JACKSONVILLE – Senior correspondent Brian Sexton examines the AFC South entering Week 13 of the 2023 NFL season …
Any other team might have felt relief when the Indianapolis Colts announced that running back Jonathan Taylor would miss this week's game in Nashville, Tenn., after thumb surgery. The Titans felt no relief, because when the teams met in early October, Taylor was out and Zach Moss tore them up.
Moss rushed for 165 yards in a 23-16 Titans victory in Indianapolis, with the Colts rushing for 193 yards as a team. The Titans entered that game having held 19 consecutive opponents under 100 yards rushing.
"Every team has that one loss, that one ass-whupping that got put on them during the season," Titans outside linebacker Arden Key said. "That game, the first time we played the Colts, that was that game for us."
Four of Tennessee's last six opponents have run for more than 100 yards, with the Jaguars rushing for 128 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 11 victory over the Titans.
The Colts enter Sunday with one of the NFL's most efficient offensive lines, a group that is healthy for the first time this season.
"They're going to run it," Key said. "There's not a team that talks about running it and doesn't try it. They're going to run the ball. It's up to us to stop the run. Then after we stop the run, we can talk about getting to the passer."
The Titans are 4-0 at Nissan Stadium this season and 0-7 anywhere else.
The Colts expect to get after Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis Sunday. Indianapolis has 36 sacks this season, tied for sixth-most in the NFL.
Four players on the Colts' defensive line have five or more sacks, with seemingly every defensive lineman contributing during their current three-game winning streak.
Dayo Odeyingbo, who has a team-leading six sacks this season, had three sacks in a win over the New England Patriots in Germany. Free agent Samson Ebukam also has six sacks, forcing a fumble on all six. Kwity Paye has five and a half sacks and DeForest Buckner – who is seemingly always double-teamed – has five.
"It just goes to show that altogether, four equals one," said Colts defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, who has three sacks. "We're working together, trying to come together as a complete unit."
The Colts have 15 sacks during their three-game winning streak, which has contributed to takeaways and touchdowns such as the two defensive back Kenny Moore II made in a win over the Panthers.
The Indianapolis Colts best single season sack total is 46 set by the 2005 team that featured perennial Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
"I feel like we're hitting our stride right now," Paye said.
Football is a meritocracy, make plays on the field and you'll earn opportunities. Such is the case for Texans defensive back Desmond King. It was King who snuffed out the Jaguars touchdown attempt at the end of the first half this past Sunday, filling the gap outside where running back Travis Etienne Jr. was headed toward a possible touchdown and a 20-7 Jaguars halftime lead.
"It was an exciting play," Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. "For Desmond to step in at that moment in time in our goal-line package … he stepped up big time. To make that stop going into the locker room before halftime, that was a huge play. You felt the energy from everybody — not only on the defense — but on the entire team. It was a big time hit by 'Des' and just happy to be able to get him back."
The play earned King a more permanent spot on the roster. He was signed to and then elevated from the practice squad just last week. The Texans this week released veteran defensive back Shaq Griffin in favor of King.
"I'm just excited to be here," King said. "Wherever they put me at, that's what I'm going to do, just like the game on Sunday. Whatever opportunity I get, I've got to make the best of it."