AFC South still runs through Tennessee.
Sure, the Titans haven’t gotten past their second-half struggles — they had just 28 yards of total offense with four punts in the third and fourth quarters. But fortunately, Tennessee has built a sufficiently strong lead in the first half of the games of the last two weeks, with the defense then able to keep the dam from breaking both times.
“I don’t really care how it comes; our job is to win,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill told reporters after the game. “Whether it’s ugly or pretty, it really doesn’t matter. A `W’ is a `W’ and our job is to score more points than the other team, and finish each and every week 1-0, as best we can.”
Below are the things that stood out — good and bad — from the Titans’ Week 4 win over the Colts:
Good: Derrick Henry looks like Derrick Henry
It may have taken him four games, but Henry finally cracked the 100-yard rushing plateau. Beyond that, the Titans have been taking advantage of Henry’s versatility in the passing game as well, targeting him five or more times in consecutive games for the first time in his career. Henry averaged 5.2 yards per carry on Sunday against the NFL’s No. 3-ranked run defense, and he ripped off four runs of 10 or more yards (technically five, although his 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was called back for offensive holding) after registering just one such run the previous three weeks. The Titans improved to 21-1 when Henry has 25 or more touches in a game.
Bad: Offense continues to disappear in the second half
The Titans averaged just 1.4 yards per play and had just 28 yards of total offense in the second half against the Colts. They are averaging only 3.9 yards per play in the third and fourth quarters this season.
Through four games, Tennessee has just 352 yards, one touchdown, 15 punts, nine three-and-outs, a missed field goal, a pick-6, a fumble and a turnover-on-downs in the second half, counting Sunday. Yes, the Titans have a two-game win streak, but this hold-on-for-dear-life style of playing after halftime is not sustainable.
Good: Chig Okonkwo a factor in the pass game
Until the 7:40 mark of the second quarter on Sunday, Okonkwo’s most memorable NFL moment was the four yards he lost on a failed 3rd-and-1 sweep against the New York Giants in Week 1. But as Okonkwo split Colts linebackers Shaq Leonard and Zaire Franklin on the 1-yard line, he caught a Ryan Tannehill pass in a tight window and fell into the end zone for his first career touchdown.
He had only three receptions for 38 yards, but he led all Titans pass catchers in yards and his 23-yard reception late in the first quarter was Tennessee’s longest pass play of the game. If the Titans can find ways to involve Okonkwo more going forward, it could add an extra wrinkle to the pass game that has been missing — a legitimate threat from the tight end position.
“I felt ... very comfortable and very confident,” Okonkwo said. “When I would hear the play call, I would get lined up, I would know exactly what my job is, and it was just playing unconscious and finally just getting out there and just going. …This game was definitely just a big step for me.”
Bad: Treylon Burks injury
Burks suffered a foot injury early in the fourth quarter and had to be carted to the locker room. Reports after the game indicated that he was on crutches with a boot on his left foot.
Although he was targeted just three times against Indianapolis, Burks has been Tennessee’s second-best wideout this season with 10 receptions, 16 targets and 129 yards, and he led all Titans receivers with 56 yards after the catch. He ranked among the league leaders heading into Sunday in creating separation, averaging nearly four yards per play. If Burks is out for an extended period time, it could be a huge setback for the Titans offense.
Good: Denico Autry carrying the pass rush
Autry had arguably the most important play of the game for the Titans with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter. The 32-year-old defensive end bulldozed his way past Colts left tackle Matt Pryor and around Pro Bowl left guard Quenton Nelson to sack Matt Ryan — his second of the game — and force a 51-yard field goal attempt that Chase McLaughlin hooked wide left. He also had a team-high three QB hits, and along with Rashad Weaver (two QB hits, one sack, one tackle for loss) and has stepped up in Harold Landry's absence.
“It’s just really cool the type of player he is,” Vrabel said. “He’s savvy. It started in training camp the way that he practiced before hurting his hand. You could just see that he was dialed in and going to find a way to help us and certainly impact the game.”
Bad: The secondary still can’t cover anyone
Matt Ryan threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns while four different pass catchers had four or more receptions. The Titans secondary allowed nine receptions of 15 or more yards, including six that went for 20-plus yards and three that went for 30 or more yards. Caleb Farley was burned on a 44-yard pass to Alec Pierce on the Colts’ final drive of the game, which allowed Indy to get into field goal range. In addition, Terrance Mitchell was beat on a 25-yard pass on Indy’s second touchdown drive of the game. Kristian Fulton and Roger McCreary were solid, but Tennessee needs more contributions from its depth players. Allowing 300-yard passer in three straight games isn’t going to cut it.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_