Titans hope to end Luck's mastery over them
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Last week, the Tennessee Titans ended their seven-game losing streak against Tom Brady with a convincing 34-10 victory over the New England Patriots.
On Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the Titans will try to halt their losing streak against another elite quarterback when they face the Colts. The Titans are 0-9 all time against Andrew Luck, and it is significant that the Titans' two wins against the Colts last season came when Luck was on the sidelines nursing a shoulder injury.
The Titans (5-4) have won two games in a row and are just a game out of first place in the AFC South. But the Colts (4-5) have won three in a row and are only a game behind the Titans in the same division.
And first-year Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is very much aware of the success Luck has had against his team.
"We talked about it this morning. We talked about how well they're playing, and the fact that they've won three games in a row, outscoring opponents, I think, in that time 100-something to 39," Vrabel said. "Twenty-nine points a game, everything they've done, the amount of turnovers they've created, how good they are on third down. Quarterback has only been hit nine times in four games. Some quarterbacks get hit nine times in a game, or a half. They are really protecting him.
"He never stares at a rusher, ever. His eyes are downfield. Some of those, where he used to scramble, he's stepping up and he's still looking for guys. So, he's extending plays, but he's extending them to throw, and that really is creating a lot of conversions for them on third down. Then after all that stuff, he's never lost to the Titans. They hopefully were very aware of the success that he's had against this organization."
Luck was 21 of 29 for 285 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and no sacks in last week's 29-26 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes with just one pick during the three-game winning streak, and he was not sacked in any of those games.
The Colts are No. 1 in fewest sacks allowed per pass attempt at 2.6 percent.
The Titans rank in the middle of the pack with their 23 sacks, but they are No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense, yielding just 16.8 points per game.
Tennessee used an array of blitzes, stunts and disguised defensive coverages to sack Brady three times. The Titans also pressured him six times and limited him to a season-low 51 percent completion rate. Veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his 12-tackle, 1.5-sack effort in the win over the Patriots.
The Titans hope to have similar success against Luck.
"Not just last week, but all year, it's a tough defense," Luck said of the Titans. "They've got playmakers all over the field, (Brian) Orakpo, (Jurrell) Casey, I know those are game-wreckers. They've got linebackers that can run. They've got cover guys, safety, corner, everywhere.
"It's a defense that presents a bunch of different looks. It's hard to get a bead on what they do. It's a great challenge for us as an offense, a really, really good defense. We certainly have our work cut out for us."
Orakpo sees no difference between this season's version of Luck and the Luck he saw before the shoulder injury.
"Luck is back. Luck is back and in full effect and we have to be prepared for Luck to do his thing, like he's been doing for them on this streak they're on. Luck is a tough quarterback and he's back playing at a high level. Their record proves it on the streak they're on right now," Orakpo said.
The Titans will counter with Marcus Mariota, who also has played well recently. He has thrown four touchdown passes with no interceptions during the two-game winning streak after tossing just three touchdown passes with five interceptions in his previous six games.
He is supported by running backs Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry, who share the running chores, with Lewis getting a few more chances lately. Neither has been outstanding as each averages just 3.5 yards per carry.
However, they may have some success against a Colts defense that ranks 23rd in the league in total defense and 26th in scoring defense, yielding 26.6 points per game.
The Colts' running game is centered on Marlon Mack, who had just 29 rushing yards against Jacksonville but had more than 100 yards on the ground in each of the two previous games.
Luck's main passing target has been tight end Eric Ebron, who leads all tight ends with nine touchdown receptions, and his three-touchdown performance against the Jaguars included a 2-yard scoring run.
Updated November 15, 2018