NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said Thursday that keen eyes and maintaining discipline on each play are paramount against the Texans.
Tennessee (1-2) visits Houston (3-0) Sunday and is preparing for a balanced offense that uses cutback runs and fakes handoffs to set up deep pass attempts that can result in big plays. The Texans completed a pass of at least 46 yards on three of their four touchdown drives against Denver last week.
"If you've got great eyes, you've got a chance to win," Gray said. "Keep your eyes on your man if you're playing man-to-man, and if you're in zone, you've got to stay in your area because they're going to test you.
"If a guy leaks out in the first quarter, and you don't cover him," Gray said, "guess what, you'll probably see that play again and it will probably end up in a touchdown because you probably didn't fix it, so you know, they're going to test everything you do, from zone to man, fire zones, to zero blitzes. You better make sure that you're not just sitting in there and doing one thing the whole day, because they will have an answer for it."
Cornerback Jason McCourty nearly echoed Gray after Thursday's practice.
"The key is discipline, especially with your eyes," McCourty said. "You've got to make sure when you're in man-to-man, you keep your eyes on your man and you're staying with him no matter what. And when we're in zone, you've got to have zone discipline and know that you don't need to be chasing the play all over the field."
The Texans' primary running threat is Arian Foster (79 carries for 294 yards), and their primary receiving threats are WR Andre Johnson (13 catches for 212 yards) on deep passes and TE Owen Daniels (13 for 160) on underneath routes. Johnson scored on a 60-yard TD pass from Matt Schaub against Denver. The Texans mimicked a successful rush attempt by Foster to force Broncos defensive backs to lose focus on Johnson.
Houston is averaging 150.3 rushing yards (fifth in NFL) and 244.3 passing yards (18th in NFL) through three games.
"Their offense is one of the best out there," cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "Just misdirection and finding ways to get everybody involved and make plays on that team because you can't just key-in on the run because Arian Foster is really good, but if you put everybody in the box, then Andre will take you up top. They're so balanced, and I think that's why they're so tough."
Verner said the Titans must trust that each defender will handle his responsibility on a play to limit big gains on cutback runs.
"If you go ahead and be one of those people that starts trying to make the play that's not really your play to make, then that can cause you to make the play even worse," Verner said. "When you try to be a hero or when you just aren't capable of it, then you get cut off or get out of your gap, and that's when bad things happen."
Defensive ends Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan said the defensive front must contain the running game first so it is less effective in setting up the deep passes. They said doing so will come down to execution.
"They block who they're supposed to block and the running back finds the gaps that he's supposed to hit and he's just good at making people miss," Wimbley said. He's a strong runner, very fast, so we just definitely have to be fundamentally sound and do our job."
The Texans have given up just three sacks of Schaub this season, in part, because of the success of their run game, their bootleg plays and the fact that they've built double-digit leads by halftime in each of their three games.
"I think in order to be an effective pass rusher, to have the opportunities to rush the quarterback, you have to stop the run," Wimbley said. "We're aware of that, and I will definitely have to do my part in the run game as well and get after the quarterback in the passing game."
Morgan said defenders, especially in the secondary, must not get "caught up in the smoke and mirrors of their offense."
"As a defensive lineman, you've kind of got to be weary of the cut blocks," Morgan said. "For us, it's not so much a mental game as it is for (defenders) on the back end. They're playing coverage, and they're playing sometimes man-to-man on certain guys, so they've got to do a good job of being very disciplined."