Get inside this week's Colts-Titans matchup with a look at Carson Wentz, Eric Fisher, Xavier Rhodes, Derrick Henry and Michael Pittman Jr. JJ Stankevitz
1. Will Carson Wentz start?
Carson Wentz will be a game-time decision, coach Frank Reich said Friday, as the quarterback deals with sprains in both his ankles suffered during the Colts' Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Wentz did not participate in practice Wednesday and Thursday but was limited on Friday.
"I'm very surprised with where he's at at this point in time ,to be honest with you, because Monday and Tuesday was pretty bad," Reich said. "Monday, I thought zero chance. Tuesday I thought there was a glimmer of a hope. But we just handle it day by day. We've been pretty straightforward with how it's all come down and pretty transparent. Trying to figure it out. Today was the next step in trying to figure that out."
Reich said he's seen Wentz get progressively better this week, and Wentz said on Wednesday he already saw improvement in his ankles as he and the Colts' training staff were "throwing the kitchen sink" at treatment. Whether this will all be enough for Wentz to start against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday remains to be seen.
But the Colts all along have not ruled Wentz out, and will continue to evaluate his ankles and possible availability over the next few days.
"If we're going to leave this open, then we have to think positively," Reich said of the Colts' mindset with Wentz. "We can always go the other way. But you don't want to be pessimistic about it and then all of a sudden say oh, you're feeling better at the end of the week, maybe you can go. So what Carson and I and everybody I've talked about is, let's just think as optimistically as we can, we can always back down and back away.
"We've been very conservative, Carson, his health is first and foremost. We always take a long-term approach, we don't want to do anything that's going to harm the player. And so he's done a very good job, our training staff has been unbelievable during the week to make whatever progress we have made. And so now we'll just have to see these last 48 hours how it plays out."
2. Another week for Eric Fisher
Left tackle Eric Fisher made his Colts debut last weekend against the Rams and played well for the 49 snaps he had (that was 73 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps in Week 2). Reich was pleased with how Fisher played both in the immediate aftermath of Week 2 and then after watching the tape.
Fisher did show up on this week's practice report but only for a day of rest on Thursday. While Braden Smith (foot/thumb) will not play Sunday, Fisher's progress should continue to bring the Colts' offensive line into focus.
"It was great to get Fisher back today," left guard Quenton Nelson said after Sunday's game. "Limited practice with him. He did some great things and I really appreciated him being out there and fighting through an Achilles. It's outstanding what he was able to do. I think going into next week we're going to fix a lot of things and get back to playing Indianapolis Colts football."
3. Inside the Xavier Rhodes vs. Julio Jones matchup
Rhodes does not have an injury designation for Sunday's game and is tracking toward making his 2021 debut after missing Weeks 1 and 2 with a calf injury. The return of the 31-year-old veteran is certainly welcome news ahead of facing a Titans passing attack headlined by receiver A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.
The offseason addition of Jones in Tennessee offset the loss of Corey Davis (65 catches, 984 yards in 2020) and gives the Titans two physical, fast receivers with which opposing secondaries have to contend.
"Those guys are not your typical big guys," Rhodes said. "These guys are your fast, physical, can come out of their breaks, can run fast, I'm going to keep over-emphasizing the fast part because they both are fast. And you just gotta be on top of those guys."
Rhodes has plenty of experience against Jones in his career - he faced him four times when he was with the Vikings and Jones was with the Falcons. Rhodes' stats in coverage against Jones in those games, per PFF:
12 targets 5 receptions 58 yards 3 pass break-ups 0 TDs
Still, Jones had six catches for 128 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 and remains one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL.
"He's a guy that's big, fast, physical but can also run almost every route in the route tree," Rhodes said. "We all know about Julio, we've all seen Julio in his career, the things he does, the routes he runs, the marvelous catches he's made throughout his career, he's one of those guys -- he's going to make some catches. He's going to make some great catches, tough catches. We just gotta move on to the next play and stop him as much as you can."
Defending the combination of Jones and Brown will be a challenge for the Colts' defense. But when those two guys were brought up, Rhodes quickly interjected:
"They got a running back too. Don't forget about that big piece."
4. How Colts aim to slow down Derrick Henry
There is, of course, no forgetting about Henry. The 6-foot-3, 247 pound running back is built like a truck yet runs like a Ferrari. His stiff-arms are ready-made for Instagram highlights and since the start of the 2019 season, no player has had more rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
"All I gotta say is we're gonna tackle him," safety Julian Blackmon said, getting progressively more fired up as he talked. "Yes, he's going to stiff-arm. Yes, we know that. We're going to tackle him. We have to. We have to. It's a point of emphasis for us to tackle him. 2-2. He's going to get the ball. Get him down. That's what we know."
But how do you tackle Henry?
The Colts know they have to stay locked in to their assignments and gaps at all times. Discipline is critical.
And just as critical: When you're in the right place, tackling him low.
"He's a big guy," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "But every man, no matter how big you are, you can't run without your legs."
So the Colts focused on hamstring tackles this week. And there's a certain mentality necessary to successfully bringing down Henry, too.
"It's a mentality of a want-to," Blackmon said. "Because as soon as you kind of pause and are like (hesitates), you're on a highlight. You're on ESPN. That's what you're on. So you can't second-guess. You have to go in there and want to tackle. It's a want-to thing."
But sometimes even all that isn't enough to bring down Henry. That's where this defense's built-in mindset to sprint to the ball comes in handy.
"We're going to have seven-plus to the ball on every play," Blackmon said. "That's our goal."
So, to bring down Henry, it'll take proper discipline, desire, technique and support. There's a reason why he's the best running back on the planet. Not many can stop him.
But if a defense can limit Henry's impact, it gives their team a good chance to win. Since the start of the 2019 season, the Titans are 6-10 when Henry rushes for fewer than 100 yards. When he goes for 100 or more?
The Titans are 15-2.
"We know who we are, we know who he is," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "It's a thing that you say, you respect him but don't be scared of him and that's the thing you all have to understand. We play ball, we played against these guys, it's been going on Year 4 for me. There's no fear in anybody's heart that's going against him and you have to understand that.
"There's one football and there's eleven guys on defense just trying to get to the ball. We have to make sure we do that."
5. Can Michael Pittman build on a career day?
Before Michael Pittman ripped off eight catches for 123 yards against the Rams on Sunday, his career high in receiving yards came in last year's trip to Nashville - a seven-catch, 101-yard showing in the Colts' 34-17 win over the Titans at Nissan Stadium.
Pittman was targeted 12 times in Week 2 - the most targets a Colts player has had since Week 10 of the 2019 season (Eric Ebron). Reich likes to both spread the ball around and ride the hot hand; against the Rams, Pittman was on fire to the point where he had the ball thrown his way more than any Colts player in nearly two years.
"I got the targets and the production was there," Pittman said.
Is it really that simple?
"I mean, I think so," he laughed.
What Pittman did against the Rams, though, came as no surprise to anyone who's watched his growth over the last year.
"We knew that he's ready to take his game to another level," offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "He had a great training camp and it was just a matter of time to being able to show that in a game situation. He's a very talented receiver, very competitive. Love that about him, and we know we have to find ways to get him the ball in all facets, short, medium, long - everywhere."