The Houston Texans sit at 14-15 in their history against the Tennessee Titans, so this Week 17 affair presents an opportunity for Houston to pull themselves back to .500. If that's not a good reason to go all out for this game, I don't know what is. In the short term, this game only serves as further game time reps for this offense to find some form prior to the playoffs. What else is worth watching?
1. Offensive Line
If there's one thing we could do with more than anything, it's some kind of resurgence in the line’s protection of Tom Savage. Tom has good pocket presence and always keeps his feet moving, but there is only so much he can do when the protection simply implodes.
After going back and watching some of those sacks, none of the linemen covered themselves in glory. Duane Brown had some unusual mistakes that he doesn't normally make, and of course there was the obvious inability of Jeff Allen to block anything at all. Chris Clark continued to get beaten by the speed rush and Xavier Su'a-Filo continued to be very hit or miss.
Now is the time for the offensive line to pick themselves up, dust themselves down, and start putting in a strong performance. If the Texans are to stand any chance in the playoffs, the protection must return. It will be interesting to see if Bill O'Brien holds anyone accountable for the subpar performance. Maybe Oday Aboushi returns to replace either Allen or Su'a-Filo as he did earlier in the season? Maybe Kendall Lamm might bring the athleticism that Chris Clark is lacking?
2. Injury Report
Bill O'Brien talked about playing to win against the Titans. However, I'd prefer to lose and be healthy than win and see a starter injured in the process. The Texans already have 13 players on the injured reserve list. Now is not the time to add to that.
Jadeveon Clowney, Lamar Miller and John Simon all did not practice yesterday, with an additional five players all limited. Whilst our team would certainly be at a huge loss without those guys out there on Sunday, the loss of not having them in the playoffs would be even greater.
I expect those three to sit out the game. There seems to be no point in risking them. Guys like Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, who were two of those limited in practice, should be on a pitch count of sorts. The Titans are trotting Matt Cassel out there; I don't think we're at great risk of him picking us apart through the air. Therefore, I think we would be safe with A.J. Bouye and Robert Nelson starting, with Joseph or Jackson coming in when a third cornerback is needed.
Bill O'Brien doesn’t seem to be interested in resting players, so whether we go hell for leather or not remains to be seen. I know what I would do, that's for sure, no matter how much I want to see Clowney vs. Taylor Lewan again.
3. To Huddle Or Not To Huddle?
I like the Texans’ offense a lot more when they don't huddle. It's slightly more pleasing to the eye and we tend to have a lot more success that way. It was evident in the second half against the Bengals and in those two opening drives against the Titans last time.
Bill O'Brien has talked at length this week about how the offense needs more tempo. The best way to do that is to go no-huddle.
Tom Savage has this system down. He's been here for near on three years now. I have the confidence in him to get the plays out and perform without needing to huddle. This offense is built on creating mismatches (although it hasn't worked so far), but if the defense has a match-up we like, the best way to punish it is by not allowing them to make substitutions with the no-huddle.
The important thing to watch will be when and where we choose to huddle. Can we commit to the no-huddle in the red zone, even though it's been the site of our biggest struggle? Do we continue to no-huddle even whilst in the lead, or do we slow it down and risk stalling drives?
4. That Exotic Smash Mouth Offense, Though
Whatever you want to call the Titans’ offense, the talent of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry at running back is a test for any defense, even if the Texans’ is the best in the league. Our run defense has been suspect at times, though of late much improved. The Titans currently rank third in the NFL with 138.9 yards per game on the ground; in only four games this season have the Titans rushed for under 100 yards. With Matt Cassel under center, it's likely they pound the ball even more.
D.J. Reader has been impressive as a rookie. Last week he put Andrew Whitworth on skates a couple times. He's been showing up a lot whenever he gets on the field and has a real nose for the ball in the run game. Vince Wilfork has also been playing much better this year, and Jadeveon Clowney is tied second in the league for tackles for loss. Despite all the injuries to major figures on the defensive side of the ball, it hasn't stopped everyone playing great defense. Since the bye week, the Texans have only had two teams rush for more than 100 yards against them—Green Bay and San Diego. It has been a great improvement from some of the performances we saw earlier on in the season.
Both offenses are going to lean on their running games to be successful, so you if you enjoy watching huge 300 pound plus men battle it out in the trenches, the Texans-Titans game is the one for you.
This will be a battle of epic proportions, and one I look forward to watching.
There's my four things to watch this week. What are you looking forward to?