Texans to Watch: Titans Edition
The Texans look to improve to 4-0 on the season and 2-0 in the division at Reliant Stadium this weekend. The foe is division rival Tennessee Titans, which come to Houston after winning their first game in overtime, 44-41 against the Detroit Lions. The Texans (and probably most fans) are riding a “Rocky Mountain High” into this game after beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos last week. But that was last week and this could be a trap game if the Boys in Steel Blue aren’t ready. Hopefully with the match-up being a home division game, it will push the Texans to another victory.
With that being said, the Titans are not very good statistically, but in their defense they have played the Patriots, Chargers and Lions – arguably three potential playoff teams. On paper, this match-up overwhelmingly favors the Texans. The Titans’ opponents have averaged just over 38 minutes in time of possession and the Texans lead the NFL with 36:34 minutes. The Titans are dead last with 23:18 minutes. This is significant because Kubiak’s Texans are built to control the clock with the run game. The Texans average 150.3 yards rushing while the Titans are allowing 150.3 yards rushing.
So how did they put up 44 points and beat last year’s playoff contending Detroit Lions?
Titans’ coach Mike Munchak explained after the game, “We thought against that defense (Detroit Lions) with the size of the guys and the front seven, where their strength was, that the smartest thing to do is to do exactly what we did—throw the ball a little bit, spread it around, tire them out, discourage them a little bit, hard count them, do some screens, just kind of mix it up and then get to the run, which we did.”
Texans to Watch: Defense
I would venture to guess that the Titans will implement a similar game plan against the Texans’ defense front. This strategy made first year starting Titans’ quarterback Jake Locker look like an All-Pro. He finished 29 for 42 with 378 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Texans to watch on the short to intermediate routes will be the cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph, who missed practice Wednesday with a slight groin issue, Kareem Jackson, Brice McCain and whoever else is active for the game in the defensive backfield. I also suspect the Titans will throw a lot of screens – and just about anything to slow the Texans’ pass rush. Ironically, the Titans have only allowed one sack through three games, so Wade Phillips will have to earn his paycheck if the defense can put Locker on his back.
The Titans still have a dangerous running back in Chris Johnson but you wouldn’t know it because he only has 44 total rushing yards – averaging 1.4 yards per carry. But don’t be fooled, Johnson can still break off long runs and score with his elite speed. Locker is their leading rusher with 67 yards, and a threat to run if the pocket collapses. Look for someone to “spy” Johnson and Locker – maybe Glover Quin or Quintin Demps.
The Texans’ defensive formula for success starts with pressuring the quarterback with just the front seven and allowing the cornerbacks and safeties to cover the wide receivers. If Wade Phillips and the Texans can execute this formula, it could be a long day for the Titans.
Texans to Watch: Offense
The Texans’ offense will initially look to exploit the Titans’ defense by running the ball. Against the Lions, the Titans’ safeties played 30 yards from the line of scrimmage – daring them to run the ball, and because they didn’t want to get beat deep. This will allow the Texans to run the ball and to throw over the linebackers but under the safeties. According to Tennessean Insider Jim Wyatt, the Titans’ defense was “shredded with the short to medium range passes” against the Lions. Watch for Arian Foster and Ben Tate (and hopefully Justin Forsett, because if he gets in the game late it could be a blow out) to have a big day running the ball and the tight ends Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham and James Casey to have a nice day catching short passes down the seam and in the middle of the field.
Even though Matt Schaub has been knocked around a little bit too much for Kubiak’s liking, the Titans could only muster 1 sack and 3 knockdowns last week while the Lions attempted 55 passes (completing a whopping 43 of them). The Lions’ backup quarterback Shaun Hill was even able to enjoy some success going 9 for 12, 160 yards and 2 touchdowns last week. Second year Titan Akeem Ayers is their main threat and they have lined him up in various positions to leverage his athleticism. In fact, last week Munchak was asked about Ayers’ role and he said, “He’s put his hand down [but] not a ton, some, more in the three-down package. We’ve used him more in that way where we can move him around where it’s more unpredictable where he’ll be.” The entire offensive line should be aware of Ayers.
Texans to Watch: Special Teams
The Titans were able to pull off the “Music City Miracle Part II” last week, which amounted to a throw-back-trick-play touchdown. I hope Texans special teams’ coach Joe Marciano has the entire Texans’ special teams aware of anything during this game. If the Titans sense the game slipping away or wish to gain momentum, look for trick plays, fake kicks, on-side kicks – you name it. Desperate teams take those kinds of risks.
I’m also hoping Texans’ return specialist Trindon Holliday gets back to his pre-season ways and makes some long returns. He should at least have a chance to return some punts in this game.
All in all, the Texans should move to 4-0 and remain the AFC leader.