There's always a little extra special, uh, something in the air when these two teams get together. Of course, the history of the old Houston team v. the new Houston team is a storyline that'll never go away. But, when Mike Vrabel left Houston to become the Tennessee head coach and he took a few coaches with him, players too, it became a little more than just a rivalry of two teams that don't really like each other.
It's now way deeper than that.
The Titans are currently undefeated at 4-0 and that's after making it to the AFC Championship game last season. Since losing to Denver 16-0 and giving up a million sacks in week seven last season, the Titans have lost just four games and are a combined 13-4. However, one of those four L's was a loss to the Texans in what amounted to the AFC South championship game in Nashville in week 15. Remember, it was the Texans that won the AFC South in 2019.
Division games are always juicy, but this one is going to be over the top. The Titans played on Tuesday night, so they haven't quite had the rest that the Texans had this week. Then again, the Titans were outstanding in a 42-16 win over the Bills. When you have a hot squad, it may not matter much when you play; just get back on the field and dominate. That's Tennessee's mindset right now and the Texans have to counter with a nasty mindset of their own. It should be fun.
So, let's get to Know The Texans Week Six Foe - the Tennessee Titans.
2020 Schedule (4-0)
W, @ Denver Broncos 16-14
W, Jacksonville Jaguars 33-30
W, @ Minnesota Vikings 31-30
W, Buffalo Bills 42-16
Titans OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 131.5 ypg (9th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 245.8 ypg (17th)
Total offense per game - 377.3 ypg (16th)
Turnovers lost - 1 (1 INT, 0 Fumbles lost)
Expected Titans starting offense for Week Six
QB - Ryan Tannehill
RB - Derrick Henry
WR - Corey Davis (currently on COVID list)/Kalief Raymond
WR - A.J. Brown
TE - Jonnu Smith
TE - Anthony Firkser
LT - Taylor Lewan
LG - Rodger Saffold
C - Ben Jones
RG - Nate Davis
RT - DENNIS KELLY (replaced Jack Conklin)
Other Key Offensive piecesTE - Geoff Swaim
RB - Darrynton Evans (injured hammy v. Bills on Tuesday night)
WR - Adam Humphries
RB - Jeremy McNichols
WR - Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New starter in 2020
Keys to winning v. the Titans Offense
- "Kill the Engine" - During the season ending documentary on the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, head coach Andy Reid used that exact phrase to describe what his defense had to do against Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs won the game in large part because they killed Henry's engine. The engine is his legs and when it dies, the play's over. Go high on him and, well, you'll become an internet GIF. Buffalo cornerback Josh Norman was Exhibit A as to what happens when a defender doesn't "kill the engine". I've never been a huge fan of low tackles, but in this case, any time a Texans defender can wrap Henry up by his legs, that'll kill his engine...and that's a good thing.
- Keys don't lie - It's PARAMOUNT that the Texans defenders don't get caught watching anything other than their key read on any particular play. The Titans are tremendous with play action, especially if Henry is dominating on the ground. It's real easy to get locked in on the multiple motions, shifts and ball fakes as opposed to being locked in on the key read for a play.
- Violently get off of blocks - This Tennessee Titans line will clutch, grab and maul, if allowed. As such, the Texans can't just catch blocks and not aggressively shed blocks to help stop the run. Get those Titans uglies off of you...violently because that's the only way to get free consistently.
- 81 - During his Wednesday press conference, interim head coach Romeo Crennel noted how all-around weapon Jonnu Smith made at least one massive play against the Texans since Smith joined the Titans. Last year in week 15, it was a toss play to Smith, lined up in the backfield, that helped get the Titans back in the game
- Don't let Tannehill be the Titans second leading rusher - Over the past two seasons, Tannehill showed why he played receiver at Texas A&M before he took over as the starting quarterback in 2010 and 2011. He's exploited undisciplined pass rushes. He's embarrassed pass rushers that feebly get a hand on him as he runs through them on his way to a first down or touchdown. Against the Bills on Tuesday night, his scrambles accounted for 42 yards on just four carries and a touchdown. The Titans won that game. Against the Texans in week 15 of 2019, he had just ten yards on three runs. The Titans lost that game. He's a dangerous weapon with the ball out of the pocket, so the Texans must play with a similar approach to the one they used against Jags quarterback Gardner Minshew II last week.
Titans DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 148.3 ypg (27th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 261.0 ypg (23rd)
Total offense Allowed per game - 409.3 ypg (29th)
Turnovers generated - 9 (6 INT, 3 Fumble recoveries - Titans are +8 in TO margin - best in NFL)
Expected Titans starting defense for Week Six
OLB - JADEVEON CLOWNEY
NT - DaQuan Jones (Jeffery Simmons is on COVID list - if he comes off before Sunday, he'll start)
OLB - Harold Landry
ILB - Rashaan Evans
ILB - Jayon Brown
Nickel - CHRIS JACKSON
CB - Malcolm Butler
S - Kevin Byard
S - Kenny Vaccarro
CB - JOHNATHAN JOSEPH
Other Key Defensive pieces
OLB - Vic Beasley
ILB - David Long Jr.
DT - Jack Crawford
DT - Larrell Murchison
CB - Tye Smith
DT - Isaiah Mack
S - Amani Hooker
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New starter in 2020
Keys to winning v. the Titans Defense
- Attack - This sound familiar? It's the same thought process against the Titans as it was against the Jaguars - come out of the chute firing. I don't expect a deep ball to Brandin Cooks on play one, but I'm not against it either. Dictate to the Titans what you want, not the other way around.
- Find holes in the zone - I really don't anticipate the Titans playing much man-to-man on the Texans. The Jaguars did last week and got torched. The Titans played a ton of zone against the Bills on Tuesday night and forced quarterback Josh Allen to throw into small windows to move the offense effectively. He didn't and it didn't. Texans receivers must find those holes and then must expect a hit as the ball arrives. The Titans lead the league in turnover margin and have six interceptions. The two that Malcolm Butler had on Tuesday night occurred when the Titans were in zone coverage.
- 99 - For five years the Texans found unique ways to use Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive side of the ball. On Sunday, they must locate him on every play to limit the disruption and chaos he creates on nearly every play. I'd anticipate Clowney will move inside a decent portion of the game to find a matchup against the Texans interior as opposed to going against the Texans two stout tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard.
- Find the right run game fit - it may take a quarter or so, but offensive coordinator Tim Kelly must find the right fit for David Johnson and Duke Johnson in the run game. In the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over Jacksonville, David showed that he could get the edge and turn and burn a bit more than maybe anyone thought. Tennessee hasn't really shut down teams' run games, in particular Minnesota. The thing that stood out most in the game was the way that Minnesota's offensive line and tight ends really dominated at the point of attack. The other thing that stood out was Minnesota's ability to have run game success with multiple run schemes.
- 10 or 11 personnel will give Titans issues - I'm not certain that the Titans have enough cornerback types to defend the Texans successfully when the Texans go to either 10 or 11 personnel. Last year when the Texans had their top three receivers on the field, the Titans had Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and LeShaun Sims and that trio struggled. They have Johnathan Joseph locked into one spot with Butler, but it's not great at the other spots in subpackage situations. This year, the Titans drafted Kristian Fulton and he's on the COVID list currently. They have Adoree Jackson but he injured a knee prior to the first game and has been on Injured Reserve since. Furthermore, Logan Ryan is no longer there. The Texans 10/11 personnel could be an issue for the Titans.