NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
Houston has had a real problem with Derrick Henry. Can the Titans running back keep it going against a Texans team he's dominated of late? In his last three games against the Texans, Henry has totaled 673 rushing yards (224.3 per game) and seven rushing touchdowns. In each game, he has recorded at least 200 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Here's a look at Henry's last three games vs the Texans: Week 17, 2021: 250 rushing yards, two touchdowns; Week 6, 2020: 212 rushing yards, two touchdowns; Week 17, 2019: 211 rushing yards, three touchdowns. Those stats are crazy. The stats from this year – Henry has gone over 100 yards in three straight games – show Henry has momentum heading into this one. And then there's this: The Texans have allowed 164.7 rushing yards per game in 2022 (last in the NFL).
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Saturday was ruled out for Sunday's game. Tannehill suffered an ankle sprain in last week's game at Indianapolis, and a lack of mobility could've put him in a tough spot against a Texans defense that loves to pressure. On Friday, Tannehill came down with an illness, which complicated things further. Willis, a third-round draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, spent the week getting ready. Now, he's in line to get his first career start. While Wills has taken just one snap for the Titans at quarterback during the regular season, he got a lot of work for the team in the preseason and he said on Friday he feels prepared and has been buoyed by the encouragement of others during the week. The Titans will elevate Logan Wooside from the practice squad for Sunday's game.
Stop the Run
Texans running back Dameon Pierce leads all rookies with 504 rushing yards this season, and he's looking to post his fifth straight game with 100-plus scrimmage yards. It's the longest such streak by a Houston player within a season since receiver DeAndre Hopkins (4 games) in 2015, and the longest by a Houston running back since Arian Foster (9 games) in 2014. The Titans, ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (96.8) need to remain stout here, even if the team is without defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, who is dealing with an ankle injury himself. Simmons is also questionable for Sunday, but it's looking like the defense will get inside linebacker Zach Cunningham back for this one, and that should help.
The Titans signed receiver Chris Conley to the team's 53-man roster this week, and he joins a receiving corps that includes Robert Woods, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Cody Hollister. Yes, it's a thin group, and that's one of the reasons the team got tight end Austin Hooper (season-high 56 receiving yards) more involved last week. So, who will emerge for the Titans this week against a Texans defense that's ranked 21st on pass defense? The Titans are going to need some guys to step up here to help Willis – and with the Texans focused on slowing down Henry. Westbrook-Ikhine had 78 receiving yards and a touchdown in the last meeting against the Texans, while Woods aims for his fourth game in a row vs Houston with a TD catch. Who will emerge on Sunday?
The Titans have had moments both good and bad here. Last week, the defense picked off Colts QB Matt Ryan twice, and they flustered him with the pass rush. Other weeks, however, it hasn't been as pretty. Heck, the Titans are 31st in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 277.5 yards per game, and they've given up a ton of yards on deep balls. Texans quarterback Davis Mills has thrown for 1,350 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions this season, but he's had a sub-100 pass rating is all six games this season. His last game with a 100-plus rating? Week 18 a year ago, against the Titans, when he threw for 301 yards with three touchdowns and a 128.5 rating. The Titans don't want to let Mills get heated up again. One of the questions heading in: Will the defense employ the same defensive look as last week, when safety Amani Hooker worked in the slot?
The last thing to watch in last week's six things was a look at the playoff percentages with a win, or loss. Yes, I know it's early, but these things are interesting to me, so I'm rolling it out again. A win on Sunday would improve Tennessee's record to 5-2, and since 1990, teams with a 5-2 mark after seven games have made the playoffs 75.5% of the time, they've won their division 43.4% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 7.1% of the time. Meanwhile, teams that have started 4-3 have made the playoffs just 48.2% of the time, they've won their division just 22.1% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl just 0.5% of the time. The Titans need to keep it simple – win on Sunday, and take further control of the AFC South.