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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Titans

Posted Sep 29, 2012

Here are five things to watch when the Texans face the Tennessee Titans in Week 4 on Hispanic Heritage Day presented by XFINITY at Reliant Stadium.

Arian Foster

Here are five things to watch when the Texans (3-0, 1-0 AFC South) face the Tennessee Titans (1-2, 0-0 AFC South) in Week 4 on Hispanic Heritage Day presented by XFINITY at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is at noon CT.

1. Andre 10k: Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson 132 receiving yards to reach 10,000 in his career. He could do it this week against a Titans defense that allows 312.7 passing yards per game.

Johnson, who has played in 125 games in 10 seasons, is on pace to become the sixth-fastest player in NFL history to 10,000. He would become the 37th player in NFL history to reach the milestone.

The five-time Pro Bowler has averaged 89.3 receiving yards against the Titans since 2007. Not counting the 2011 season finale in which he played sparingly and had two catches for 21 yards, Johnson has averaged 99.0 yards per game against Tennessee since 2007.

The Titans no longer have pesky Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan, leaving Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner up to the task of defending one the game’s best receivers. Johnson had eight catches for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 1 in the Texans’ only home game so far this season.

2. Running of the bulls: The Texans have gained 150.3 rushing yards per game through three weeks. The Titans have allowed 150.3 rushing yards per game. Another big day could be in store for Texans running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who combined for 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago at Jacksonville.

Both members of “NamasTate” ran for more than 100 yards against the Titans in last season’s 41-7 rout at Tennessee in Week 7. Foster had 115 rushing yards, 119 receiving yards and three touchdowns, becoming the fourth player in modern NFL history with three touchdowns and 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game. Tate had 104 yards on just 15 carries (6.9 average).

Foster torched the Titans for 143 yards on 30 carries (4.8 average) the last time he faced them at home in 2010. With Foster sitting out of the 2011 season finale at Reliant Stadium, Tate started and had 97 rushing yards on 16 attempts (6.1 per carry) and a touchdown.

Foster and Tate have combined for 400 rushing yards and five touchdowns so far in 2012, helping the Texans rank first in the NFL in time of possession (36:34). The Titans, incidentally, rank last in time of possession (23:18).

3. Same CJ?: Titans running back Chris Johnson has been unable to get anything going this season, with just 33 carries for 45 yards (1.4 average) and no touchdowns in three games. The Texans want to keep it that way.

Since leading the league with 2,006 rushing yards (5.6 average) with 14 touchdowns in 2009, Johnson has run for 1,364 yards (4.3 average) and 11 touchdowns in 2010 and 1,047 yards (4.0 average) and four touchdowns in 2011. His most productive game this season came last week against Detroit, when he ran 14 times for 24 yards and a long of 13.

It doesn’t get any easier for Johnson this week against a Texans run defense that ranks fifth in the NFL with 67.7 rushing yards allowed per game. The three-time Pro Bowler torched the Texans for 348 total rushing yards in two games in 2009 but has totaled five, 130, 18 and 61 yards since then in his last four games against Houston, with 3.8 yards per carry and just one rushing touchdown.

 “He’s still the same guy that made all those runs and all those plays,” Texans linebacker Brian Cushing said. “It wasn’t too long ago he was doing that so obviously he’s still very capable of doing it. It’s just one of those things that you don’t want him to have his breakout game against us.”

4. Containing Locker: Titans quarterback Jake Locker presents a dual threat to the Texans’ defense with his ability to make plays with his feet.

Locker has completed 64.4 percent of his passes this season for 781 yards. He has thrown for four touchdowns and two interceptions with a passer rating of 91.9. Locker also leads the Titans in rushing with 67 yards on eight carries. He has been sacked only twice.

“That presents a big challenge, and part of it is he gets rid of the ball quickly,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He can run with the football, but he also escapes the rush. The thing he does that a lot of young quarterbacks don’t do is he gets away from the rush and then he looks downfield to throw it, so they’ve made a lot of big plays that way.”

Locker, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Washington, threw for a career-high 378 yards last week in the Titans’ overtime victory against Detroit. The Texans emphasized staying locked into their coverage during practice this week because of Locker’s ability to extend plays by scrambling outside the pocket, which could present more opportunities for sacks for outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed.

5. Special teams: Special teams has been a strength for the Titans through their first three games, while the Texans have struggled in the return game and kick coverage.

Last week, the Titans became the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of 60 yards or longer in a game. Two of those touchdowns came on special teams. Cornerback Tommie Campbell scored on a 65-yard punt return reminiscent of the “Music City Miracle” from 2000. Darius Reynaud fielded a punt near the left sideline and immediately lateraled across the field to Campbell on the play. Reynaud scored later in the game on a 105-yard kickoff return.

The Titans rank fourth in the NFL in kickoff return average (29.9) and second in punt return average (17.2). The Texans rank 16th in kickoff return average allowed (24.5) and 27th in punt return average allowed (15.2). Titans punter Brett Kern also leads the NFL with a 46.9-yard net punting average.

The chink in the Titans’ special teams armor has been kickoff return coverage. They rank 28th with 27.2 yards allowed per kick return. The Texans rank 32nd in kickoff return average (17.5) as Trindon Holliday has been quiet with 105 yards on five returns, but this could be the game Holliday breaks out. Holliday lit it up in the preseason with 39.9 yards per kickoff return, 21.1 yards per punt return and three total touchdowns.


Three more things – quick hits:

1. MegaWatt: J.J. Watt is making an early case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors with his torrid start to the season. The second-year defensive end leads the AFC with 5.5 sacks and leads the Texans with 15 tackles and five passes defensed. Watt has at least 1.5 sacks in all three games this season.

2. Posey’s turn: Rookie wide receiver DeVier Posey will make his NFL debut with Lestar Jean sidelined by a knee injury. A third-round draft pick from Ohio State, Posey had only two catches in the preseason and was not active for the first three games of the regular season. He will be the Texans’ fourth receiver behind Johnson, Kevin Walter and fellow rookie Keshawn Martin.

3. Good history: After losing part of his left ear and getting X-rays on his left shoulder last Sunday at Denver, quarterback Matt Schaub was a full participant in practice all week. Schaub, who tied a career high against the Broncos with four touchdown passes, has a 109.1 passer rating against the Titans since 2009. In five games in that span, he has 1,461 passing yards (292.2 average), a 67.4 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns and just one interception.

Twitter.com/NickScurfield

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