NASHVILLE, Tenn. –A matchup with the Houston Texans (3-4) is all that stands between the Tennessee Titans (2-5) and their bye in Week 9.
The Texans have lost three straight after beginning the season 3-1 with each of the three losses coming in games decided by seven points or less. Most recently, Houston squandered a 13-0 lead in an eventual 30-23 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Both teams are desperate for a division win with the Colts separating themselves at 5-2. Both teams also feature new head coaches with Bill O'Brien coming to the Texans after spending the last two years as the head coach at Penn State. Previously, O'Brien spent five seasons as an assistant with the New England Patriots.
The Titans lead the all-time series with a 15-9 record against Houston and also won the last meeting between the two teams – a 16-10 victory in the 2013 season finale at LP Field.
Milestones on the Horizon
• Shonn Greene needs 92 rushing yards to reach 4,000 for his career.
• Dexter McCluster needs three punt return yards to reach 1,000 for his career.
• Delanie Walker needs 26 receiving yards to reach 2,500 for his career.
Five Things to Watch
1. The Mett Show
After an impressive preseason showing, rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger will get his first NFL start against the Texans. Mettenberger led the league with 659 passing yards in the preseason, adding two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
Mettenberger made his official debut in garbage time of Tennessee's Week 4 game at Indianapolis – throwing for 17 yards on 2-of-5 passing with his first career interception.
Despite having the feared J.J. Watt at the forefront of a potent Texans pass rush, Houston is still allowing the seventh most passing yards per game at 268.7. If Tennessee's offensive line can give Mettenberger time to throw, he should be able to exploit the holes Houston's secondary has shown through seven weeks.
- Contain Watt**
That proposition is far easier said than done as Watt is having an MVP-caliber season with five sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception. The Texans defensive star has found the end zone three times this season with a scoop and score, a pick-six and a one-yard touchdown reception as a tight end.
Watt will make a few plays -- that is a given -- and something that seems inevitable on a weekly basis. That being said, the Titans' offensive line and tight end corps will need to make sure he isn't able to take over the game.
3. Win the Turnover Battle
As Titans fans know, Ryan Fitzpatrick is not immune to throwing an interception or two in a game. Fitzpatrick has seven interceptions in seven games and threw 12 in 11 games with the Titans in 2013.
Both teams enter Week 8 with a 2 turnover differential. The Titans are tied for third with eight interceptions this season and are riding a current nine-game streak with at least one takeaway dating back to last season.
Being opportunistic against Fitzpatrick and the Texans offense will go a long way in securing a W.
4. Keep Arian Foster Under 100-Yards
Arian Foster has put the Texans offense on his back this season very similar to how Watt carries the defense. Throwing out the game he missed due to a hamstring injury and the Week 4 game against the Bills when he only had six rushing yards, Foster has gone over the 100-yard marker in each of the other five.
In the last three weeks alone, Foster has run for 368 yards and five total touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving).
The Titans shut down Washington's running attack last week, holding Alfred Morris to just 54 yards on 18 carries (3-yard average) and the offense as a whole to 100 rushing yards. Tennessee's defense will go for an encore performance against the Texans.
5. Improve on Third Down
After going 3-of-11 on third down against the Redskins, Tennessee's offense remains last in the league converting just 31 percent of its third down attempts. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt continues to stress the importance of improving in this area as it's been one of the big reasons that Titans playmakers aren't getting enough touches.
Alternatively, the Houston's offense is converting just 36 percent of its third downs and Tennessee's defense ranks 11th, holding opponents to a 39 percent conversion rate. If the offense can be more efficient on third down, the defense has a matchup that can be taken advantage of. As always, this will be the key team stat to watch.