The Texans (4-11) wrap up the 2020 season on Sunday at 3:25 p.m. CT versus the Titans (10-5). Tennessee won in overtime when the two squads squared off in Nashville earlier this season. Here are five things to watch when Houston hosts the Titans in NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Watson's wonderful year – It's remarkable the Texans have won just four games the way Deshaun Watson's played quarterback. He was selected to his third straight Pro Bowl in 2020, and has thrown for more yards (4,458), touchdowns (30) and yards per attempt (8.8) than he has in any other season. He also boasts a career-best 112.1 passer rating, and has been picked off a career-low six times.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was the Texans' defensive coordinator during Watson's rookie season of 2017, and he's seen the young quarterback twice yearly since. He said Tennessee has "nothing but ultimate respect" for Watson.
"He's a fantastic player," Vrabel said. "We're going to have to find ways to affect him and disrupt him and be tight in coverage. He's difficult to tackle in the pocket. He's got great pocket awareness, great play strength. He can throw from different platforms and arm angles. He's always looking downfield. If you come out of coverage when he's scrambling, he'll throw it and launch it downfield."
After tossing his franchise-record 30th scoring pass last Sunday, a couple more significant milestones are within Watson's reach this Sunday. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes currently leads the League in passing yards with 4,740. But he's sitting Sunday out, and Chad Henne will start in his place. So if Watson is able to pass for 283 yards, he'll win the passing title. If he throws for 313, he'll break Matt Schaub's franchise record for yards in a season, which was set in 2009.
Watson values wins and ultimately Super Bowl titles over the individual honors, but he does acknowledge that the passing records can help serve as building blocks for his personal progress in the years to come.
"Individually, it's huge," Watson said. "It's a big step for me to go into this offseason doing the things I've done individually. It doesn't go unnoticed."
Watson's thrown for 300 yards or more in five of the last six games.
2) Run game re-do – David Johnson turned in his finest performance as a Texan last Sunday, needing just 12 carries to pile up 128 yards on the ground. He ran for a score, caught another, and in tandem with Watson's seven five rushes for 38 yards, the Texans' run game averaged 9.8 yards per carry.
Oddly enough, Houston did that without Tytus Howard, who started the first 14 games of 2020 at right tackle. He went on injured reserve prior to the loss to Cincinnati, and Roderick Johnson started in his place. Early in the second quarter against the Bengals, left tackle Laremy Tunsil left with an injury. A few plays later, starting left guard Brett Qvale exited as well.
So with three normal starters out, Johnson was able to cut loose.
"On the line, it was just five playing as one," Roderick Johnson said. "Big shoutout to David Johnson for running through defenders and over them. It was not only the offensive line, but 11 guys playing as one. It was sound technique football, and that's what we've got to carry over."
Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly was enthused by what the Texans were able to do in the run game, and he especially liked what David Johnson's done since returning to the lineup.
"He's running hard and really the guys up front are doing a good job of keeping him clean and letting him get to the second level," Kelly said. "He's protecting the football and we're looking forward to him doing the same thing on Sunday."
On the season, Johnson's averaged 4.6 yards per carry, with five rushing touchdowns, and a pair of touchdown catches.
Against the run, Tennesse's defense has allowed 4.5 yards per carry.
3) Chunky passes – Unlike the run game, Watson and the Texans offense have been outstanding at getting big gains through the air. With 62 completions this season of 20 yards or more, Watson is tied for second in the NFL in that category. 12 different Texans have caught a pass for 23 yards or more in 2020. The explosive plays have been a constant this year, and Houston would like to keep that up in the finale.
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel attributed some of that success to the overall team speed of Houston.
"If you've got fast guys who can get down the field then you have a chance to throw the ball to them, throw it and let them run under it or because of their speed, people back off of them and then you can press it and then pull up, run a curl or a comeback and then you can still gain a chunk of yards that way," Crennel said. "So, it's a combination of the speed of the receiver, the ability of the quarterback. I think it kind of goes hand in hand."
In addition to the speedy receivers, all four tight ends, plus running backs David Johnson and Duke Johnson have also picked up big yardage after the catch.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Watson completed passes of 53, 35, 22 and 22 yards en route to a 335-yard performance.
4) Watching Watt – Defensive end J.J. Watt, like the rest of his teammates, has been frustrated with the losing season. He had some fiery remarks after Sunday's loss to the Bengals, when he was asked about motivation for playing a game in Week 17 without any chance at making the playoffs.
"There was some text messages and guys saying they appreciated it," Watt said Thursday. "Like I said, it wasn't about the team, my teammates or the locker room or anything. It was an answer to why, how do you get motivated for a week when you aren't in playoffs. I personally don't believe that should ever be an issue, so it was fine."
This year, Watt's recorded five sacks and batted down seven passes. He's climbed up the all-time sacks list and now has 101 in his career, good for 31st in NFL history.
5) Corral the King – Running back Derrick Henry was the NFL's rushing king in 2019. He's atop the League with 1,777 yards in 2020. He rumbled for 212 yards and a pair of scores against the Texans in Week 6, and caught two passes for 52 yards.
Limiting the damage he does is of paramount importance for the Texans defense. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver explained what must be done.
"You try to tell guys to eyes through the thighs, strive for five and not tackle the guy high and knock down the stiff arm if you see it," Weaver said. "He is certainly a dynamic back. You've got to do everything you can to try to keep him bottled up and keep him from getting to the second level, but that's easier said than done."
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel agreed with Weaver, and added that 'strength in numbers' is a key in slowing down Henry.
"We want to close in on him and try to get as many guys around him as we can," Crennel said. "He's a strong, physical runner with really good speed and the thing to do, is if you can keep him from getting to the second level, then that gives you the best chance to slow him down."
In three of the Titans' five losses this season, Henry was held to less than 100 yards per game on the ground.