The Texans (7-3) host the Titans (5-5) on Monday Night Football at NRG Stadium. In Week 2, the Titans triumphed in Nashville. Here are five things to watch when the AFC South rivals square off against each other. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Keep it running - Deshaun Watson was sacked four times, and hit a total of 10 times in the Week 2 loss in Nashville. Over Houston's seven-game win streak, the offensive line has been much improved and the second-year quarterback has been able to stay upright much better than he was during the month of September. One big reason: the efficency of the run game. Against Washington, Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue combined to carry the ball 28 times for 132 yards.
"If that's what we have to do, then that's what we're going to have to do, but we really need to be as balanced as a we can," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "Those guys have done a good job. They ran really hard against Washington, got some yards on their own. I thought the line did a decent job, obviously, but those guys ran real hard and they're going to be critical to our success moving forward."
For Watson, the benefit of a strong ground attack is clear.
"That's the bread and butter of any offense to kind of create the passing game," Watson said. "You want those safeties to kind of have to cheat up and try to fill those extra gaps and holes on the running back. Once their eyes get in the backfield, it kind of creates the open grass for the receivers down the field.
Miller's gaining 4.2 yards per carry this season, and he's caught 16 passes for an average 7.9 yards per reception.
Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson's impressed with what the Texans have done offensively during the win streak.
"Deshaun Watson's doing a lot of good things for them," Robinson said. "They've got the running game going, with Miller and Blue. Hopkins, he's always a problem."
2) Unleash the weapons - As much as the run game has been a help, being able to link up with the likes of receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas and Keke Coutee, along with the tight ends group, is important for the Houston offense. The Titans know Watson can burn them by buying time and hitting a strike downfield.
"Some of these plays, he's keeping them alive by extending the play, looking for Hopkins," Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel said. "Coutee is a guy that's working for him. I'm sure they're working Demaryius into the offense and kind of where he's at. Having him a couple of extra weeks, I think he's going to be more involved as they move forward."
O'Brien said the Texans need to get Thomas the ball more often, and that it's not been the veteran receiver's fault.
"It's not Demaryius," O'Brien said. "I have to do a better job of getting him more involved. He's working hard, he's a good pro and we need to do a better job of getting him the ball a little more."
Thomas had three receptions in his Texans debut, and none in his second game last Sunday in Washington.
Coutee, meanwhile, caught five balls for 77 yards against the Redskins, including a 40-yarder.
"He brings a lot of different things – running the ball, (catching) the ball, blocking," Watson said. "He's a complete receiver that can do it all. It's another weapon that the defense can continue to try to focus on. You can't just focus on DeAndre or D.T.."
3) Rock it in the Red Zone - At Washington, as well as in the loss in Week 2 at Nashville, the Texans were not as efficient as they'd like to be when they got into the red zone. Against the Redskins, Houston scored a touchdown just once in three trips inside the 20-yard line. The Texans got inside the Titans' 20 back in September just one time, and came away with a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal. Getting better there is important.
The Titans are mindful of Watson's scrambling ability, and likely haven't forgotten his four touchdown passes and one touchdown run in last year's 57-14 win at NRG Stadium. All-Pro safety Kevin Byard explained how the Tennessee defense plans to account for the second-year signal-caller.
"With a guy like Deshaun Watson, you want to have at least a spy around him 90 percent of the time," Byard said. "Especially when you have passing downs, when you know, I think it's a stat where one out of every four throws, he's scrambling. He's a guy who's going to make plays with his feet, so we definitely have to contain him."
4) The 3-headed monster - In Week 2, the Texans didn't have outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. This Monday night, they will. With J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, that trio each notched a sack last Sunday against the Redskins. Getting after Marcus Mariota and affecting plays will be a key to the Texans' success.
"We're just trying to make plays," Watt said. "Whether it's one guy forcing a pressure and making the quarterback step up and the other guy can make the sack. Whether it's just being disruptive – the more playmakers you have, the better you're going to be, always."
Watt leads the team with 10 sacks in as many games. Clowney has 6.5, and is glad he gets to face the Titans.
"I'm very excited," Clowney said. "It's Monday night, primetime game, we'll be the only game on. So, we have to come to play and get ready to go."
Mariota said Clowney is a player who can "wreck the game", and that the Titans must always know where he is before the snap.
"He creates matchup problems for sure," Mariota said. "What they're able to do with him by moving him around, doing different things, just causes some communication issues."
5) Stay special - The Texans special teams units, specifically the kickoff and punt coverage squads, have been markedly better in 2018. Opponents, on average, are starting at their own 25.8 yard line after a Texans kickoff, and at their own 32 after a Texans punt. Those are the second and third-best marks in the NFL, and they've helped fuel the seven-game win streak.
Against Tennessee the first time around, the Titans were able to fake a punt for a 66-yard touchdown pass. The Texans aren't likely to allow that to happen again.
Houston's also held opposing kickoff returners to a 17.8 yard average, which is the second-best mark in the NFL. Punt returners aren't doing much better against the Texans special teamers, as they're getting 6.5 yards per punt return, which is the 7th-best mark in the League.
Check out the best Week 11 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.