NASHVILLE, Tenn. —The Titans aren't in the playoff race, but the Texans are now in the driver's seat in the AFC South.
On Sunday, the Titans hope to derail Houston's plans.
The Titans (3-11) are coming off a 33-16 loss to the Patriots, while the Texans (7-7) beat the Colts 16-10 to take control of the division.
This week, I caught up with John McClain, who covers the Texans for the Houston Chronicle. You can follow John on Twitter at @McClainonNFL.
Wyatt:** Hey John. Right out of the gate, who will the Titans face at quarterback on Sunday – Brian Hoyer or Brandon Weeden?
McClain: Asking me now, I believe Brandon Weeden will start, and he'd be the fourth starting quarterback for the Texans this year. As far as we can tell, it is unprecedented for a team to start four quarterbacks and still win a division, and that could happen. Hoyer didn't clear the protocol last week, and they were hoping he'd clear it this week. But it's his second concussion in 27 days, and coach Bill O'Brien said Monday they'd have to see how he did with the test. So they signed B.J. Daniels off of Seattle's practice squad, and he has been a Kordell Stewart type — he's been a quarterback and a receiver. But they've said they are going to play him at quarterback, and if they are going to do that, then that means they have a pretty good idea Brian Hoyer is not going to be back. One of the best things this team has done is take all these back-up quarterbacks — they played four last year, started three and finished 9 and 7. And right now they are 7-7 and they've taken all these guys who were back-up quarterbacks and helped them play well enough to win. T.J. Yates came off his couch and threw the game-winning touchdown to hand the Bengals their first loss, and then he beat the Jets. Then he went back to the bench when Hoyer came back. Hoyer goes out and Yates starts again and suffered a season-ending ACL injury, and then Brandon Weeden comes in…So they've done a great job maximizing strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of a bunch of back-ups forced to start.
Wyatt: Weeden came off the bench to guide Houston to a critical win over the Colts. How unlikely of a hero is Weeden, who was released by the Cowboys earlier in the season?
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the Houston Texans. (AP Photos, Donn Jones)
McClain:* *We say "Brandon flippin' Weeden," who couldn't win at Dallas. They claimed him on waivers when Hoyer got his first concussion. He's been here a month and he had to come off the bench and play. And he has four scoring drives and a winning touchdown pass. He is the most unlikely guy. I asked Brandon Weeden last week, when he moved up to No.2 – I said you're a heartbeat away from playing again. He's 32-years-old, he played minor league baseball. When he played in Dallas the last two years, in two games when he replaced the injured Tony Romo, he played well. When he started he wasn't terrible, but he didn't play as well as he did when he came off the bench, but he lost all of his starts. And he said that George Godsey, the offensive coordinator, had given him a package for everything – 2-minute drill, red zone, and they would work on it in practice and then they'd ask him, "What do you think?" He said if I tell him I'm comfortable with this, it's in. If I tell him I'm not comfortable with this, it's out. He's been really good about that. And last week he said learning this system compared to the last two, at Dallas a Cleveland, was like learning to read Chinese backwards.
Wyatt: The Texans started the year 2-5 in their first seven games. Now they've won five of their last seven games to get to 7-7. They control their own playoff destiny. What's the expectation level like now with the team and its fans?
McClain: People are fired up, but skeptical. Fired up because they were 2-5 and were down 41-0 at halftime in Miami, then they turned their season around beginning with a win over the Titans. Then they came off a bye week and beat Cincinnati and the Jets. And during those nine victories their defense has given up nine points a game. And they lost to Buffalo when they were tied with two minutes left. Against New England, they didn't have a prayer, though. But fans are now fired up but on the other hand they are 7-7, and they are playing in one of the two worst divisions in the league. A lot of people say they'll win the division, and then get hammered by Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Denver or Cincinnati, whoever comes in. I don't necessarily think that, but I guess you should with the quarterbacks they have, plus they don't have a legitimate starting running back either with Arian Foster down most of the season. But I would say it's cautious optimism. But Bill O'Brien has done a heck of a coaching job the second year in a row, considering last year they used four quarterback and started three, and this year they're about to start their fourth. People wonder what they could do if they ever get a legitimate starting quarterback.
Wyatt:** With Marcus Mariota injured, Zach Mettenberger will start at quarterback for the Titans on Sunday. It will be his fourth straight start against the Texans. How do the Texans feel about facing Tennessee's back-up quarterback once again?
McClain: Well, Mettenberger knows the Texans well. Based on what I read, it looked like he came in and played pretty well against the Patriots. He played better against New England than anyone with the Texans did against the Patriots in Houston. Mettenberger is capable of a 300-yard game. I think the only way the Titans would beat the Texans is if the Texans turn the ball over, which they started the Indianapolis game with back-to-back turnovers. Their special teams were horrendous, and penalties hurt them, and ten they lose Yates, but they still won because they beat up Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck something terrible. They hit him eight times, and it seemed like every time was hard. Mettenberger knows them, and he knows where J.J. Watt is coming from. I would think that he is capable of a breakout game. But this is a game the Texans need bad. If they beat the Titans, depending on the strength of victory tiebreaker, they could clinch the division (this weekend) because it has to do with Cincinnati and Denver, and they play on Monday night. And that's of Indy wins at Miami, and there's no guarantee of that. So they would love to be able to beat the Titans and clinch the division, which would be their third division title in five years.
Wyatt: Defensive lineman J.J. Watt was a real terror against the Titans back on November 1. How has Watt played since breaking his hand? Has that limited his effectiveness in the last few games?
McClain: Since the injury, he doesn't have a sack. He can't grab, he can't wrap up. He can still hit, and he can still play the run, but he can't use his left hand against blockers, and he can't use his hand when he gets to the quarterback, so I would think Zach Mettenberger should be real happy. On the other hand, Whitney Mercilus had 3 ½ sacks against the Titans the last game, and he has 8½ on the season. Some of the other guys have played a whole lot better lately, including (Jadeveon Clowney). And one thing they do more now than they've done at any time, since Clowney has figured out the defense, is they move them around. They could all be standing up at the snap, with Watt standing up over the center or with Clowney standing up over the center. It could be Clowney and Mercilus next to each other, it could be Watt and Mercilus next to each other. So they are doing a lot of things like that. Watt has been able to hit quarterbacks, but he hasn't been able to grab them and pull them down since he suffered (the injury).