The Titans are coming off a tough loss to the defending Super Bowl Champions in overtime, and will have an axe to grind in their home opener this week. Despite being known as a run
only first team, Kerry Collins had decent passing numbers against a formidable defense last week. Their defense, which the Texans only managed to score 25 points on all of last season, looked physical and held the Steelers offense to only 13 points. After the egg that Houston laid last week, we need to bounce back against Tennessee this week. Here are the matchups that I feel are most integral to that end.
1. Brian Cushing vs. Chris Johnson - Cushing played well in Week One, but he’ll have another trial by fire in his second game. Johnson regularly gets opposing defenses to over-pursue and then cuts back and uses his famous speed for long gains in the open field. Cushing, a rookie with no playing time in the preseason, will have to stay disciplined in order to minimize that trend. All of the linebackers will have to step up to minimize the impact of Johnson, but if I was Jeff Fisher, I would test Cushing early and often.
2. Andre Johnson vs. Cortland Finnegan - The Steelers didn’t have much success running the ball last week, but Santonio Holmes made the secondary look silly with his 9 receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown. Last time the Texans and the Titans played, Andre Johnson had 11 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown, most of which came while covered by Finnegan. Johnson needs to have a huge week in order to bounce back from his quiet performance last week and get the Texans offense back on track.
3. Justin Gage vs. Dunta Robinson - Gage may not scare many people, but he was able to get open several times against a good Pittsburgh secondary. Robinson and the rest of the defensive backs are coming off a bad outing in which they couldn’t provide the big stop that would force a fourth down. This week Dunta needs to worry more about sure tackling and less about his bank account. Many Texans fans don’t feel great about Robinson these days, but the fact remains that he is the best cornerback they have.
4. Alex Gibbs vs. Jim Washburn - Gibbs and Washburn are considered to be the elite at their respective positions. Washburn’s defensive line showed last week that losing Albert Haynesworth wasn’t going to stop the Titans from getting pressure on the opposing quarterback when they tallied 3 sacks. The one thing that may have left with Albert though is the ability to get pressure with only 4 rushers, as evidenced when pressure ceased after defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil quit blitzing. Still, Gibbs will have his hands full because as everyone saw last week, the key to shutting down the Texans offense is constant pressure.
5. Gary Kubiak vs. Expectations - Everyone expects the Texans to lose this week, maybe even the Texans themselves. The team is historically bad on the road, historically bad against the rest of the division, and is coming off a loss that may or may not have them doubting the optimism that everyone had for this season. Kubiak needs to snap them out of that and coach this game well. He is also fighting the reputation of leading a team that starts slow every year. If the Titans defense starts off strong, he needs to have a few go to plays (like a slant to Andre Johnson) readily available to help Matt Schaub and the offense get some rhythm. A win won’t be easy, but it can be done.