NASHVILLE – The Titans have gotten off the mat to get in the thick of things in the AFC South.
Now, the Texans visit Nissan Stadium for a fight at the top.
It's not the time to stop swinging.
We're going to keep swinging in this mailbag, too. Let's go …
Armando Farill and Mexico City, Mexico
Question: Hi Jim. The team has improved a lot since Week 6. In fact I don't remember such a solid team since we won the division 10 years ago. Arthur Smith has impressed me with the handling of the playbook.
What are the keys to beat the Texans and what do we have to improve to clinch the AFC South? Do you see Ryan Tannehill future in Nashville for the coming seasons? Greetings from Mexico City.
Jim: Hey Armando. I think the same keys apply from previous weeks. Run the football with Derrick Henry, sling it with Ryan Tannehill, and don't turn the ball over on offense. And the defense is going to need to contain Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins and Company. The Tannehill question is a popular one. I'll just say this: With the way he's playing, I certainly don't think the Titans are just going to pat him on the back, say goodbye, and wish him well when the season ends.
David Stalder from Albuquerque, New Mexico
Question: Hey, Jim. Just saw an interesting stat. The Texans are 8-0 since the start of LAST season when allowing fewer than three sacks, which tells me that if you give Deshaun Watson the time, he will beat you. Despite fantastic improvements to the Titans defense, they rank about middle of the league in sacks. What do you know of Dean Pees' plan to get to Watson? Whole game might be won or lost on this one facet. Thanks.
Jim: Hey David. Great stat. I get to watch practices, so I get to see the plan each week. Obviously I can't give it away here, or the team would say goodbye and wish me well immediately. Or, they'd probably just say goodbye. Just know Dean has a plan, and you're right – how well it works is key.
Mikey Belcher from Franklin, Tennessee
Question: Hey Jim! I'll get right to it. The secondary is so thin right now. Any consideration of starting Butler with a cast?
Jim: Hey Mikey -- you're not going to like this: Butler is on Injured Reserve and is out for the rest of the year. (Does anyone out there remember Mikey in the old cereal commercial?)
Tyler Johnson from Pulaski, Tennessee
Question: Will the Titans be wearing all baby blue for their Code Blue game?
Jim: Hey Tyler. Yes. Light blue jerseys, and light blue britches – with navy socks. That's a little different than the Smurf-look – light blue from head-to-toe (including socks) except for the white helmet from previous Color Rush games. With the navy blue helmets now, I think it's a clean look.
Ethan Gray from Raymore, Missouri
Question: Hi Jim. I got to go to my first ever game against KC and it was the best experience of my life for me being the only Titans fan in a family full of Chiefs fans. My question is there any update with Malcolm Butler and Delanie Walker. Is there any chance of them being back by playoffs?
Jim: Hey Ethan. Glad you've got bragging rights ... still. I'll answer your question this way: First, the Titans have to make the playoffs. There's work to be done. If it happens, unfortunately Butler and Walker won't be able to play. Teams get to take two guys off of Injured Reserve in a season. The Titans used their two on kicker Ryan Succop and defensive back Joshua Kalu. Butler and Walker aren't eligible to return until the 2020 season.
Randy Porter from Hendersonville, Tennessee
Question: I wanted to make a completely different observation, that many may have missed. Titans fans have always been vocal, about the lack of "respect" we get from network analysts and sportscasters everywhere. Regardless of play quality and results, there's less highlight time and certainly fewer compliments given our team. However, I watched this change, in the least likely place Sunday. I watched Jon Gruden's post game presser at the stadium. Even with the sting of defeat, Coach Gruden praised the Titans in detail. He said that was some of the best passes and catches he had seen. He admitted he told his defense all week to hit Henry hard, wrap him up and "CALL FOR HELP!" He said "Henry doesn't get tired, he gets better late". He told reporters they had prepared for some key looks, that the Titans changed on them, disguised etc. He told the press "That's a really good football team, that's at the top of their division and we just saw why!" I could go on (not exact quotes). The point is Jim, that show of respect by the Oakland coach, showed class, character and really made me proud. I thank him for that. I would recommend others check it out. It's a rare event indeed. Still, I realize, if this team won the AFC Championship, analysts would cite the breakdown by the opponent, not the impressive play by the Titans, lol!
Jim: Hey Randy. I agree with your take on Gruden. He was effusive with his praise of the Titans, and he was like that on a conference call leading up to the game, too. And I'll say this about the respect factor: The Titans have to earn it. They've been praised all week, and suddenly many national analysts are calling them the team to beat in the AFC South. So it's time to back it up. If the Titans manage to get in the playoffs and win some games, then they'll deserve to be talked about. Until that happens, personally I don't care what anyone says or doesn't say about the team.
Robert Conlon from Baltimore, Maryland
Question: On Sunday, does the team follow the other games that can affect them, or has Vrabel instilled a "just worry about us" frame of mind - especially since the Titans DO control their destiny, and just need to win themselves, and all will take care of itself. Did they know Houston (and Indy) had lost, and maybe keep an eye on the simultaneous Steelers' game? Just curious.
Jim: The Titans need to focus on themselves and no one else. If you start paying attention to what other teams are doing instead of focusing on your own business, you're asking to take the L.
Colleen Rudelitsch from New Ringgold, Pennsylvania
Question: I'm a first-time writer to your mailbag. I've been following the Titans since Marcus Mariota was drafted. I followed his career at Oregon, so it was a no-brainer to follow Tennessee. As I followed, I began to love this team, its ownership, management and coaching staff. I don't have NFL Sunday Ticket, so I can't watch most of the games on TV. I listen on my laptop to Mike Keith and get pumped every time he yells "Touchdown Titans"! When Marcus was pulled I was deeply upset, but I knew Ryan Tannehill had the stuff to lead this team to many victories. I think Marcus can learn a lot from watching Ryan and will eventually become a very good QB for another NFL team. I will continue to follow his career and want the best for him. But, this Titans team has one my heart, and I will continue to be a faithful fan! I urge the folks in TN to please come out, fill the stands and cheer with all their might for the Titans against the Texans. This Titans teams is peaking at the right time. Everyone on this team seems so pumped, so together, so ready to win! I don't want to jinx anything, but this team looks like a Super Bowl bound team. Do you think they're capable, Jim? I don't think any NFL team wants to face the Titans offense under T-hill & Company right now! Nor do they want to face the defense under Casey, Evans, Jones, Ryan & Co. Victory is ours for the taking! Love the Titans! Titan UP!
Jim: Thanks for your taking the time, Colleen.
Tony Johnson from Ewa Beach, Hawaii
Question: Aloha Jim!! Quick question, I know all of the MVP talk is currently centered around Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson, but if the Titans do end up winning the division, does Derrick Henry deserve to be in the discussion? He's currently 2nd in the NFL in rushing yds (1,243) and tied for 1st in rushing TD's (13). Mahalo!!
Jim: Hey Tony. Derrick Henry means an incredible amount to the Titans. He's valuable, no doubt. But I'd be shocked of someone other than Lamar Jackson or Russell Wilson won it. And my money is on Jackson. He's been phenomenal on an 11-2 team.
Stuart Scott from Nashville, Tennessee
Question: Hey Jim. Thank you for all you do, my friend. I am a long-time fan and PSL holder since day one when the Titans moved from Houston to Nashville. I have missed fewer than a half a dozen games. I love to support them. This is more of an observation than a question. The team is on an incredible roll! Who would've ever thought after that lost to Denver and the first half of the season that we had, that we would now be having the second half of the season that we've had? Who would've believed that Ryan Tannehill would start for us and that he would have the highest QBR in the league since doing so – – he is on target like a laser and incredibly accurate with his passing. Derek Henry is playing virtually unstoppable, dominating ball. AJ Brown is stepping up and showing all the signs of an elite receiver in the works – – particularly with his ability to run after the catch Derek Henry is running like a man among boys time and time again. AJ Brown is stepping up and showing all the signs of an elite receiver in the works – – particularly with his soft hands and ability to run after the catch. For that matter, all of the receivers are doing their thing. Whether it's one play or many plays, big plays are happening over and over again and by guy after guy. The team is playing completely unselfish, hard-nosed and complementary football. The line is giving Ryan time. The ends are doing whatever they're called to do with that big block or catch. We lose player after player and the next guy steps up. Delany gone. Doesn't matter. Butler gone. Doesn't matter. Adoree and Sims both injured. Doesn't matter. The team just keeps making play after play. Logan Ryan is having an all pro season. Kevin Byard is showing us that he deserved the payday he got in the off-season. The special teams are coming up big both in terms of placing the ball in the most inconvenient spot possible for the other team and blocking kicks and scoring points. The defense is playing angry and hungry. To that point I watched a slow-mo video of Jayon Brown in a goal line defense play where we stopped the Raiders on like the 2-yard line when they were trying to run in a touchdown. It honestly looked to me like one of those nature series videos where the predator is getting the prey. Kind of like where the killer whale eats the seal or the lion catches the gazelle. Simultaneously unbelievable and awesome to watch......
Jim: We welcome observations here Stuart, and these are some good ones!
John Clark from Knoxville, Tennessee
Question: Happy Holidays Jim!!!! I'm proud of our team and staff they relay stepped up and I believe we can win out against the Texans and the Saints. I believe we are better at these teams on Offense, Defense, special teams and coaches. I hope they stay focused stay hungry as a pack of African lions and aggressive as a great white in bloody water. Lol I just wish they would start mentioning Derrick Henry and Tannehill in the MVP race they deserve way more respect than what they're getting. I believe in our boys but one question before I forget Succop what's his problem???
Jim: Hey John. I touched on the MVP race earlier. Again, I think it's going to Lamar Jackson. As for Succop, his problem is he's 1-of-5 on field goal attempts. If you're looking for a reason to be optimistic consider he's 21-of-22 on his extra point attempts and he's looked better to me as the weeks have gone by. The head coach and GM are sticking with him, which is a sign they believe in him. And this is a serious business to them and everyone else who invests so much time and effort so you're just going to have to trust them – and hope Ryan settles in and returns to form from previous years.
Kenny Gore from Horse Cave, Kentucky
Question: Hello Jim... Been a LONG time since I wrote in... I decided to try my best to be positive or shut up to a degree... Well now, there is PLENTY of positive to go around & it's not hard to see! I have a few things... 1st & foremost a statement to fans: Our players have EARNED the right to play in a house PACKED FULL OF HOME TEAM FANS!! SHOW UP & BE LOUD!! I've seen/heard several people say: I'll go to a game when they are good... Well they are playing GREAT!! PAY UP!! DO YOUR PART!! BE THERE & BE LOUD!!!
Next, an apology to Arthur Smith... I was never really a believer that he would be good... So it was easy to not like what he did at the start of the yr. He has improved drastically... I am thoroughly impressed w/how this team is playing on offense!!
Last: SHOW UP & BE LOUD!!! We have asked for consistently good football for a LONG time... We now have that & fans SHOULD FILL Nissan Stadium Sunday!! I will be EXTREMELY disappointed if we go into this game & see a huge show of Texans fans... I know they travel well; and Nashville is an "It" City... However, they cannot buy seats that have Titan fans in them!! MAKE IT HARD ON WATSON ALL GAME!! LET THE TITANS PLAYERS FEED OFF US!!! BE THERE & BE LOUD!!!! Excited to see this team go get a WIN at home!!
Jim: Good to hear from you again, Kenny.
Cynthia Kinney from Franklin, Tennessee
Question: Mine is not so much a question as it is an observation. I have been a fan of the Titans since day 1 when they moved to TN. Steve McNair to me was one of the greatest QB we have ever had. I thought Marcus was going to be the one. I think after his leg injury he just never really came back. Tannehill is great. He has managed to pull the team together and I think the biggest plus with him is he seems to have so much fun doing it. I see him celebrating as much as everone else. I don't recall that fron other QBs. I know that this is a very hard and dangerous game but Ryan seems like a big kid having fun and I think that has been infectious to the other players. This week with the Texans will be interesting to see. I predict a very close game with low scores. I think the Titans have what it takes to get it done.
Jim: Thanks Cynthia. Well, we're about to find out…
Have a great weekend everyone!