Tennessee Titans – Houston Texans preview

The last time the Titans were preparing to face the Houston Texans, both teams were on losing streaks. Tennessee was then on a three-game skid, which they have extended to six losses. The Texans were then on a four-game losing streak. They won that game, but have lost twice since then and have now lost six of their last seven games.

As I wrote in the preview for the first game, it could be called “Misery Loves Company” and little has changed since then. Both teams are now 5-8 and though they’re still mathematically alive for a playoff berth, they’ll need a miracle to get there. The loser of this game will be eliminated and the winner will need the Colts to beat the Jaguars to stay alive for one more week.
The Texans won the first matchup of the season in a 20-0 shutout. A few reminders from that game, after the jump.

  • Rookie Rusty Smith got his first NFL start and was completely ineffective. Although he played poorly, it must also be noted he didn’t get much help from his receivers.
  • Chris Johnson gained only five yards on seven carries.
  • Houston ran at will on and over the Titans, who were powerless to stop them. In the second half, the Texans simply played ball control, content to run the ball and run the clock. It was smashmouth power football, the kind the Titans used to play back in the day. 
Since then, we’ve seen the following:
  • Kerry Collins has taken over at quarterback and actually passed for three touchdowns against the Colts. Kenny Britt has returned to action, giving Collins his best target.
  • Chris Johnson has resurfaced and gained 179 yards from scrimmage with a TD against the Colts.
  • Jacksonville ran at will on and over the Titans, who were powerless to stop them. In the second half, the Jaguars simply played ball control, content to run the ball and run the clock. It was smashmouth power football, the kind the Titans used to play back in the day.
So while the offense has improved for the Titans, the defense hasn’t. I see no reason why the Texans won’t be able to run wild again, this time against a defense without Tony Brown. In the first meeting, Brown (knee) and fellow starting DT Jason Jones (knee) were both listed as questionable on the injury report but did play.
For Houston, since the last game, QB Matt Schaub has passed for 730 yards and 5 TDs in the losses to the Iggles and Ratbirds. I’m sure he could have passed for big yardage against the Titans if he had wanted to and I’m sure he will pass for as many yards as he wants to or needs to on Sunday.
In another change for the Texans’ offense, TE Owen Daniels has returned. He’s always hurt the Titans, who have had problems defending tight ends recently. In the last meeting, TE Joel Dreessen scored a touchdown for Houston, so don’t be surprised when Daniels does it this week.
Before the last game, we noted that Football Outsiders ranked Houston as the worst defense in the league. This time, they’re ranked 30th overall, 31st against the pass and 15th against the run.

Also on the defensive side, the Texans have placed Mario Williams on Injured Reserve. That raises the question, are they better off with an injured Super Mario on the field or with a healthy replacement? They’re probably better off with a replacement, which is the same situation for the Titans and Tony Brown.

With Brown out for the season, and Sen’Derrick Marks (ankle) and Jovan Haye (concussion) on the injury report, the DTs are once again a position of concern. After a decent start, Haye has not been playing that well, in my opinion, so I don’t expect much from him. Recent additions Marques Douglas and Malcolm Sheppard will need to contribute, though I suspect the acquisition of Sheppard, who was poached from Houston’s practice squad, was done so for informational purposes as much as anything.

As we discussed last week, Jeff Fisher hinted that some younger players might get a chance to play. Damian Williams, Jared Cook and Rennie Curran are three of the guys I’d like to see more of. 

In one change that will take place, Fernando Velasco will take over at center for Eugene Amano, who’s been placed on IR.
I hope that’s not the extent of Fisher’s idea of giving some experience to the younger guys.
1) Regardless of what else happens, the Texans will rush for about 200 yards.
2) One or the other of the following will happen:
a) If the Titans are semi-successful on offense and score 17 points or more, Schaub will put enough footballs in the air for Houston to win by about 31 to 20.
b) If the Titans are not successful on offense, Schaub will take the air out of the ball, like he did in the last meeting, and Houston will win by about 20 to 6.
3) Although both are downplaying their scuffle three weeks ago, Cortland Finnegan and Andre Johnson will get into another one. It’s happened twice in the last three games so Round Three just seems like the natural progression of things.

Tennessee Titans – Houston Texans preview

Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans
Rusty Smith will get his first NFL start on Sunday.

The Tennessee Titans (5-5) will face the rival Houston Texans (4-6) in an important divisional matchup at Reliant Stadium this Sunday. The winner will stay in hot contention in the tight AFC South race while the loser will be in last place, with a tough uphill climb ahead of them.

This game could be called the Misery Loves Company game. The Titans have lost three games in a row they should have won. Houston is in a four-game losing streak and has lost their last two games on touchdown passes in the final seconds.
The game will also mark the first career start for Titans rookie QB Rusty Smith. Normally, it’s tremendously difficult for teams to win in that situation but Smith and the Titans have one thing in their favor which will make the task a little less difficult. The Texans have the worst pass defense in the league and Football Outsiders also ranks them last in total defense.
Also, it will help some that offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger will be on hand to call the plays. 

It was first thought Dinger would be unable to make the trip due to his illness. If he hadn’t been able to, we’d not only have a quarterback in his first start but also have Dowell Loggains calling plays for the first time. Not a promising combination.
I expect we’ll see a heavy workload for Chris Johnson and probably a few more carries than usual for Javon Ringer as well.
I was surprised to see Rusty throw deep as often as he did in his debut last week so he may fire away this week too.
As generous as the Texans are in giving up the deep ball, Randy Moss and Nate Washington should get some opportunities and I like their chances.
The Texans offense is very good, as usual, but Arian Foster has added the element of a strong rushing attack. He’s also the Texans’ second leading receiver. Considering the problems the Titans defense has had with passes to RBs lately, Foster should be a dual threat.
Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson is still a dangerous combination. Johnson has been a pain in the Titans’ butt ever since he entered the league in 2003. Last year, Johnson had three TDs in the two meetings between the two clubs. For his career, he’s had seven TDs and 1,009 yards.
The Johnson-Cortland Finnegan matchup is always one to watch, though Finny often gets the worst of it.
Pro Bowl TE Owen Daniels has been injured much of the year but Joel Dreessen has filled in for him pretty well, including 106 yards and a touchdown last week. Dreessen ought to be the latest in the ever-growing list of tight ends who have had big days against the Titans.
The Texans’ o-line, which was much maligned in previous years, is functioning much better. I don’t know how much of that is Foster but they do look good run-blocking and they’re better in pass protection too.
Mario Williams is still the man to watch on the d-line. As usual, I expect he’ll line up at both ends throughout the game. Michael Roos and David Stewart have usually done a fairly good job against Super Mario.
The Texans could use some help across the rest of their d-line.
Houston’s linebacking corps has had problems. Pro Bowl MLB DeMeco Ryans is on injured reserve. SLB Brian Cushing was suspended four games for over-training, then filled in at Mike for a while, and he’s now back at Sam.
Here’s something which will give you an idea how bad the problems were for the Houston LBs. They brought in Stanford Keglar to upgrade their depth. There was a time when Keglar showed some promise with the Titans but he fell behind Colin Allred, then Jamie Winborn and rookie Rennie Curran.
This Texans team can be run on and I certainly expect the Titans to try their best to do so. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the pass defense is even worse.
It’s hard for me to predict the Titans will score a lot of points. They haven’t scored a lot lately against mediocre Dolphins and Redskins defenses. Maybe facing the worst defense in the league is just what the doctor ordered.
Titans 24
Texans 21