The Texans (8-5) travel to Nashville this weekend for a Sunday showdown with the Titans (8-5). The winner will take control of the AFC South, but the two squads will meet again in Houston on December 29. Here are five things to watch when they kickoff at Noon CT inside Nissan Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) DeAndre's dominance – Receiver DeAndre Hopkins is in his seventh NFL season. He's faced the Titans a dozen times in his career. In those 12 games, he's averaged 15.5 yards per catch, 99.5 yards a game and he's caught seven touchdowns. The Texans have won eight of those 12 contests.
Based on his averages against Tennessee, if Hopkins played a full 16-game season versus the Titans, he'd finish with 103 catches for 1,592 yards and nine touchdowns. Since 2013, he's faced a variety of Tennessee defenders, and caught passes from an array of Texans quarterbacks. It hasn't mattered: he's produced, and he explained how.
"Taking pride and ownership in my position," Hopkins said. "Not really worried about what's going on around me so much, but doing what I can control. And owning what I can control, and that's what I try to do, no matter who I'm playing against, and that's what I try to do every week.
The Titans have a plan for how they'll defend him, and head coach Mike Vrabel shared it.
"You just have to be able to stay as physical as you can," Vrabel said. "Understand that they're going to throw it to him in tightly contested windows. His play strength is very good, he's got great hands, his ability to make catches on the sideline probably second to none and he's got a very good knack of being able to sit down in zone coverage and understand where he needs to be in relationship with the quarterback."
2) Fuller factor – After missing the Broncos game with a hamstring injury, there's a chance receiver Will Fuller V will be back to inject more speed, playmaking and explosiveness to the offense. He's listed as questionable for Sunday after being limited in practice this week, but he's hopeful he'll suit up against Tennessee. Like Hopkins, Fuller's done well against the Titans. He's done even better when catching passes from Deshaun Watson against Tennessee. In those two games, Fuller's come down with a combined 12 grabs for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
Watson said the Texans "can definitely use him", and described Fuller's impact.
"It's another weapon that makes a lot of big time plays and that can take the top off and do some great things for us," Watson said.
Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Fuller would be the best receiver on most NFL squads.
"He could be a number one receiver for a lot of teams without 10 (Hopkins)," Pees said. "If 10 wasn't there, he'd be the number one receiver. They've basically got two number ones."
He's played nine games this season. The Texans have won six of them, and four of the last five.
3) Deshaun to dazzle? – After each of the Texans' four previous losses in 2019, they've rebounded and won the next contest. Watson has been good in those four games, completing combined 69 percent of his passes for 1,162 yards, with 10 touchdowns and an interception. He's also run for a score, and gained a combined 108 yards on 21 carries. Despite those impressive numbers, Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly has seen Watson approach games after losses, and wins, the same way.
"He's a very consistent person," Kelly said. "Whether it's a good game or a bad game, or whatever it may be, he always comes in the next day basically with the ability to learn from yesterday, both the good things and the bad things, and really move forward and understand what he has to do in order to take the next step."
Watson, who will face the Titans for the third time in his career, will keep the same approach as always.
"Every game is very crucial, the games, the week forward is crucial to put us in a situation to be in the position that we're in today," Watson said. "So, yeah, we've just got to have the same mentality going in, don't make it bigger than what it is. It's already big because it's the next one and just kind of have that mentality, and just go out there and play ball."
In those three career games versus Tennessee, Watson's tossed eight touchdowns to just a pair of interceptions. He's completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 803 yards, and also rushed 18 times for 138 yards and two scores.
4) Tangle up Tannehill – The Titans have been on a roll since they switched to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The Texas A&M product took over when Tennessee was 2-4 and reeling from a 16-0 shutout loss at Denver. The next week, he tossed a pair of touchdowns and completed 23-of-29 passes in a win over the Chargers, and they haven't looked back. 6-1 as a starter for the Titans, Tannehill's thrown two or more touchdowns in each of those victories, and he's been picked off just five times. In four of those wins, he hasn't thrown an interception.
"He's a very accurate passer, very calm, good poise and he's very athletic," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He can run. He's got really good speed, he can escape. He's doing a lot of things well."
As O'Brien pointed out, Tannehill's scrambled for a career-best three touchdowns this year, and picked up a first down on 11 of his 34 carries. His success is not a surprise to former Dolphins teammate, and current Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
"That's my guy and I'm happy for him," Tunsil said. "I'm glad he's balling for them. We all knew he could."
5) Handle Henry – Another key to the Titans' offensive success has been the play of Derrick Henry. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner has rumbled for a 100 yards or more in each of the last four games, which have all been Tennessee wins. He leads the NFL with 13 touchdown runs, and he's also caught a pair of scores. Henry's averaging an even five yards per carry, and already has 1,243 yards with three games remaining in 2019.
But…he didn't practice at all this week. A hamstring injury kept him from working with the squad, and he's listed as questionable. On Thursday he said he's "good to go" for the game against the Texans.
No matter his health status, the Texans have a lot of respect for Henry. Linebacker Whitney Mercilus said Henry reminds him of Adrian Peterson from 2012.
"We had to have like, all 11 hats to take AP down," Mercilus said. "With Henry, he's a bigger back. A guy who's not going to go down with arm tackles or anything like that. We've got to get all 11 hats running to the ball and try to tattoo him."
Henry and the Titans have split the six games they've played against Houston, and he's averaged 4.52 yards per carry with a pair of touchdowns. One of those scores was a 75-yarder in 2017. If you pull that run out, the Texans defense has held him to 3.4 yards per carry.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)