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Texans-Titans Preview: Five Things To Watch

Texans. Titans. The saddest rivalry in the NFL. Here's your viewing guide for this Week Eight matchup, including five things to keep an eye on as the Texans take on the Titans.

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Editor's Note: FanDuel is hosting a FREE Week 8 fantasy football league where half the teams win cash on Sunday. New users only. Join now!

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It's another game between the Texans and Titans, where each team is playing hapless, tasteless football. Neither team is good. It's not getting any better. It probably never will. Life is as pointless as this game. I wouldn't even mind sadness. Just to feel something again would be so nice. My dreams are so vivid when reality is so grey. The Titans are melancholy. The Texans are infinite sadness.


It's Texans-Titans.  Even though both teams are fetid, putrid, and other synonyms of decay that end with -id, it's always a fun game even when it isn't and even when it doesn't matter, which is 99% of the time. Together, we will waste another afternoon of our lives in our own little ball of terrible football as everyone else in the country watches real football teams that can complete passes, pick up five yards on the ground, and other fun stuff.

Psshhh...they can have that. I need Brian Hoyer to throw incomplete passes to his tight ends, I need Bishop Sankey to bounce everything to the outside, I need Vince WIlfork to get knocked three yards on every play, I need Taylor Lewan to block like a Redwood.

Sunday is what makes Texans fans what they are--a batch of people who have watched terrible football together for the last thirteen years. Without awful football, we lose our identity. Let's add another chapter of meaningless November football to it. Read this, put the game on, and let your brain turn into a pair of khaki pants as you let this one numb your soul and Halloween hangover.

1.) J.J. Watt Destroys the Titans.

This season has been terrible on so many levels. Besides Arian Foster's injury, the worst part of the season is we haven't even had a Watt freak game to enjoy yet. Romeo Crennel has done a bad job moving him around and putting him in spots to succeed. Watt hasn't worked with Jadeveon Clowney to eat planets. He's picked up some sacks here and there, but mostly it's been him rummaging against double and triple teams or picking up sacks in blowouts. With the pressure on the coaching staff, nd Watt going up against a pack of mangy linemen, this should be as good of a week as any for a 3 sack, 1 FF, 1 TD, 4 TFL performance.

I'll partake in some hocus-pocus, I'll have frog wart chili, I'll hang out in the backseat of someone's car while they grocery shop, I'll even eat candy corn. I'll do whatever it takes to see Watt finally play at Wattian levels this Sunday.

2.) The Titans' Failed Offensive Line Experiment

I think at this point in my NFL watching/writing life, my favorite thing about the game is the macro level strategy. I love  learning how teams use their limited resources to try and put together a winning football team. I've enjoyed this part of sports my entire life. I would spend summer afternoons playing "Madden" or "MVP Baseball" without playing a single game. I would just sit there in the air conditioning and simulate while the sky overflowed with the sun's rays and the parched grass panted. Trades would be made, free agents would be brought in, younger cost-controlled players would get early extensions so they would be paid less in their prime. After hearing It Was An Honest Mistake for the 300th time, I would check the clock and wonder how it could already be time to microwave a frozen dinner. Despite their awful performance the past two years, the Titans are interesting in this regard.

Like the good version of the San Fransisco 49ers, and the Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee went all in on having their core competency being offensive line play. They made Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak their head coach. They drafted RG Chance Warmack (10th overall), C Brian Schwenke (107th) and LT Taylor Lewan (11th overall).  They signed RT Michael Oher (4 years, $20 million), and LG Andy Levitre (6 years, $46.8 million).

Mike Munchak was the first to go. He was fired by the Titans in 2013 after going 22-26. Tennessee replaced him with Ken Whisenhunt. In Whisenhunt's first year, the Titans had a rushing DVOA of -21.6% (32nd), adjusted sack rate of 8.9% (26th), and 3.91 adjusted line yards (17th).

Tennessee invested heavily and failed tremendously.

Both of their big name free agents are sunk costs. Each one lasted two years into their deals and have already been cut. They are paying dead money hits of $4.3 million and $2.1 million for Oher and Levitre not to play for them. They spent a third round pick on Jeremy Poustasi to play RT and signed Byron Bell to play LG (1 year, $1.5 million). After two years, they're already rebuilding a unit they thought would one day lead them to seven wins.

They already changed their strategy to QB Guru + Transcendent College Quarterback = Wins (?). This season, Tennessee's gutted offensive line hasn't been good. The Titans' can't protect the passer and they can't run the ball. Tennessee has a rushing DVOA of -14.8% (23rd), 4.1 adjusted line yards (10th), and an adjusted sack rate of 10.9% (31st).

Lewan plays too high and can't run-block. Warmack is slow and is meant to play in a power scheme. Poustasi was benched 21 snaps into last week's game after Cameron Wake ran around him. They lost starting center Brian Scwenke for the year. Byron Bell was cut by the Panthers, whose offensive line has three UDFAs on it. I'm going to stop writing about this now and turn it into a full length post.

3.) My Friend Marcus

Another interesting case study comes in the form of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Mariota has played in a relatively safe offense. He's throwing one-read slants to tight ends off play-action and lots of horizontal routes that attack the shorter part of the field. It worked against the Buccaneers.  Against the rest of the league, it hasn't. Mariota is running the Fisher-Price:My First Offense.

The Buccaneers have done the opposite. They let Winston throw deep.  They let him throw a lot to Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Winston is running the Arizona Cardinals' offense of taking hits and throwing it down the field just like Andrew Luck did his rookie year. He's playing unchained and without limits.

Both of these players will be forever linked because of where they were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. But the more interesting aspect is how their coaching staffs are bringing them along. There are three sides to this triceratops:

-Start your rookie right away.

-Start your rookie in a controlled offense that hurts his developments, but play to his strengths.

-Let your quarterback stew for a few years.

We are seeing two of these different styles for the top two picks in this year's class and it will be fun to see how it plays out.

Mariota is out this week anyways. He was hit low in the Dolphins game and sprained his knee. I just wanted to write about him for a brief spat in time. Zach Mettenberger started last week in a romping 10-7 loss to Atlanta, and will start again this Sunday. We will see the Human Possum again who is better than any quarterback on the Texans' roster, and my television will be on mute the entire time as the announcers incessantly say "selfie".  I have $100 that one of the terrible announcers (fun side note of watching a 2-5 team--you get the C-List broadcast crew) says, "Watt brings out his selfie stick on that sack!". Kill me now.

4.) What To Do Without Arian?

Did you know Arian Foster is out for the season after blowing out his Achilles in garbage time? That beautiful man probably played his last game in a Texans uniform.  In my heart, he will forever be laying on the wet Miami grass.

Although he's gone, the Texans will still try to run the ball with Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, and Jonathan Grimes. Even though the Titans have the 30th ranked run defense in the league, it won't be fun. It's going to be a lot of three yard runs, which will lead to a lot of 3rd and 7s, which will lead to a lot of Brian Hoyer incompletions, which will lead to a lot of punts. Hooray! Texans football!

5.) Offensive Line Continuity

I haven't had a chance to really dive in and look at the Texans' offensive line this year, so I don't know if (a) they are good or (b) what's going on with the run game. What I do know is that Houston has an adjusted sack rate of 5.3% (11th), an adjusted line yards of 3.44 (26th), and they have been bringing different hogs to the market all season.

Part of this is due to injuries. Duane Brown missed time early in the year. Brandon Brooks is having trouble with his toe. The other reason is they have been purposely moving guys around. They started playing Derek Newton at guard to help with interior run blocking so Houston could run the ball up the middle. Additionally, Chris Clark, Kendall Lamm, Oday Aboushi, and Xavier Su'a-Filo have all started games this year.

The problem with all this shifting around is you lack continuity on your offensive line. A main component of line play is knowing how to work with the guy next to you and making calls to make the right blocks. When everyone is moving around, it negatively affects teamwork and how everyone performs. It will be interesting to see who they throw out on Sunday, and if they actually decide to stick with a unit.

Have fun tomorrow, everyone!

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