The AFC South lead might not be up for grabs tonight, but a pivotal battle in the division will take place nonetheless. Both the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans are trying to level their record at 3-3 and keep pace with the first-place Jacksonville Jaguars when they square off at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Here's what we're watching for in the evening's clash:
- A lot of people in the football world will have their eye on Marcus Mariota's hamstring, but he has been cleared to start. Normally one of the most fun offenses in the league, the Titans were stuck in quicksand with Matt Cassel under center in last week's loss to the Miami Dolphins. The journeyman backup quarterback threw for just 141 yards and a score on 21-of-32 passing. Without Mariota's legs, and the threat of a running quarterback in general, the Titans' ground game also suffered. Power backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry had just 67 yards on 18 carries.
Even with Mariota ready to play, there's still no guarantee he'll be the same, elusive Mariota who rushed for 116 yards and three scores on 20 carries in the first four games this season.
- Ooffensive coordinator Terry Robiskie told reporters earlier this week he wants to get Henry more involved in the offense. We've heard that from the coaching staff before, however. With Murray sputtering a bit dealing with his own hamstring issues, Henry has seemed to be ready to usurp the starter's role from the veteran. But week in and week out so far, Murray has out-carried Henry (56 to 43 on the season). Will tonight finally be the night the former Heisman Trophy winner gets the touches to shine in prime time?
- The Colts have a young running back ready to take touches from an aging one as well. Marlon Mack provided a key spark for the Colts' offense last week when he spelled Frank Gore. His 91 yards and a touchdown on nine carries were arguably the biggest reasons why the Colts were able to escape overtime with a win over the San Francisco 49ers last weekend. Gore, meanwhile, has been steady against some stout fronts this season, though his 3.2 yards per carry isn't going to cut it for much longer. Mack figures to have a shot to eat into plenty of Gore's touches this evening. Will his follow-up to last week's breakout performance be just as exciting?
- It won't matter much who's carrying the ball for the Colts if their O-line can't block the Titans' front. Coach Chuck Pagano announced Saturday the team placed starting right guard Jack Mewhort on injured reserve with a knee injury. Kyle Kalis, Mike Person and Le'Raven Clark are candidates to fill in, but it won't be an easy assignment. Space-eating defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is sixth on the Titans' defense with 19 total tackles and second on the team in sacks with two. He could be in store for a big game if Mewhort's fill-ins can't replicate the young guard's performances so far.
- Rob Gronkowksi, Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed tend to grab all the tight end headlines in the football world, but two of the sport's best will face off tonight looking to make their underrated names known on the national platform. Colts TE Jack Doyle will return from a concussion trying to improve on his numbers that already have him second on the team in catches (with 17) despite missing last week's game. Titans TE Delanie Walker, meanwhile, leads the Titans in receptions with 21. Can the two finally show they're just as good as some of the bigger names at their position?