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Harris Hits: Tennessee Titans | Week 15


That one meant something to a lot of people on Sunday as the Texans pulled out a wonderful, beautiful 19-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, masquerading as Oilers, in Nashville. Somehow, some way, the Texans rode the back of a 35-year QB who hadn't taken a snap all season. Shoot, Case Keenum hadn't technically been active all season long. Yet, when the clock finally hit all zeroes, Keenum and the Texans walked off the Nissan Stadium field with an unlikely, yet WELL-EARNED three point victory.

Let's call a spade, a spade, the Texans were clearly the better team all day long. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they dominated, but had the Texans come up with a touchdown or two on their first three field goal drives, it wouldn't have even been close. The defense was in lockdown mode all day long. But, we're going to start with Keenum and his incredible afternoon.

For Keenum, it was never going to be about NUMBERS. It was ALWAYS going to be about MOMENTS. There were always going to be hiccups in this game for Case. He was stepping under center without the Texans' two leading TD receivers - Tank Dell and Nico Collins. Texans starting right tackle George Fant was unable to play so Charlie Heck was playing his first football in nearly 12 months. Keenum had to pick up an offense that struggled to do much of anything in New York the week prior. 

Yet, he did. Now, things became even tougher when Elijah Molden took one of Keenum's first half passes the other way for a pick six to give Tennessee a 13-0 lead. After that pick, though, he just kept chipping away with the help of Devin Singletary and the run game. At the end of the half, Keenum led them to a field goal to cut the lead to ten. That seemed to give the offense some life. He then led the Texans to two more field goal to cut the lead to 13-9. A Titans field goal set then preceded one of the great drives of the season. Keenum hit Dalton Schultz three times, including one of the great catches of the season. Three plays later, Keenum's legend went to a different level. He scrambled on third and goal, spotted Noah Brown in the end zone, ripped a fastball and saw Brown snag the game tying touchdown.

Then, Keenum went another step further with under two minutes in overtime. Here's how I described it in my Big Play Breakdown:

The Texans got multiple stops in overtime but the last defensive stop gave them one final chance at a game winning field goal. They started at the 20-yard line with 11 personnel in the game with Devin Singletary as the lone running back in the backfield. As soon as he took the shotgun snap, Keenum wasn't completely in love with the two routes to his left. Just as he scanned to the right, OLB Harold Landry was rushing from the right side and got his right hand on Keenum. But, RT Charlie Heck never quit on the play and pushed Landry on past, away from Case, and Keenum escaped to the right side. When he did, Singletary became the key. He had initially run a return route, flashing to the flat and then reversing back inside. He was open momentarily, but when Keenum started scrambling, he put scramble rules into effect. He then turned back to the outside and lost S Elijah Molden who then stumbled a bit. Keenum floated the ball to the sideline and hit Motor in stride. 41 yards later and the Texans had a realistic shot to win the game.

Nearly nine years to the day that he stepped out of a deer blind and beat the Ravens in 2014, Keenum took his legendary status, as Marc Vandermeer noted, to a different level. It was never perfect, but it was better that way. Outstandingly better.

The defense finished the game with seven sacks. SEVEN. One week after giving up over 300 yards passing to Zach Wilson, the Texans defensive front, without Will Anderson Jr and Blake Cashman, completely dominated the game.

Titans RB Derrick Henry ran for nine yards. Read that again. NINE yards on 16 carries. From the last game of 2019 through last year's week 17 game, Henry had gone for over 125 yards every game, including four times of over 200 yards. He made the Texans defense his eighth grade little brother. He just kept smashing and smashing. On Sunday, the Texans SMASHED right back, repeatedly. The one thing that I've always said about Henry is that he can't get any runway. If he gets rolling downhill, he's impossible to stop. The Texans blew up that runway all day. They hit him in the backfield or made him stop before making a cut on nearly every single run. That's the best run defense I've seen the Texans play since the 2016 season. That put the game on QB Will Levis, who held the ball too long all day as the pass rush enveloped him in the pocket. Levis hit a couple of big plays on the first drive but there weren't many after that first drive.

Here's another stat that I read before we took off for home: Derrick Henry is the first player in NFL history to have at least 20 touches in a game and produce less than 15 yards from scrimmage. As Marc said to me when I had no more brain power to figure out the right analogy…

We killed Thanos. 

…and, the Texans defense will have to do it again two weeks from now.

One of the main reasons for stopping Henry was the play of the linebackers - Christian Harris and Denzel Perryman - and nickel Desmond King. Those three weren't in the Titans huddle throughout the game, but they could've fooled me. Harris really set a tone when he hammered Henry on a swing pass out of the backfield. Then, he did it again a series or so later. But, Harris TOLD Henry about it too. That confidence was needed. Perryman was a heat seeking missile but it was how he played on the backside of runs in the run fit that made all the difference in the world. King? My goodness, he knifed into the backfield on a duo run and nailed Henry four yards in the backfield on the first play of the second half.

DE Jon Greenard finished the game with 2.5 sacks to give him 12.5 on the season. After the game in my postgame interview with JG, I asked him about reaching that career high in sacks and the first thing he said was "should be 14, actually." He said it with the hint of a sly smile, but he knew that he left a sack or two on the field. But, he was being hard on himself because he gave the Titans rookie LT Jaelyn Duncan some lessons. JG hit him with power, speed to power, inside moves, outside rip moves and just about every pass rush move in the arsenal.

It was great to see Derek Barnett get his first sack as a Texan. He and Jerry Hughes, essentially, bent back the two Titans tackles into Levis, knocking the Titans QB into a sack.

DT Maliek Collins and Sheldon Rankins were stellar in all facets. The Titans had no answers running the ball at those two in the game. Khalil Davis had a stellar game as well. He had a sack and stoned Henry on a run for a TFL in the game as well. As mentioned above, Barnett sacked Levis with the Titans offensive tackle. It was a dominating performance.

The Texans had FIVE defenders with 2.0 TFL. They had FOUR defenders with two or more quarterback hits. Sting, Steven Nelson and Jalen Pitre had two passes defensed in the game. SEVEN sacks. It was a stat stuffing day to say the least and on the offensive side, it was a stat stuffing beast who nearly ended the game himself.

What a game for Devin Singletary! When the passing game struggled and the screens were going for TFLs, Singletary slithered and slid and sped past the Titans defense throughout the day. I loved that OC Bobby Slowik just kept giving 26 the ball and Singletary responded throughout the game. 30 touches for 170 yards. 

His second to last run of the game was the best run I've seen from a Texan in a while. After he made the 41-yard catch and run that moved the Texans into long field goal territory in overtime, he lined up behind Andrew Beck and ran over the left side of the line. Then, he kept spinning, he broke tackles, spun some more, slithered past another defender and before we knew it, he was sprinting into the end zone FOR THE GAME…dammit, flag. A holding penalty called the play back but, my god, that run. Such beauty!

One week after struggling mightily against the Jets, WR Noah Brown was Case Keenum's go-to guy. It was like Cincinnati all over again. He just made one key, clutch catch after the other, but the biggest was the only Texans touchdown on the day. Here's how I described it in my Big Play Breakdown:

The Texans, led by QB Case Keenum, marched down the field, courtesy of three massive catches by Dalton Schultz. The ball sat at the three yard line and OC Bobby Slowik put 12 personnel in the game, but the two TEs, Schultz and Brevin Jordan, are the Texans' two best pass catching options. Schultz motioned to the left side, creating basically a double stack 2x2 alignment. The Titans dropped NT Jaleel Johnson into the middle of the field and rushed just three guys. As a result, there wasn't a ton of room for a receiver to find his way open. So, Keenum pushed the situation by moving up in the pocket. I thought he was going to run, but when the Titans' eyes went to Case, Noah Brown worked into the void. Keenum ripped a SHOT to Noah for the game tying touchdown. I have now watched that play 20x and it gets better every time. 16-16. Overtime coming.

Brown had eight catches for 82 yards. If his TD catch was the most important catch of the day, Dalton Schultz's last of his four catches was the most improbable (and nearly as important). With just under five minutes left in the game, trailing by seven, the offense had moved down to the Titans 18-yard line, facing a 2nd and ten. Keenum dropped to throw, eluding some early pressure in his face, but he saw Schultz in the middle of the field. Problem was that he couldn't step into the throw so he floated it toward #86 in the white jersey. However, Titans DB Roger McCreary was in that same area and as my eyes went to where the ball was landing, my heart sank. McCreary was about to snatch that ball and end the game, basically. But, Schultz went up for the same rebound and as the two landed to the turf, the Texans star TE ripped the ball away from McCreary for the best 15 yard catch we'd seen in a while.

RT Charlie Heck hadn't played football in nearly 12 months and played the entire game. That is just an incredible thing. For a football team, 13 games in, to turn to a guy who hadn't hit anyone in shoulder pads, basically, and for Heck to respond in the way that he did was awesome. RG Shaq Mason hit dudes on power plays. Laremy Tunsil was in the tent for a series, but Josh Jones held it down for a series. That group had to come together and it did, leading the way for a run game that put up 148 yards rushing.

Quickies on the way out.

Jalen Pitre played his best game of the year.

Sting's two pass breakups were SICK!

That's three wins in a row for the Texans in Tennessee.

That's six straight road division wins, dating back to Jacksonville in 2021, and seven of the last eight.

The Texans were 1-12-1 on this day last year. Think on how far this team has come in a year.

Oh, finally, John Christian Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a Fairbairn? What a day! I thought of my favorite Ka'imi game winner in the last few years and this one is number one…tied with all the others :)

Man, there's so much more to discuss but it's time to land this plane and get ready for Cleveland. That one is going to rock. Let's GO!!

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