NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Houston Texans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in Sunday's game:
Run the ball
The Texans are ferocious up front, with a pass rush designed to create havoc in the backfield. The best way to slow it down, while also taking pressure off of the quarterback? Run the ball, and keep guys like J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus from pinning their ears back and coming after the QB. On Friday, Titans coach Mike Vrabel said he expects both QBs Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert to play on Sunday. Running back Derrick Henry said he was "pissed" with his performance in the season opener, and he vowed to be better. The Titans will need the tandem of Henry and Dion Lewis to set a tone, and move the football.
Stepping up after Delanie
One guy won't replace Titans tight end Delanie Walker, who is now on Injured Reserve. It's going to take a group effort. Jonnu Smith is in line to get additional reps, but others in the tight ends group will need to step up as well. In reality, the burden won't just fall on the tight ends. A young receiving corps led by Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor will also need to come of age with the veteran tight end now a spectator. And I would expect to see Rishard Matthews more involved.
Pressure, and contain Watson
OK, so I hate to even remind everyone about what happened the last time the Titans faced quarterback Deshaun Watson. It didn't go well – Watson threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score in a 57-14 win. On Sunday, the Titans need to make Watson uncomfortable while generating more of a pass rush that what we saw in Miami. And when Watson escapes the pocket, the Titans need to make sure he doesn't hurt them with extended plays. It's easier said than done, of course, but it's a big key.
Evans and Landry
The Titans are expected to get a boost on defense in their top two draft picks – linebackers Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry. Both players practiced in full this week, which was a great sign. And on Friday, Vrabel said he expected both rookies to play. Their presence figures to add more speed and playmaking ability to a defense that will aim to slow down Watson and a Houston running game that produced 150 yards rushing last week, led by running back Lamar Miller's 98 yards.
I mentioned Houston's pass rush out of the gate. The Titans did an excellent job slowing down Miami's pass rush in Week One, and the challenge is even greater this week against Watt and Co. How's this for a scary stat line? Watt has 14.5 sacks in the past nine games vs. Tennessee, and Co. Making matters even more difficult for the Titans is the fact they have a banged-up offensive line. Starting left tackle Taylor Lewan has been ruled out for the game, along with Jack Conklin. Dennis Kelly didn't practice two days this week, and his status is uncertain. Some guys are going to need to step up.
Vrabel's home debut
Vrabel will make his home head coaching debut on Sunday against the Texans, his former team. He'll match wits with his old boss, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. There's no question Vrabel has unique knowledge of the Texans from his days as defensive coordinator of the team, and that surely helps to some degree. But his OC (Matt LaFleur) and DC (Dean Pees) will need to find ways to contain Houston's weapons on both sides of the ball, while getting the most of their own players.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the Houston Texans. (AP Photos, Donn Jones)