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First Glance: Texans at Titans

The Texans (0-1) travel to Nashville for a Sunday showdown with the Titans (0-1). Both clubs are looking to get into the win column in 2018, and these two split the series in 2017, as the home team triumphed in each contest. Here are five things to watch when Houston squares off with Tennessee. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.

1) Watson's way: After lighting up NFL defenses in his final five 2017 starts, Deshaun Watson struggled a bit in the Week 1 loss at New England. The Texans fell, 27-20, and Watson described his performance as “terrible”.

While he wasn’t as electric as he was last October before his knee injury, he still had the Texans in a position to tie the game in the final minutes. This week, he explained how he can improve upon a contest in which he threw an interception, fumbled away the first possession and was sacked three times.

“Just extra film time and just different looks,” Watson said. “Just being able to communicate while you’re just eating lunch or hanging out at the house, being able to try to see the same thing.”

Watson completed 17-of-34 passes last Sunday for 176 yards and a touchdown, and his teammates shrugged off the second-year signal-caller’s struggles.

“We know who Deshaun is and we know what he can be and what he’s capable of,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “I’m very excited to have him as my quarterback.”

The last time he saw the Titans, Watson torched Tennessee with four passing touchdowns, another on the ground, and 283 passing yards. The Texans were victorious by a 57-14 margin in Week 4 last year.

2) Finding Fuller: Will Fuller, V is someone who could help Watson bounce back in Week 2. The third-year receiver missed the Patriots’ game because of a hamstring injury, and was a limited participant this week in practice. But on Thursday he sounded hopeful about a return to the field this weekend.

Fuller caught a pair of scores in the win over Tennessee in 2017, and the year before as a rookie, he returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown and also caught a touchdown as well. Fellow wideout DeAndre Hopkins described what getting him back would do for the Texans offense.

“He adds speed,” Hopkins said. “He can open up the field, help me get open, keep guys focused off of myself, Lamar Miller, Deshaun, he can spread the field.”

Watson and Fuller linked up 13 times in October of last year, with seven of those passes resulting in touchdowns. The quarterback is anxious to see Fuller back in the fold.

“That’s another weapon for us to be able to attack the defense in all types of ways,” Watson. “It’s a weapon that the defenses have to really worry about and just kind of focus on.”

Fuller said he feels “confident now” and has high expectations for the offense.

“I think the sky is the limit with us playing together, everybody playing together,” Fuller said. “So, now that we’re all back, we’ll see where we can take off from here.”

3) Tackle’s Time: For the second straight week, the Texans will have a new tandem starting at left and right tackle. Seantrel Henderson left the Patriots’ loss with an ankle injury, and his season is finished. Second-year lineman Julién Davenport, who started at left tackle against New England, slid into Henderson’s spot. Rookie Martinas Rankin came in and played on the left side.

Those two will continue to do so against the Titans, and while head coach Bill O’Brien was disappointed to lose Henderson for the year, he liked that the young tackles got game reps.

“Any time you get playing time like that as a rookie – unfortunately because of what happened – it’s good,” O’Brien said. “There’s no substitute for experience. I thought Martinas went in there, for his first game, got a long way to go, but I thought he held his own pretty well.”

Rankin said “building chemistry with the guys is the number one thing” he must build upon, and also detailed what he learned about himself after getting thrust into action at New England.

“That I belong here.” Rankin said. “I worked hard to get to this point and there’s nothing to be nervous about. It’s just football. At the end of the day, even though it’s just a new level, it’s a tougher level with better players.

4) On the flip side…: While the Texans are starting young players at each tackle spot Sunday, the Titans will likely be without their starting tackle duo. Right tackle Jack Conklin was inactive last week and missed the Wednesday and Thursday practices this week because of a knee injury. Left tackle Taylor Lewan, meanwhile, has been in the concussion protocol after leaving Sunday’s loss at Miami.

Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said there’s a bit of an unknown in preparing for a left tackle/right tackle combo of Kevin Pamphile and Dennis Kelly, respectively.

“That will depend on what Mike (Vrabel) thinks about those guys and what he plans to do with them,” Crennel said. “They’re big, physical guys along that front. They’ll come off the ball and hit you. So, whether they will run a zone scheme or whether they will run a gap scheme, that will depend on what he thinks about them and what his game plan is.”

Vrabel, meanwhile, explained his thought process on not wasting too much time worrying about injuries.

“You have to worry about how we’re going to have an opportunity to win the game with the players that are available to us,” Vrabel said.

Nose tackle D.J. Reader had a pair of sacks against the Patriots, and Watt was particularly active in the second half at New England. Crennel saw the latter’s half-to-half improvement up close last Sunday.

“We say he knocked the rust off in the first half,” Crennel said. “Then, in the second half he was more comfortable with the assignments that he had to perform on the field and he began to show up more.

5) Mess with Mariota: Quarterback Marcus Mariota left the loss to the Dolphins with an elbow injury. He should be under center to start the game with the Texans, though, and the Houston defense is very mindful of his capabilities.

“He’s a guy that can not only use his arm, but his legs, and extend plays,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “They draw a lot of different plays up, designed for pitch-and-catch. A lot of their plays as well, are for him to get out in space.”

Mariota ran three times for 15 yards at Miami, and completed nine-of-16 passes for 103 yards, with a pair of interceptions. A rocky first week, though, didn’t keep the Texans from complimenting Mariota.

“He’s probably the fastest back in the league,” outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said. “The guy’s fast. You’ve got to keep him in the pocket, make him throw out of the pocket. You don’t want him running out. We don’t want him running around because he can hurt us with his legs.”

Mariota scored the Titans’ only two touchdowns in last year’s contest at NRG Stadium.

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