NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Houston Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Last December in Houston, Titans running back Derrick Henry captured the NFL rushing title with a 211-yard performance. Henry's already secured the rushing title this season, so with 1,777 rushing yards heading into the game, the big question is: How high can his numbers go? The Texans are ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (151.7) and last in the league in yards per carry (5.04). Henry racked up 212 yards in the Week 6 contest between the two teams this season. The focus heading into this one isn't to get Henry to 2,000 yards for the season. But there's no doubt the Titans will ride him, so getting there is not outside the realm of possibility.
Contain Deshaun Watson
When Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was named a Pro Bowler, some folks who haven't paid close attention scratched their heads. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has produced a Pro Bowl-worthy season himself, of course, but let's not pretend Watson hasn't lit it up – he's thrown for 4,458 yards with 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions, with a passer rating of 112.1. Watson threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns (with a 138.9 rating) in the Week 6 meeting between these two teams in Tennessee. Based on what we've seen from the Titans defense this season, the unit isn't going to stop Watson in his tracks. But getting stops on 3rd down, while forcing him to get rid of the ball before he wants to, would sure help limit his damage.
Just Win, Baby
Plenty of individual accomplishments will be on the line on Sunday, from Henry's quest for 2,000 yards to Corey Davis (945) and A.J. Brown (924) looking to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark to Ryan Tannehill (3,603) closing in on 4,000 passing yards. All of those would be nice, but the most important task for the Titans on Sunday is doing whatever it takes to win -- and capture the organization's first AFC South title since the 2008 season. Yes, there's a possibility the Titans could clinch a playoff spot with a loss by Miami (vs. Buffalo), by Baltimore (at Cincinnati) or by Indianapolis (vs. Jacksonville). The Titans can't expect any of those things to happen – they need to focus on punching their own ticket into the postseason.
With Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers heated up, The Titans passing game cooled off in the snow in Green Bay. As a result, Tennessee's offense never really got on track as Tannehill finished with just 121 passing yards and Henry was held below 100 yards. Also, Davis was held without a catch. Against a Houston defense that's ranked 30th in the NFL, the Titans should be able to have success against the Texans. Tannehill, in fact, threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns in the Week 6 meetings. On a fast turf inside, look for the Titans to find a balance on offense by using a lot of weapons.
Simply put, the Titans can't make it easy on the Texans, a 4-11 team that is coming off a loss to the Bengals. One of the reasons the Titans have been successful this year has been because of its plus-11 in the takeaway (22)/giveaway (11) category – that's tied for 1st in the NFL. The Texans, meanwhile, are a minus-9 in the same category, with 8 takeaways compared to 17 turnovers. The Titans hurt themselves in Green Bay with turnovers, which helped bury them. Giving the Texans freebies on Sunday would make things even tougher on a Tennessee team that will be faced with pressure heading in.
OK, so it's been an eventful week here. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski went on the team's Reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, and punter Brett Kern was placed on the list a day later. Gostkowski won't be available for the game, which means kicker Sam Sloman from the practice squad will be the team's kicker against the Texans. Sloman kicked in the Rams' first seven games, and connected on 8-of-11 field goals, and 18-of-21 extra points. Punter Trevor Daniel is on the practice squad as insurance for Kern. The Titans need to be effective here, and making other plays on special teams would help the cause. Darrynton Evans provided some optimism against the Packers with some speed and instincts as a kick returner. And here's hoping if the Titans make a big play on special teams Sunday it won't be called back because of a phantom penalty.