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Monday Night Preview: Can Marcus Mariota Lead the Titans to a Win in His Return?

This week's Monday Night Football features a clash between the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. Currently, each of these teams sits at 2-3 in the AFC South and the winner will move into a tie with the Jaguars and Texans atop the division.

Last week, the Colts edged out a victory against the 49ers by a score of 26-23 in a contest that required overtime. On the other side, the Titans, playing without franchise passer Marcus Mariota, suffered a 16-10 defeat to the Dolphins.

Looking at our team rankings, which are based on our nERD metric, the Titans currently stand as the NFL's 25th-best and the Colts come in dead last at 32nd.

With that said, each team will attempt to keep this game competitive by exploiting a few key positional advantages. Here are a few key positional breakdowns likely to influence the outcome of this contest.

Quarterback Breakdown

After taking over the starting quarterback job in Week 2, Jacoby Brissett has led the Colts to their lone two victories. Despite these victories, Brissett has played below average, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. On the year, Brissett has a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.03, which is below the league average of 0.08. To make matters worse, Brissett owns a Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs contributing to a positive NEP -- of just 42.55%. Among the 27 quarterbacks with at least 140 drop backs, this mark ranks 23rd.

Expected to play this week, Mariota will hope lead a rebound for the Titans' offense. According to our metrics, Mariota currently has Passing NEP per drop back of 0.18 on the season. He also has a Passing Success Rate of 47.32%. Among 32 quarterbacks with at least 112 drop backs, Mariota ranks 13th in Passing Success Rate. In comparison, Matt Cassel -- who was forced into a start in Week 5 -- has a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.66 and a Passing Success Rate of 30.00%.

Clearly, Mariota's return provides the Titans' offense with a huge boost.

Running Back Breakdown

To start the season, the Colts have deployed a three-man committee at running back, consisting of Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, and Marlon Mack. Gore leads this backfield with 75 carries, while Mack and Turbin have mixed in with 25 and 20 carries, respectively.

Looking at our NEP statistics, the Colts have not allocated their touches efficiently. Gore currently has a Rushing NEP per attempt of -0.14, which is below the league average of -0.04. In comparison, Turbin owns a Rushing NEP per attempt of -0.03 and Mack has the best clip of all three at -0.01, although the sample size is much smaller for Gore's backups.

These numbers fall directly in line with Mack's breakout performance last week, when he ran for 91 yards and a touchdown on 9 rushes. Despite these positive signs, coach Chuck Pagano still doesn't believe Mack is capable of handling a larger workload. Look for the Colts' running game, which currently ranks 18th, per our schedule-adjusted per-play metrics, to continue in mediocrity.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans shifted their two-man committee to a feature-back system, with DeMarco Murray handling a majority of the work, and Derrick Henry entering the game sparingly.

According to NEP, the Titans may want to think about getting Henry more involved. On the year, Murray has a Rushing NEP per attempt of -0.09. Henry, however, has been the more capable back with a Rushing NEP per attempt of 0.09 on a similar workload. Additionally, among 31 running backs with at least 43 carries, Henry currently ranks second in Rushing Success Rate at 48.84%. In comparison, Murray comes in 23rd with a Rushing Success Rate of 33.93%.

Defensive Matchup

To begin the year, each of these teams has been dreadful on the defensive side of the ball, which could make for an entertaining game tonight. Per our schedule-adjusted metrics, Titans rank 27th in overall defense and the Colts sit dead last.

The Titans have performed well against the run, ranking 10th in Adjusted Defense Rushing NEP per play. But they slot in 29th in Adjusted Defense Passing NEP per play. On the other side, the Colts are 28th in run defense and 32nd in pass defense, per our metrics.

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