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Then vs. Now: Texans-Titans (Round Two)

A lot has changed in the weeks after the Texans massacred the Titans.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texan Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It was October 2nd. The Texans had just clobbered the BESFs, and I was prepared to get a tattoo of Deshaun Watson holding up the Lombardi Trophy. I knew where I wanted it, too. Right chest, just above my “MOM” tattoo. Gotta keep the most important things close to the heart, right?

What was the single most dynamic exhibition of offensive efficiency in franchise history turned out to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. A shooting star. The whisper in a gust of wind.

From world beaters to beaten by the world. The highest hopes to the hardest hurt. The stark differences between then and now - for both teams involved in the game - may just be too much to handle.

At first, I wanted to write a statistical juggernaut of an article today. This being my first season writing for BRB, I’ve found myself spending hours searching for stats and trying to almost prove that I can be considered a credible source of information. Hell, I went so far as to watch Tom Savage tape from a high school football game in an attempt to detect what goes on in his brain during a game.

I could show the per week variance in QBR, total offensive and defensive production, or points per possession since the last time these two teams squared off. But then I realized that you do not need more statistics to prove what you already know. You need a plausible reason.

After Week 4, both the Texans and Titans were 2-2. It felt as if the Texans would remain on top of the AFC South for a long time to come. Deshaun Watson gave the whole city a demonstration of how a franchise QB properly picks apart a lesser foe. We finally looked to have pieces at WR that meshed a variety of talents. The defense, which was on the field for only 20 minutes against the Titans back in October, looked stellar even with J.J. Watt not making an impact.

The Titans, who were 9-7 last year as well, were stunned by a new group of Texans rookies the last times these teams met. Undrafted rookie Dylan Cole led the team in tackles. D’Onta Foreman carried the ball for 45 yards and wore down Tennessee’s defensive line. Deshaun Watson put up 5 TDs and a had a Passer Rating of 125. The future of the Texans was the brightest it had ever been. It was too early to tell if this performance was a once-in-a-lifetime event or the opening act of what was to come. As the next few games would show, it was the latter, but we were able to watch a group of young stars play together for a limited time.

All three of the rookies players listed above are out for the season (Watson and Foreman) or missed significant time (Cole). Will Fuller IV will be out again this week. Watt, Christian Covington, Whitney Mercilus, Chris Clark, Ryan Griffin, and more are gone for the remainder of 2017. The team that takes the field Sunday in Nashville will not be the same team that took the field at NRG Stadium back on October 1st. We will have C.J. Fiedorowicz and Brian Cushing in this game, neither of whom played last time, but their impact will obviously not outweigh the losses this team has suffered.

The BESFs have not suffered the same losses as the Texans this season. Their consistency and willingness to stick to their game plan have propelled them to top of the division. They are firmly in line for a playoff berth.

Against the Texans in October, they could not run the ball to save their life. Since the Texans’ offense was so unrelenting, the Titans completely abandoned the run and became inept in all things offense. They made what has turned into a miserable secondary look like an entire team of Pro-Bowlers. Five turnovers that day account for over 35% of Houston’s entire season’s total. Having Marcus Mariota on the bench with a hamstring injury only made matters worse (or better, for the Texans).

Now, the Titans have benefited from a very easy stretch of games since the last time they played the Texans. In the seven games the Titans have played since they were at NRG Stadium, five of them have been against teams with losing records. Are they the best-worst team in the NFL? The Steelers revealed Tennessee’s illegitimacy beating them 40-17 on Thursday Night Football. They have scraped by against bad teams to get where they are. In the last five wins, they have won by an average of 3.5 points. Mariota has a miserable TD:INT ratio of 2:3. Rishard Matthews is the only viable option at WR with a motley crew of mediocrity attempting to catch poor passes.

The run game for the BESFs is the main bright spot for the team. They have the third-most rushing TDs and average a solid 4.2 YPC. Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray are one of the best one-two punch combos in the league. Against the Texans last time, however, they combined for 38 rushing yards and were silenced as the deficit grew to 43 points.

That being said, winners win and losers sit at home and watch the playoffs on TV. Even with all of the injuries the Texans have suffered, sometimes it feels like the Texans lack the leadership and will to succeed in the most critical moments in the game. I was wincing the entire final drive last week with Tom Savage at the helm. My premonition was right because he inevitably threw an absurdly poor pick that ended the game and potentially the playoff hopes for the Texans’ season.

Of course, all is not lost. What this team has lost in injuries it has gained in opportunities for young players to get valuable in-game reps that otherwise would be taken up by the stars on this team. The trajectory of this season may have flipped since the last time these two teams played, but I think that there may be another opportunity to upset those boys from the backwoods in Tennessee.