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The Houston Texans are 3-0. They’re perfect in the record books, but there are certainly aspects of their team that need work. The yards per carry could improve for all the running backs and nearly blowing that big lead in Denver was almost a disaster. So let’s take a look at this week’s matchup with the Tennessee Titans and find out if the Texans can show some improvement and if they’ll dominate the way they did the first two weeks of the season.
Texans running game vs. Titans run defense
The Houston Texans are running the ball a lot this season. Arian Foster leads the league in rushing attempts and the Texans are 5th in the NFL in rushing yards. But look closer. As we mentioned before, the yards per carry isn’t very good. Foster, Ben Tate, Just Forsett and the rare Matt Schaub scramble have resulted in Houston averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Titans are a lowly 28th in the NFL in rushing defense. Teams are running all over the Tennessee.
And here’s the thing: the Titans haven’t played any team with a particularly strong running game. Stevan Ridley of the New England Patriots ran for 125 yards in the opener. Jackie Battle of the San Diego Chargers ran for 69 yards and two touchdowns. And last week, Mikel Leshoure (yes THAT Mikel Leshoure) of the Detroit Lions rushed for 100 yards on them.
The Lions had NO running game coming into the season. They haven’t had a consistent back in years. One game against the Titans and Leshoure is a fantasy darling. This could be the first game this year where Tate and Foster each run for 100 yards.
Photo by Javi Perez/Playmaker Magazine
Texans passing game vs. Titans pass defense
Turns out the only thing worse than Tennessee’s rush defense is it’s pass defense. Yes, they just played the Detroit Lions into overtime and won that game, but remember that it wasn’t just Matthew Stafford playing in that game. Shaun Hill led two touchdown drives in the last two minutes of the 4th quarter. Even if you were to take away the Hail Mary that Detroit converted to send the game to overtime, Hill finished 9-12 for 126 yards. Still more than 10 yards per carry when the Lions were obviously passing on every down.
Both Phillip Rivers and Tom Brady have had their best games of the season against the Lions.
Matt Schaub isn’t likely to be putting it up and making the big plays that he did last week against the Denver Broncos, but he’s also been really efficient this year at taking what the defense gives him underneath the way he worked the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Right now, the passing game is the best aspect of the Houston Texans overall. And that won’t change against the Titans.
Titans passing game vs. Texans pass defense
After struggling through the first two weeks, throwing as many interceptions as touchdown, Jake Locker finally got it going against the Lions last week, throwing for 378 yards and two touchdowns, both long bombs to Jared Cook and Nate Washington. That was the Lions, though. Detroit ranks 20th in the NFL in yards and give up their share of big scoring plays. While the Titans have a talented group of receivers, it’s still a young quarterback throwing to them.
I will say this, though. The Titans offensive line is actually doing a pretty good job protecting him despite their almost complete lack of a running game. Locker has only been sacked twice, both against the Patriots in the season opener. And he’s not getting hit that often either.
But Locker and his line are going to have a tall task of defending against arguably the best pass rush in the NFL. What makes them so good is their incredibly deep secondary. The entire defense has to be licking it’s chops going after another young quarterback this season after torturing both Ryan Tannehill and Blaine Gabbert already this season. Even if that offensive line holds up for a few seconds, there will be several times in this game where the coverage so good that it gives the rush time to get to Locker.
Photo by Javi Perez/Playmaker Magazine
Titans running game vs. Texans run defense
Jake Locker has 67 yards rushing this season. That leads the team. This obviously wasn’t the plan coming into the year, but the fact of the matter is that Chris Johnson looks incapable of producing, even when given the lead and a chance to run out the clock and put the game away, he’s failed to the tune of 45 yards on 33 carries and no touchdowns.
Meanwhile Houston is rocking the 5th best rushing defense in the league. Holding Reggie Bush to a combined 169 yards in those two games suddenly looks more impressive based on the way those two have run against their other opponents this season. And the Texans have a breakout star in JJ Watt. We’ve known about JJ Watt since last year, but now the rest of the nation is noticing the defensive end people are calling “MegaWatt” as he leads a powerful line and is an early candidate for defensive player of the year.
With all due respect to the solid job that Shayne Graham and Trindon Holliday have done this season, the Tennessee Titans special teams unit pulled out all the stops against the Detroit Lions, going so far as to run a play similar to the Music City Miracle and having Tommie Campbell run back a punt 61 yards for a touchdown.
Holliday has shown some flashes and had some nice returns but no game-changers or big plays of note yet. Houston has a slight edge in the kicking game. Rob Bironas is 6-8 while Shayne Graham is 6-7. Plus Graham has made two kicks that were 40 yards or longer while Bironas has missed both of his attempts from the same distance.
Mike Munchak has the tough task of rebuilding a defense and turning a young quarterback into a franchise player with Chris Johnson taking up a lot of undeserved money and undeserved carries. At least he’s got a strong offensive line to work with, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s got a one-dimensional offense and a defense that can’t stop anybody.
While Gary Kubiak has a lot of things going his way, he needs to find a way to improve his running game while lowering Arian Foster’s carries. He also has to keep his defense from giving up big plays and improve on their ability to get teams off the field late in games. The Broncos nearly came back from a 20 point lead against them. They’ve still got work to do.
Given how bad the Titans defense is and how one-dimension their offense is, there’s no reason the Houston Texans shouldn’t dominate this game. Jake Locker is no Peyton Manning, so it’s unlikely that Houston will have to worry about their defense late in this game, but they still need to worry about their 4th quarter performance. It’ll also be fun to see if this is the game where Foster and Tate each get 100 yards rushing, which we saw happen twice last season.
Playmaker Prediction: Texans 40, Titans 17