(Mandatory Photo Credit: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com)
Written By: Joseph Yun
After thoroughly dominating the Colts to entrench themselves in the AFC South lead in front of hundreds of alumni, the Titans travel to their former home in Houston. Tennessee will have to watch out for a tough Texans squad that will compete hard against their bitter rivals. Adding to the intrigue is the chance that promising rookie signal caller Malik Willis could be making his first start. Can the reeling Texans pull off the upset to pick themselves back up in the AFC South race? Will the Titans suffer a letdown after such an emotional victory?
Texans’ key numbers + info
HC: Lovie Smith (90-91-1 career)
OC: Pep Hamilton
2022 Record: 1-4-1 (1-0-1 AFC South)
PPG Against: 22.83
Rush yards: 604
Rush yards allowed: 988
Avg. per rush attempt: 4.4
Avg per attempt allowed: 5.2
Pass completion rate: 64%
Pass completion allowed: 60%
Leading Rusher: Dameon Pierce (106 attempts for 504 yards and three touchdowns)
Leading Receiver: Nico Collins (18 receptions for 305 yards)
Leading Tackler: Jonathan Owens (56 tackles; two passes defended)
Key Additions: RB Dameon Pierce (rookie), OL Kenyon Green (rookie), OL A.J. Cann, EDGE Jerry Hughes, EDGE Mario Addison, LB Christian Harris (rookie), CB Steven Nelson, TE O.J. Howard, S Jalen Pitre (rookie), CB Derek Stingley, Jr (rookie)
Key Losses: WR Chris Conley, OL Cedric Ogbeuhi, OL Marcus Cannon, CB Fabian Moreau, QB Deshaun Watson, RB Marlon Mack, DL Ross Blacklock (trade), WR John Metchie III (IR), LB Jonathan Greenard (IR), OL Justin Britt (NFI), RB David Johnson, QB Tyrod Taylor, LB Kamu Gregor-Hill
The Tennessee Titans lead the all-time series 22-18-0. Tennessee has won five of the eight matchups since Mike Vrabel took over in 2018. During that period, the Titans outscored the Texans by the margin of 217 to 210. The average margin of victory has been 4.5 points over that time.
Keys to a Titans Victory
Mental / Roster Management
- In a tired refrain, the Titans have a lengthy injury list heading into Sunday afternoon. Only this time, star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and Ryan Tannehill are hobbled. It remains to be seen if they play but they must do. The Titans' offense is limited due to offensive play calling with Tannehill. It’s scary to imagine the horror of horrors without him. Could we see a teaser of a Tannehill-less future this Sunday? Simmons is the lynchpin of the surging Titans' defense. Tennessee is getting healthier believe it or not with guard Nate Davis among others on track to return soon. Mentally, can they avoid the letdown against a slumping rival after the high of sweeping the season series with the Colts? Motivating Tennessee will be a raft of former Texans looking for revenge such as DeMarcus Walker and Lonnie Johnson, Jr.
A New Era?
- Tannehill hasn’t practiced all week but is listed as questionable to play with an ankle injury plus a developing illness. This news means that rookie Malik Willis is in line to get his first regular-season start. The last time we saw him in any significant reps was during a disenchanting blowout by the Bills a few weeks ago in relief of Tannehill. Yes, he has gotten a few reps here and there subsequently in a wildcat role. Willis has taken all of the first-team reps during practice, indicating the increasing likelihood of a start because teams just don’t spend valuable reps during the season on backups. This isn’t just a throwaway meaningless last regular season weekend, either with firm control of the AFC South on the line. Can the rookie show any signs of development in what is sure to be an increased role?
Who’s on first?
- Like the famous Abbott and Costello routine, we just don’t know who will lead the Titans in receiving in any given week. Could it be Robert Woods? Could it be erstwhile veteran Nick Westbrook-Ihkine? Or could it be Austin Hooper or even Dontrel Hilliard? Unlocking the passing attack will take a ton of pressure off Derrick Henry. Fortunately, the Texans are a bottom-half pass defense so they could be a magic salve.
Keys to a Texans Victory
Stop the run
- Easier said than done given that the Texans have allowed almost 1,000 yards after just six weeks of play. The latest success story: Josh Jacobs who busted out for 143 yards and a touchdown last week. Well, another former #BuiltByBama star comes to town in the form of Derrick Henry who has traditionally been a thorn in the Texans' side. It might be a long day for Houston’s run defense given both teams’ trajectories. They are very young in the linebacker department but are led by the veterans up front. The Titans pose very little creative threat as a whole so limiting the run could help upset them. Unfortunately, the Texans will miss defensive tackle Maliek Collins this week.
Throw the ball. A. Lot
- Tennessee has one of the worst secondaries in the league in terms of passing yardage given up. This isn’t surprising given the amount of relative turnover and youth there. Frankly, the Titans have gotten lucky with turnovers deciding a couple of victories this year. It says a lot that former first-round selection Caleb Farley can barely see the field over the back end of the roster types. Kristian Fulton and Kevin Byard can only do so much. Houston still has speedy wideout Brandin Cooks but will likely miss emerging threat, Nico Collins, due to injury. Davis Mills has flashed some talent over his young career. Standout rookie rusher Dameon Pierce will help take the load off.
Injury Report - Titans @ Texans
What are the Odds?
BetMGM has the Titans being 2.5-point favorites at -110, the money line at -135 for Tennessee, and the Texans at +115. over/under is set at 40.5.
Caesar’s has the Titans being 2.5-point favorites at -110, the money line being -140 for Tennessee, and the Texans being +118. The over/under is set at 40.5.
WynnBet has the Titans being 2.5-point favorites at -110, the money line being -140 for Tennessee and the Texans being +120. The over/under is set at 40.5.
DraftKings has the Titans being 2.5-point favorites at -115, the money line being -140 for the Titans, and the Texans being +105. over/under is set at 40.5.