Titans, Texans in Two-Team Race Early On

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The AFC South looks like a two-team race, although both the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans have plenty to improve upon as they chase the division title.

They'll battle for the South lead Sunday in Nashville, with each team looking to bounce back from a tough loss.

Houston (3-3) fell 29-14 in Baltimore last week to give idle Tennessee (3-2) the division lead, though the Titans are coming off a 38-17 defeat at Pittsburgh on Oct. 9.

Tennessee will host Indianapolis on Oct. 30, and first-year coach Mike Munchak said his squad has an opportunity to build a solid lead with back-to-back divisional games.

"It's early. We all know that, but you would rather what's happening happen and we still know what we have to do this weekend starting with the Texans playing two division games in a row," Munchak said. "We lost our first one (to Jacksonville on Sept. 11) so this game is huge for us to come out and play well against a division opponent at home."

The Titans' inability to run the ball effectively has been the most surprising aspect of their season. They rank last in the league averaging 66.6 yards on the ground as Chris Johnson has started slowly after signing a $53 million extension.

Johnson's 3.0 yards per carry rank 47th among 48 qualifying rushers, and he scored his first touchdown of the season in the loss to Pittsburgh. He came into the season with the most rushing yards of any player over the last three years, though Munchak said Johnson is not the only one to blame.

"Some guys may sit there and say, 'Well, I thought it was the running back. No, it's the O-line. No, it's the tight end,' so I think you all realize that it's a team effort to be ranked where we are," Munchak said. "It's all of us, from coaching to the play calling to the execution, all of that is part of it when you are dead last. We know that, we are not happy about it, and it's up to us to do something about it."

Last season, Johnson rushed for five yards on seven carries in a 20-0 loss in Houston on Nov. 28, but bounced back with 130 yards and a touchdown in a 31-17 home victory Dec. 19.

Tennessee's defense also has room to improve, ranking 30th in the league in allowing opponents to convert 46.7 percent of third-down attempts.

The Texans, though, are struggling to find an offensive rhythm without the injured Andre Johnson.

Coach Gary Kubiak said he's not sure when his All-Pro receiver will be able to return, but Johnson is likely to miss a third consecutive game this week due to his hamstring injury.

Despite two straight losses, Houston is in position to reclaim the division lead with a victory over Tennessee, and the Texans have won three of the last five meetings.

"We're going to Tennessee to play in a huge game, for the division lead," Kubiak said. "We're getting over the disappointment of (last Sunday) really fast, and we're getting excited about playing this weekend.

"We've been in two very tough games, and haven't gotten it done. But we come in here, we make our corrections, we've got to juggle some guys around because of some of the nicks we've got going on."

None may be more devastating than the season-ending injury to Mario Williams, who had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle suffered in an Oct. 9 loss to Oakland.

The Texans allowed 402 total yards against Baltimore in their first game without Williams, the franchise's all-time sacks leader by a wide margin.

Houston may have to rely on its eighth-ranked offense led by Matt Schaub, who has thrown 10 touchdowns and only one interception in his last four starts against the Titans.

The Texans rank seventh averaging 126.2 yards rushing, though they've combined for just 163 yards on the ground in their back-to-back losses.

Arian Foster ran for 143 yards in last season's win over Tennessee, but was held to 15 yards on 11 carries in the December defeat. That was the Texans' seventh loss in nine all-time visits to Nashville, and they've lost eight of their last nine road games overall.

Related Content

Advertising