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Houston Texans

'08 Game Preview: Titans


As the Texans gear up for training camp, excitement for the 2008 season continues to build. Here is an in-depth look at each of the team's regular season games with some insights from SportsRadio 610's Marc Vandermeer.

Teams: Texans @ Tennessee Titans (Sunday, Sept. 21)

Game Preview: The Texans will face their first AFC South foe when they travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans, a team that earned 10 wins and a surprise trip to the playoffs in 2007. The Titans pulled out two close victories over the Texans last season, but this emotional rivalry could intensify in 2008 with both teams likely fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot.

In the offseason, Mike Heimerdinger replaced Norm Chow as Tennessee's offensive coordinator as rumors circulated about quarterback Vince Young's less-than-amicable relationship with Chow. The Titans lost defensive linemen Antwan Odom, Travis LaBoy and Randy Starks in free agency. Longtime guard Benji Olson retired, and the team traded cornerback Pacman Jones to Dallas. They gained defensive end Jevon Kearse, who began his career in Tennessee by averaging 12 sacks over three seasons.

{QUOTE}What the Titans failed to address was their lack of depth at wide receiver. Justin Gage and Roydell Williams turned in solid performances last season, but neither stepped up to be Young's No. 1 target. Gage notched 55 catches for 750 yards and two touchdowns and Williams made 55 catches for 719 yards and four touchdowns. The Titans brought back Justin McCareins, who played for the team from 2001-03, but the eighth-year pro could have trouble breaking into the starting lineup. Tight end Alge Crumpler could be Young's most reliable option this year. But without wideouts who can run quick, short routes or serve as deep-threat decoys, Young could struggle again with his passing game. The quarterback finished 2007 with a completion percentage of 62.3 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-17.

Where Tennessee could hurt the Texans is on the ground. Running back LenDale White is coming off a strong sophomore season in which he amassed 1,110 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, and last year's second-round pick, Chris Henry, will compete against 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Johnson for playing time. Johnson, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash time at this year's scouting combine with a 4.24, also could be used in the slot as a pass-catching tailback. Then there is Young, who ran all over Houston hearts in 2006 when he sprinted into the end zone with a game-winning 39-yard touchdown. The quarterback was slowed by a hamstring injury last season, but still can make plays with his legs.

The Titans' offensive line has been key to the success of their running game. Michael Roos and David Stewart could be a tandem at the tackles for a long time. Free agent Jake Scott replaced Olson at right guard, and six-time Pro Bowler Kevin Mawae helms the middle. Stopping the Titans on the ground will come down to a strong performance by the Texans' front seven, especially defensive end Mario Williams, who sacked Young 2.5 times in their last meeting. Rookie defensive tackle Frank Okam, Young's former teammate at Texas, also could be a difference maker in this contest. With a few games under his belt, the massive Okam could help clog the middle and force White to try to get to the outside corners.

On offense, the Texans will have to hold up against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who knocked quarterback Matt Schaub out of a game last October, finished a Pro Bowl season with six sacks. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch also took a trip to Hawaii after amassing 12 sacks and 48 tackles in 2007. The addition of Kearse means that the Titans will be winning games in the trenches. It will be up to the Texans' young offensive line to hold its own and allow Alex Gibbs' zone blocking scheme to open up holes for the running game. The Texans got the job done in the air against the Titans last season, but they will have to ignite their running game in order to win on the road.

"I think we are going to see more progress than ever on the ground," Vandermeer said. "Is it enough to make the big plays through the air that they need? I think that if they can keep Matt Schaub's uniform clean in this one, they should be able to do alright in this one or at least hold their own against Tennessee.

"But what you have to avoid against the Titans is the big mistake, and they (Texans) have made a lot of big mistakes in this matchup in years past. This is a rivalry game and it's heavily one-sided, but it's still a rivalry game that brings up a lot of emotions for the Texans and all too often they have made a crucial error at a bad time."

Key Matchups: Defensive Mario Williams going after quarterback Vince Young. The Texans' offensive line fending off defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Vandermeer's pick: "The Titans, from where we sit now, should be favored in this one. So they should win it at home, but I think it's going to be a very close game. If the Texans can avoid the big mistake late in the game, the big fourth-quarter error, I think they can come away with a victory here at Tennessee."

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