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Texans-Titans Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

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Texans. Titans. This one probably doesn’t mean anything.

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This summer, ,we made our deathbeds, closed our coffins, and left notes behind predicting how the 2019 season would play out.

I was wrong.

Way back then, I picked the Texans to finish 8-8 and narrowly miss the postseason, and then changed it to 6-10 after Houston traded Jadeveon Clowney and traded for Laremy Tunsil. I was horrified Houston’s pass rush would crater without Clowney; it kind of did, and J.J. Watt carried the entirety of it until he shredded his pectoral, and then the Texans’ pass rush truly evaporated. Houston’s offensive line wasn’t going to be good just because of the Laremy Tunsil trade. An offensive line is composed of five players, not just one. See Anthony Castonzo and Andrew Luck’s busted spleen. Houston’s offensive line ended up being good at winning its one-on-one pass blocks once the waterbed finally stopped sloshing around. Houston’s secondary was even worse than I thought it would be. Then they traded for the rabbit’s foot, Gareon Conley, and survived off the charred bits of scrap heap pickups. Add what was projected to be the NFL’s toughest schedule, filled with F-16 passing offenses, and the 2019 season seemed like it would be a series of relentless frustrations. Unless Houston could score 27-31 points a game, they’d miss the postseason entirely.

They’re 10-5 and may end up 11-5 after averaging 24.3 points a game this season.

I was wrong because of the end result I landed on. I was wrong not because of what I foresaw—these things came to a fruition—but because of what I overlooked. In my own blind fury, I underestimated how incredible Deshaun Watson is, Romeo Crennel’s ability to construct a boat out of toilet paper holders and gumballs, and I overrated the opponents the Texans would face. I was too myopic. Every team has their problems, their own pitfalls and roster mistakes to overcome, but because I am so close and hang around this place, I overrated the mistakes Houston made and underrated their top end talent that carries them.

Now that I’m sitting here, I think I finally have a grasp on Watson’s ability. Houston is in any game as long as he’s on the field. He constantly creates plays outside the structure of the offense, pinpoints downfield passes, makes throws against pressure that have spoiled all of us, and routinely does extraordinary things no one has ever done before. Texans’ quarterback play from 2010-2016 warped my brain, turning it gray and sickly. I think I finally get it now.

Crennel saw his second best defensive player traded away for a prospect, a draft pick, and BIG PLAY BARKEVIOUS MINGO after an offseason where Bradley Roby and Tashaun Gipson were their big additions. Then Watt was knocked out for the season (until he returns for the postseason next week). Crennel turned spare parts into a real defense that’s allowed only 23 points a game (18th in the NFL) despite ranking 22nd in defensive DVOA.

The perilous schedule wasn’t filled with as many snakes and crushing boulders that the park ranger said there would be. The Texans have played the seventh toughest schedule by DVOA. Atlanta fell apart once Keanu Neal went down. The Chargers became the Chargers again. The AFC South was kind of crappy. The Patriots’ pass offense is mediocre. Tampa Bay lost its two best receivers by the time they scrounged around Jameis Winston’s boathouse.

In the end, the Texans won the AFC South. They went 8-3 in one-possession games. They won close games in a manner that I didn’t think was possible back in August. Bill O’Brien outgame-planned teams with bad linebackers. The Texans finally did what they’ve never done before. Bradley Roby had some enormous interceptions. Ahh, yes that’s it, that’s the stuff.

Crennel is a warlock. Watson is a wizard. I’m a wasteland of misery and despair. And the Texans’ offense oscillated from spectacular to mundane with and without Will Fuller V.

This is all important to remember moving forward. I have it tattooed on my legs like a short memory goldfish brain bald hitman. As Houston enters the NFL Playoffs, anything is possible, as clichéd as it is to say. Let’s try that again. There isn’t a set of insurmountable circumstances they can’t overcome with Deshaun Watson leading the top end talent Houston has.

Week 17 doesn’t matter. Next week will get here soon enough. Every postseason is a gift, and this gift shouldn’t be a pair of socks.

HIT IT.

1. FROM LOS ANGELES TO KANSAS CITY

The Texans play the Titans at 3:05 p.m. The Chargers play the Chiefs at 12 p.m. If the Chiefs win the Texans have absolutely nothing to gain from beating the Titans. Houston would be locked into #4 seed playing Buffalo. The Chiefs would play the Titans/Steelers/Raiders as the #3 seed.

Before watching this game, watch that game, or watch Redzone, or better yet, do anything else. Check your phone. Carry on with your life. Savor your day. If the Chiefs win the Texans have nothing to play for. Say it louder for Bill O’Brien way in the back. Again, if the Chiefs win the Texans have nothing to play for. If they lose, Houston could move up a peg and play the Steelers or Raiders in the first round, and more importantly, have an easier path to the AFC Championship game by playing the Patriots instead of the Ravens. This is what can happen if something else happens. This probably won’t happen.

2. WITH MY UNIFORM ON

Sure, there’s some vague coaching idea that you don’t want to be rusty entering the postseason even though Baltimore is the last team to win a Superbowl without a first round bye, and for some, unscrewing the lid to the Parmesan and ruining the Titans’ postseason pizza is worth the possibility of injury and/or fatigue before playing Buffalo.

This is all nonsense. Houston should be spending this time resting up and repairing before of the postseason. Watson (back), DeAndre Hopkins (illness), Benardrick McKinney (head), Jacob Martin (knee), Laremy Tunsil (ankle) are all roughed up. These are five of their best players. Each one would look better wearing sweatpants then wearing a helmet.

The Texans should assume Kansas City would win. My mathematical Z-score weighted model gives the Chargers just a 1.7% chance of pulling off the upset. Houston would be better off preparing for the Buffalo Bills and their multi-dimensional pass coverages, Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander terrorizing edge speed, Ed Oliver’s potential culminating into production, center pulling power run game, blocking the second level to create big ground gains against a predominantly nickel defense, secondary scattering blitz schemes, how to throw the ball downfield without Fuller, tackling the freshly mopped floor that is Devin Singletary, and Josh Allen, well you can’t prepare for Josh Allen. You can’t analyze truth or beauty or the sublime. It must be looked upon in first person. It just is. Words can’t define it.

And even if the Chiefs win, this is far from a surefire win for the Texans. Without Fuller the Texans are an entirely different offense. Things shouldn’t be this dramatically different, but they are. They average around two touchdowns less a game without him on the field. Houston beat the Titans by one score with him. Tennessee probably has the better team without Fuller to begin with. Why torture oneself for what might be and the desire to spoil and squander? There’s no need to have a boulder fight on the unfinished railroad. Play dead. Roll over. Take a nap. Get ready for next week.

3. DON’T WATCH THIS GAME

Some people out there are completionists. When they start something they commit to finishing it no matter what. They read the entirety of Johnathan Franzen’s Freedom. They tore their eyes out watching Dexter morph from a serial killer into a lumberjack. They’re going to watch this Texans-Titans game no matter what.

Don’t do this. Let me live through you. I’ll watch it. Maybe. I’ll try to past posts onto someone else. I’ll turn the Gamecast on and post things as the quarter changes and watch film on the Texans’ run offense, or sift through Midsommar, just to do anything to get through these three hours. I implore, I beg, I throw pebbles upon your window and plead for you do to other and better things.

4. OTHER THINGS

Maybe the one thing getting in the way of you to do other things is you don’t know what to do. Let me help. Get a head start on New Year’s Resolutions. Write down what you want to do. See it. Feel it. Turn those goals into a set of action items. Turn the impossible into attainable. Imagine the feeling you’re trying to grasp. And why wait until 1/1/2020 to start swimming laps, or running, or stretching, or communicating better. Do that today instead.

I’m guessing you live in Texas. Texas is a beautiful place filled with very pretty natural spaces. No matter where you are there’s a State Park with rocks to grapple, birds spinning their vinyls, the trickling of water to sit next to, and steep hills to burn up and over. Go out there. Take a walk. Experience reality up close and in person, instead of filtered through a deceiving screen. Everything else is a distraction that moves us further and further away from the truth.

The decade is coming to an end. It’s over and done with. And along with it have come thousands of end of decade lists filled with films, and albums, and scenes, and moments, and television shows, and video games that other people recommend you consume. Scroll these lists. Find something else to do. Personally, my favorite films were: The Tree Of Life, Boyhood, Sicario, Ex Machina, Hereditary, and The Irishman. My favorite albums were: Goodness, To Pimp A Butterfly, Time And Space, Never Hungover Again, The Suburbs, Nearer My God, Worry, On The Impossible Past, Keep You, Summertime 06’, and Pinata. Cozy up. Hit that play button. Turn that phone off. Whenever you’re done the Texans are probably going to be locked in the same place.

5. IF YOU JUST HAVE TO

Now some of you still won’t listen, and must watch this game. If you just have to, if you are fascinated by this team and this game, you can focus and watch for: Jeffery Simmons’s bullrush; Harold Landry and Kamalei Correa attempts to create pressure off the right edge; how Houston tries to cover A.J. Brown after nothing working last time; the Titans play action passing game on first and ten, second and fifteen, pretty much any down and distance; if Tashaun Gipson sits in centerfield to take away the deep middle; Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold blocking weakside outside zone; Derrick Henry trying to get above 20 miles per hour if he even plays; if Houston attempts to throw the ball downfield without Fuller, if his absence pushes DeAndre Hopkins out wide again where he’s a better player; Zach Cunningham backside run tackles; Justin Reid doing a little bit of everything, and, of course, the Houston Texans ESTABLISHING THE RUN.

6. SOPHIE’S IN THE BUNK OVERHEAD, COOKING TURTLE EGGS

The fringes of paradise: summer on earth. They, too, will nourish me. Last week I ate the eggs of the turtle, like little golden suns; today, the honey locust blossoms, in batter, will make the finest crepes of the most common pancakes. My body, which must be fed, will be well fed. The hawk, in the pale pink evening, went back to the body of the pheasant. The turtle lay a long time on the bottom of the pond, resting.