Darius Leonard’s Season-Saving Declaration to His Colts Teammates Means Nothing if They Don’t Stop the Runaway Train

The Indianapolis Colts started the 2021 NFL season slow, but they finally seem to be hitting their stride. Even though it’s a long season, one of the team’s leaders understands the importance of their Week 8 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Darius Leonard had some strong words for his teammates, but Derrick Henry will be looking to spoil the Colts’ plans.

Darius Leonard declared this a ‘must-win’ game for the Colts

The Colts are currently sitting at 3-4, but they’re probably better than their record suggests. They started the 2021 season with three consecutive losses, but they enter this matchup with the Titans after winning two straight.

Linebacker Darius Leonard has been playing lights-out football. As one of the team leaders, he issued a challenge to his teammates in a recent press conference, per The Athletic.

“I normally don’t say any game is a must-win game. But this is a must-win game,” Leonard said. Indianapolis is just seven games into a 17-game season. Still, the All-Pro linebacker understands the magnitude of a division matchup, considering the team currently has a losing record.

Given the Colts’ early struggles, it’s difficult to gauge how good they are. Their best win was the Week 7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in a sloppy Sunday Night Football game. Indianapolis also pushed the Baltimore Ravens to overtime. If it weren’t for Lamar Jackson, the Colts would’ve won.

Frank Reich‘s squad will face another stiff test against the Titans.

Derrick Henry presents a stiff challenge for Indianapolis

Colts LB Darius Leonard reacts during a game; Titans RB Derrick Henry running against the Chiefs
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard celebrates after a big play | Rob Carr/Getty Images; Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans in action against the Kansas City Chiefs | Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts enter this matchup with a middle-of-the-pack defense. Led by defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the unit has been up and down.

The Colts’ defense has allowed 354.1 yards and 21.2 points per game. Indianapolis has battled injuries on the defensive side of the ball, but they’re getting healthy at the perfect time. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and defensive end Kemoko Turay are returning to action this week.

The Colts will have their hands full with Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. The 27-year-old bruising runner comes into the Week 8 matchup leading the NFL in rushing by a mile.

Henry has rushed for a whopping 869 yards in seven games. The next closest player is Colts’ running back Jonathan Taylor (539), who will be on the opposite sideline.

For Indianapolis to beat the Titans, they will need to key in on King Henry. Tennessee’s offense goes as Henry goes. The run opens up the pass. The Arizona Cardinals held the Alabama product to 58 yards on the ground. In the Titans’ other loss, Henry gashed the New York Jets, but New York pulled off a fluke victory.

Henry’s punishing running style wears down opposing defenses, especially deep into the second half when defenders are tired.

Darius Leonard and the Colts will have to keep him out of the end zone, as he’s scored 10 touchdowns in 2021. Indianapolis has allowed just two rushing touchdowns on the season, which is the best in the NFL. Henry ran for 113 yards against this unit in Week 3, but the Colts didn’t allow him to reach pay dirt.

The Colts have a bend but don’t break defense, and they’ll need to bring it against Derrick Henry.

The Colts have a winnable schedule down the stretch

Darius Leonard is a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the toughest players on the Colts’ roster. His nickname is also “Maniac.” If he says this game is a must-win, they better come out with a victory.

The Tennessee Titans are coming in hot this week after notching monumental wins over the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. If Indianapolis can knock them off, the team will get a major confidence boost moving forward.

A win puts the Colts at 4-4, as they head into a very winnable schedule for the rest of the 2021 season. They have a couple of tough matchups against the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before their bye week in Week 14. Otherwise, they have three games they should easily win against the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans.

After the bye, Indianapolis has a three-game stretch against the New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, and Las Vegas Raiders. If the team can navigate their schedule and put themselves in playoff contention, it will be in a prime spot to clinch in a juicy Week 17 game against the Jags.

Indianapolis has to focus on the task at hand, though, and that’s the Titans.

Derrick Henry is the biggest threat to Darius Leonard’s declaration, so the Colts must ensure the runaway train doesn’t get loose.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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