NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans travel to Houston on Sunday to take on the Texans.
The Titans are coming off a 17-10 loss to the Raiders. The Texans, meanwhile, lost 27-0 to the Patriots last Thursday.
This week, I caught up with my buddy John McClain, who covers the Texans for the Houston Chronicle. He's in his 38th year with the paper. You can follow John on Twitter @McClainonNFL.
Last night, McClain reported the Texans plan to place star defensive end J.J. Watt on Injured Reserve because of a back injury. It was a big development, to say the least.
Here's what John had to say in our conversation on Tuesday…
Wyatt:** Thanks for doing this John. The Texans started 2-0, but things unraveled last week in New England in a shutout loss. It wasn't pretty. What's the mood been like in Houston around the team?
McClain: Fans and media talk about losses until the next game. As you know, players put it behind them. It's a business. They think about it reviewing the film, and boom, they are working in the next game plan. Because they had a long weekend, they got to watch a lot of football and got the weekend off, and they came back to work on Monday and they were all about the Titans. Texans coach Bill O'Brien wouldn't talk about New England at all. He said, 'I'll answer any questions you have on Tennessee the best I can, but I am done with New England.' So everything has been about the Titans so far.
Wyatt: Let's talk about new Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler. After spending his first four NFL seasons in Denver, Osweiler signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Texans and is now in charge of the Houston offense. What do you think of Osweiler so far?
McClain: The Texans have six new starters on offense, and their offensive line has been a disappointment when it comes to run blocking, and they run the ball a lot. They average 3.5 yards per carry. It is not running back Lamar Miller's fault. They have three new starters – two because of injuries – and they have just not come together up front. Pass protection has not been the issue. Osweiler gets rid of the ball quick. Now Osweiler has four interceptions and three touchdown passes, and he should have one fewer interception --- rookie Braxton Miller ran a wrong route. And he should have an 83-yard touchdown pass because Will Fuller dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball. So the stats should be, instead of three TDs and four INTS, it should be four and three, touchdown to interceptions. So they are still a work in progress, but the coaches like Osweiler. Last year he threw six interceptions in five starts at Denver, and he has four in three here. He needs a game where he doesn't throw an interception. The two things that were a knock on him in Denver – he held the ball too long and he was not accurate throwing the ball down the field. But those have not been issues here so far. He has been really good throwing the deep ball, especially to rookie receiver Will Fuller, who drops a ball a game. And the ball comes out really fast. He hasn't really had a real good game, but he hasn't had a really bad game either where he threw a lot of interception and hurt the team.
Wyatt: The Texans have jumped out to an early lead in the AFC South, a year after winning the division. What are they going to have to improve on to win the division again? What's their biggest weakness right now?
McClain:** The biggest weakness the Texans have is their lack of a running game. They run it and they run it and they run it and it's like watching a plow horse. Lamar Miller was brought in here because of his breakaway speed – he had 97- and 85-yard touchdown runs the last two years. He hasn't had a sliver of hope. His longest run is 15 yards, and everybody here is saying: Is Lamar Miller overrated? Well, it's not Lamar Miller's fault. It's the linemen's fault. And until they get that line better, and have a running game, they are not going to win the division. Because their defense is good, their special teams have been bad and they are off to a slow start. They can't return and they can't cover. It is not the kicking game, but those are their two biggest weaknesses right now.
Wyatt: Right now, the Titans and Colts are both 1-2 behind the 2-1 Texans, and the Jaguars are 0-3. Who would you say is Houston's biggest competition in the AFC South?
McClain: I think it's who we thought it was going to be – the Colts. They were really close to being 0-3, just like the Titans are close to being 3-0. I think right now, along with the NFC South, the AFC South is the worst division in football. Jacksonville is the most disappointing team, to start off 0-3 after such high expectations. I think it will come down to the Texans and the Colts. The Colts have the quarterback in Andrew Luck, but they don't have a defense. And the Texans may or may not have a quarterback. Osweiler is not nearly as good as Luck, but they have a good defense and they have receiver and they have a running back and their offense is all about speed. But they are trying to get these six new starters up to speed and it's taking them a while. They have only three touchdowns in three games and they've all come on Osweiler passes.
Wyatt: OK, John. Just two more here. Because of injuries, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has never faced the Texans. He missed both games last season, when Zach Mettenberger took his place. So, does anyone get an advantage because of that?
McClain: I've actually written a column about the Texans facing Mariota for the first time, and the problems he presents compared to Zach Mettenberger. And of course Mariota is better. He is faster and he is more mobile, and they are not going to sack him as much as they sacked Mettenberger. The players have all talked about Mariota being such a good runner, but he also has a much better running game with it. If he'd stop turning the ball over, that would make a humongous difference, and maybe this will be the game where he doesn't turn it over. He has played better on the road than at home, which is really strange for a young quarterback. So, the Titans are so much better off with him, and the Texans can watch the film but until you go up against somebody for the first time, you never know for sure about how to tackle them. You may think you do, but the angles and everything else. … You can watch all the film you want, but until they go out and see them on the field, they are not going to know for sure how to defense him.
Wyatt:** You covered Andre Johnson's 12 seasons with the Texans, and were around center Ben Jones during his four years in Houston. They're Titans now, of course. Where does Johnson rank among fan favorites in Houston, and what do you remember about Jones?
McClain: Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt are the two greatest and most popular Texans in history. Sometime after Andre retires they will do something for him here, maybe retire his jersey. They haven't been around here long enough, so they haven't done anything like that, so he'll be the first for whatever they do. When Andre came back last year with the Colts, he had his best game – he had two touchdown receptions in the Colts victory. And Ben Jones, he was a popular player. Of course he wasn't on the same scale as Andre Johnson, but Ben is looking better and better because the guy they had start in his place, Nick Martin, a second-round pick from Notre Dame, is out for the year after having foot surgery. Ben played really well when he played here. Everyone was really happy when he got the deal he wanted to move to Nashville. So I am sure both of those guys, especially Ben, since it's his first time coming back, will be sky high.
Thanks again for your time, John. See ya in Houston.