Outside of their meeting in the final week of last season when the Texans sat nearly every key player to rest up for the playoffs, the Texans have dominated the Titans over the last couple seasons. In their last two games, the Texans have outscored the Titans 79-21. In their last game, the Texans defense dominated the game with four sacks, forced three turnovers, and returned two interceptions for a touchdown. Since that game, the Texans defense hasn't played as well in a couple games, especially after the injury to Brian Cushing. I addressed why I thought their pass coverage has slipped in an article on Monday, but they have a chance to gain some confidence back against a pass offense that ranks 20th in yards and 21st in touchdowns.
Texans Offense vs. Titans Defense
One of the few problems the Texans have had at times is with their red zone offense. Settling for field goals keeps lesser teams in the game, something they can afford considering how much extra football they've played over their last two games. They should have success this week against a Titans defense that allows a touchdown on defense 56% of the time the opponent reaches the red zone; that ranks 21st in the league.
Andre Johnson didn't have a great game in their last meeting. As far as his production goes, it's almost like he's had two seasons this year. It took him several games to round in to shape and he is now starting to play at the level he did during his 20's. Johnson is currently on pace for 100 catches and 1,539 yards; numbers he hasn't reached since 2009. He's on a hot streak right now with the bulk of those yards coming over his last two games and faces the 27th ranked pass defense this week; he should have a much better game this time around.
Owen Daniels should also have a big game this week. The veteran tight end is having a Pro-Bowl caliber season. Daniels has already topped his previous career high in touchdowns and is averaging more yards per game this season than his Pro-Bowl season in 2008. Daniels totaled six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown during their earlier meeting with the Titans this year.
Looking at the numbers, the Titans would be ranked lower in pass defense, but teams choose to run the ball instead of passing, because their rush defense is even worse. The Titans rank 27th in rushing yards allowed, 22nd in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 20th in yards per carry allowed this season. Opponents have rushed for over 140 yards against the Titans in seven of their eleven games this season; they're vulnerable against the run to say the least. The Texans need to run the ball early, get Foster into a rhythm, and then look to beat the Titans deep later in the game with the play action pass. If they're able to establish the running game early, I don't see a way for the Titans defense to hold them under 30 points in this game.
Texans Defense vs. Titans Offense
Chris Johnson had a huge game against the Texans in their last meeting, but it didn't have much of an impact on the game with the Titans down by 31 points in the second half. Johnson ran for over 5.5 yards per carry and 141 yards, a shocking total considering how poorly he played in the previous three games. For the season, the Texans have given up over 100 yards rushing to the opposing team in only two of their other ten games; Johnson is the only running back to top the century mark against them. I don't believe the Texans are as good against the run as their number two ranking in yards allowed would suggest, but I also don't believe Johnson will come close to that total again.
I believe in the strategy of blitzing young or inexperienced quarterbacks and playing back against better, more experienced quarterbacks. Good quarterbacks recognize when and where the blitz is coming from, know who their hot read or quick option route is, and get rid of the ball on time; young quarterbacks like Locker do the opposite. The Texans haven't put much pressure on QB's in their last several games outside of J.J. Watt, so I want to see Wade Phillips bring five or six players, speed up Locker's reads, and hopefully cause a few turnovers. Opposing quarterbacks have had too much time in the pocket in recent games, I hope the Texans are more aggressive on Sunday. If they're able to hit Locker early, they can rattle him and have this game wrapped up before the 4th quarter.
The Titans Will Win If...
- Chris Johnson rushes for over 150 yards
- They convert on over 50% of their third down conversion attempts
- Don't give up big plays on play action passes
- Jake Locker doesn't turn the ball over