NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Houston Texans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill continues to stay hot. He's thrown for 1,004 yards and nine touchdowns (vs 1 INT) in four games this season, and he's posted nine games with 2 TDs vs 0 INTs since 2019 -- that's tied for the most in the NFL. Tannehill tied Warren Moon for the most touchdown passes in franchise history during the first four games of the season. What's made Tannehill's hot streak so impressive is he's done it in recent weeks without some of his top targets available. Against the Texans, the Titans need Tannehill and the offense to stay hot. The good news is Tannehill has another one of his targets back in receiver Adam Humphries, who will join receiver A.J. Brown, tight end Jonnu Smith, and others.
The Titans have recorded just five sacks in four games this season, and on too many Sundays (and on a Tuesday) the opposing quarterback has managed to keep himself alive in the pocket to extend plays with throws downfield. And that's what makes Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson so dangerous -- his ability to escape pressure and make things happen. The Titans need to make Watson uncomfortable on Sunday. He's coming off a game when he threw for a season-high 359 yards and three touchdowns. Wouldn't it be nice to see linebacker Jadeveon Clowney have a breakthrough game against his old team?
Third Down Defense
I'm betting you wanted to pull your hair out watching the Titans defense on third down vs the Bills. Am I right? Buffalo converted 11-of-15 third downs on Tuesday night, including some long ones. On the season the Titans are last in the NFL on third down defense. Against the Texans, it's imperative the Titans get off the field on those critical 3rd downs, and a lot of this could hinge on the previously mentioned pass rush. If not, at some point their inability to do so is going to come back to bite them.
The Titans are No.1 in the league in the all-important takeaway/giveaway category with a plus 8, and they're coming off a game when cornerback Malcolm Butler had two critical interceptions. The Titans' plus-eight turnover margin through four games is the best in the NFL over the last three seasons (2018-20) and the best since the Detroit Lions were plus-nine through four games in 2017. The Texans, meanwhile, are sitting at a minus-5 in this category, with 2 takeaways and seven giveaways. The Texans haven't recorded an interception in their first five games. They say turnovers are contagious, and right now the Titans are on a roll forcing them. Why not keep it going?
Surely you didn't think I'd make it through this Six Pack without a mention of running back Derrick Henry, who is averaging nearly 100 yards per game over the first quarter of the season. The Bills stacked the line of scrimmage and kept Henry from having a monster game, as he rushed for 57 yards on 19 carries. Henry, of course, scored two touchdowns, and he pulverized Bills cornerback Josh Norman with a stiff-arm. Henry should have more success in this one. The Texans are ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 160.4 rushing yards per game, and a whopping 4.75 yards per carry.
More Crowd Noise
Of course, everyone would love to see a jam-packed Nissan Stadium. But we're operating under unique circumstances right now, and the Titans are among those adjusting. I was impressed by the impact the crowd made in Tuesday night's game against the Bills. The 8,403 fans -- approximately 12.5 percent of the 69,000-seat stadium -- made noise and showed plenty of enthusiasm, and HC Mike Vrabel was among those who said they made a difference. Now the Titans are ready to welcome roughly 10,400 fans, as 15 percent will be allowed on Sunday. The Titans need to once again give them something to cheer about.