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Texans-Titans Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

Matt Weston gives you SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the Titans.

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tonight, tonight, the entire nation will be in mourning. They’ll be lamenting and complaining. How did we go from last week’s 109 points to this? Is this even the same sport? By traveling into the past could we at least be given the opportunity to correct past mistakes? Football filled with sweeps, options, and downfield throwing that jams its fingers into the top of the defense’s shoulders out of spread formations, will instead be inside run, inside run, shotgun pass, punt, until one team scores 20 points, and the game becomes a foregone conclusion.

So be it. AFC South football isn’t an episode of Cops that leaves you sweating. It’s a slow burn. A constant trudging upwards, most of it forgettable, until enough steps gives sublime glimpses. It isn’t a travesty, or an abhorrent puddle of melted skin ordained with clumps of hair as the rest of the country believes it to be. They’re just staring at their feet.

For this game to be between a solid team, and a below average one, let alone be broadcasted on Monday Night, is interstellar travel compared to the 2-8 v. 4-6 contests shown as specks on the broadcast map we’ve always known before. What others see as unbelievable and awful, is actually sublime. Take a look at the previous matchup. What was a 20-13 loss, looked to be plain and boring through the boxscore window, was actually spectacular. Blaine Gabbert started and won a football game, the Titans threw a fake punt touchdown pass because no one was aligned across from the gunner and is a play that will never not be funny, Tennessee created numerous free rushers and the Martinas Rankin-Juli’en Davenport left and right tackle combination proved to be disastrous, and somehow, after all of that, the Texans still only lost by a single possession.

The football isn’t beautiful, but the moments produced are. If you spend all your time whining about the drudgery, you’ll miss the wonder underneath it all.


1.) The Only Thing That Matters

Although this is titled SIX THINGS this is the only one thing matters in this game, and every Texans game this year. Does Houston’s opponent have to run the football? If the answer is yes, then the Texans will win, and will probably win by one score to the tune of 21-17, or 23-21, or whatever. If the answer is no, then the Texans will probably lose, because these teams can spread them out and attack their lack of cornerback talent. This game is the former. The Titans have to run the football. They are sixth in rushing attempts before this game started. The Texans will probably win this one.

Tennessee also isn’t a great run team either. As my ex-wife loved to tell me, just because you do something a lot doesn’t mean you’re good at it. Tennessee has 289 rushing attempts for 1,117 yards. Despite having the 6th most attempts they’re 19th in rushing yards. Additionally, they’re 31st in yards per carry at 3.9 and are 22nd in rush offense DVOA at -12.4%.

Houston, on the other hand, has the best run defense in football. Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt can’t be run at, or away from, and they squeeze everything inside right at Benardrick McKinney, D.J. Reader, and Zach Cunningham (when healthy). If the back gets past the second level one member of their safety trio will be there with a mop and a rusted pail.

The only issue for Houston is going to be when Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry breaks runs out wide. Both backs can get wide and against the natural flow of the play. Henry especially, since it’s the only thing he’s good at, loves to do this.

With the amount of free lancing that Clowney and Watt do, it’s up the secondary defenders to not only read the run play, but read what their teammates in front of them are doing and go from there. When they don’t, touchdown runs like Adrian Peterson’s last week happen, where Houston has three defenders in the same gap. Cut back runners won’t have consistent success, but they can occasional break outside their own lines.

2.) My Friend Marcus

Saying I don’t know is something everyone should learn how to do. You can always go back and do more research, or follow up with someone smarter than you to get the answer you need. Providing the wrong information is more destructive than not knowing until you provide the right information. In our post-modern filth, saying I don’t know is rare. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone knows something they don’t really know anything about. When it comes to figuring out if Marcus Mariota is good or not, my answer is I don’t know.

This season Mariota has missed time with a stinger, and has had trouble feeling his hand. He’s displayed the same mobility, and quick release as before, the same qualities that made him a tantalizing prospect. It’s year four now though. At this point we should more about what he is. Yet no one really does. This year Mariota has completed 67.6% of his passes, fine, is averaging 7.3 yards an attempt, fine, has 7 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, bad, and is 29th in passing DVOA, behind [NAME REDACTED], grotesque.

At times Mariota has been unbelievable. Look at this triple coverage seam throw put in the perfect place. Look at this ball placement.

Look at this pocket climb conversion on 3rd and 14.

At other times Mariota is horrendous. He can stagnate the offense by not executing perfect throws to receivers that struggle to beat man coverage, holds onto the ball for too long at times, and makes decisions that should have been scolded out of him before.

Tennessee’s offense has been all over the place. The new super cool offense Matt LaFleur was supposed to put in hasn’t been very cool the majority of the time. His offense, with better talent that’s been hampered by injuries occasionally, has been worse than the #ExoticMethMouth that everyone loved to hate. Yet, by going heavy against lighter quicker defenses, the Titans found a niche. Combined with an insane redzone offense, the Titans finally had a top ten offense. In 2016 they averaged 23.8 points a game (14th) and had a DVOA of 10.8% (9th). In 2017 they averaged 20.9 points a game (19th) and had a DVOA of -2.2% (18th). This year they’re averaging 17.8 points a game, and have a DVOA of -14.1% (26th).

Sometimes Tennessee’s offense breaks through. In their win over New England, LaFleur had some awesome run designs that took advantage of New England’s whatever linebacker play. This pistol formation where Mariota motions out wide and turns Henry into a wildcat quarterback is beautiful.

This is the dream offense for Tennessee.

The problem is the majority. Often the Titans’ offense is a lot of inside zone and middling interior rushing yards that puts the Titans into long third down situations. Without wide receivers that can break man coverage, and the problems Mariota has, the Titans offense is unremarkable, and unremarkable is a nicer term for what their offense has been this season.

The Titans’ offense is also a dog race. They depend on getting out of the gate first. They’re an entirely different team when they have a lead, compared to when they’re playing a tied game or playing from behind. If they fall behind, Houston can go back to doing what they do. Hang around and let two or three drives coalesce together to make the 20 points needed. If they get ahead, they’ll not only be able to limit their passing attack, but they’ll force Houston to actually have to score points.

I don’t know if the Mariota will be any good in this one, I don’t know what type of offense they’ll run, or if they get into the lead, but this is what to pay attention to once the foot hits the ball.

3.) WR#1

Here’s a fun question. Who’s the best wide receiver the Texans have covered during the seven game win streak: Zay Jones, Dede Westbrook, Josh Doctson, Michael Gallup, Emmanuel Saunders, DeVante Parker, or one quarter of T.Y. Hilton. The answer is Hilton who’s the best on this list and devastated Houston in one quarter of play before Benardrick McKinney tackled him from behind. Davis has a different skillset that Hilton, still hasn’t put together a similar level of production, but is a supreme talent like Hilton.

The Titans have a terrible passing offense. Davis is their big out when balls bounce off the turf. With his size he can come directly into defensive backs to create space, and raise over the top of them to catch passes. Deep posts, fades, corners, downfield throws that Johnathan Joseph has trouble covering, could all be big opportunities for Davis.

Or maybe not. He doesn’t even exist in some games. Mariota may not be able to feel his fingers and out comes Blaine Gabbert. But if he does, and Mariota is healthy, Tennessee could put together a decent pass offense with Davis as the focal point.

4.) I Love To Pee

Last week Dean Pees was hospitalized. The Colts scored 38 points. The week before the Patriots put up only 10 points. As the primary defensive play caller, the Titans’ defense is entirely different. Pees, the former defensive coordinator in Baltimore, bombards the line of scrimmage with blitzers coming from every level. He’s a master at creating free blitzers. By using a blitz heavy defense he clamped Tom Brady, a player you’re never-not-ever supposed to blitz.

The following week, the Titans tried to rush with four, and failed to generate any pressure. Leading to Andrew Luck throwing unobstructed TD passes to T.Y. Hilton against Adoree Jackson.

One of the problems the Titans have is they don’t generate much pressure with four. They’re individual rushers have struggled this year. Both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan have gone from good, to whatever this season. Harold Landry has 480 volt arc flashes, but isn’t consistently generating a rush. Jurrell Casey is still great. His biggest problem is that he’s only one man.

To counteract this the Titans blitz and blitz and blitz and their defense is entirely different when they do. In their first matchup their edge rushers had their way with both Rankin on Davenport. Each was able to use simple rips and corner bends to affect Watson. Pees amplified the rush by blitzing from the edge and ‘B’ gaps and running interior stunts. By doing this he was able to create one free rusher, and created interior pressure as the Texans’ new offensive line struggled to pass rushers off. That was a brutal day for Watson.

We were so young once. That was all so long ago. The Texans have finally settled on a starting offensive line combination. Davenport has been a revelation at left tackle compared to what he did on the right side. Kendall Lamm is competent as long has he doesn’t have to block the second level. Aside from Senio Kelemete’s hands, the interior has been closed. Additionally, Bill O’Brien has made chip blocks a mainstay of the offense, and play action is used sometimes instead of never at all. This is a different offense going up against this defense. For the Titans to hold Houston to 13 points again, they’ll need to generate the same level of pass rush, it just won’t be as easy as last time.


Someone give me Bill O’Brien’s email address. Last week the Texans attempted one pass that traveled plus 15 yards. The pass was an ‘Eff IT’ throw from Deshaun Watson to Keke Coutee. Grappled, he hung an airball up to Coutee into triple coverage that was intercepted by a diving Mason Foster. For a team with Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, this is inexcusable. For a team with Watson, Hopkins, Coutee, young talented tight ends, and a still learning Demaryius Thomas, this is absurd.

No matter who your quarterback is, or who your receivers are, you gotta take shots downfield. Without it the offense gets trapped in a 12 yard box. Runs against eight defenders eliminate any number advantage the offense can create. Cornerbacks play tighter. Windows grow smaller. And the general enjoyment of the game is soured. Deep passes rule. Throw them more often.

The Titans struggle against these throws too. Malcolm Butler has been beat quite a few times by double moves.

Adoree Jackson is super fast, but hasn’t been that good at football yet. Although Kevin Byard is back there influencing plays and picking off passes, it’s still a problem for Tennessee.

Houston has to throw downfield more often. Watson is great at it, and they have the receivers to make plays deep. I get O’Brien is wanting to limit the number of turnovers and maintain the football. Against teams like Tennessee that have to run the ball, movement is halted by default, they can’t score unless you give away points. But with the players they have, once on accident is not enough. Go deep, Watson and Hopkins are really good. Let’s make it happen.

6.) Autumnal Tints

When you come to observe faithfully the changes of each humblest plant, you find that each has, sooner or later, its peculiar autumnal tint; and if you undertake to make a complete list of the bright tints, it will be nearly as long as a catalogue of the plants in your vicinity.