Young's ability to scramble with a strained right quadriceps will be a key factor in the game.
Still looking for their first division win of the season, the Texans welcome the Tennessee Titans to Reliant Stadium on Sunday. Last week's loss to Jacksonville dropped the Texans' record to 3-3. The road does not get any easier with the Titans, who hold an 8-2 record against the Texans and have swept four of five season series. Titans head coach Jeff Fisher has his team off to a strong start this season. By focusing on running the football on offense and stopping the run on defense, the Titans once again look to be playoff contenders.
The huge question this week for the Titans concerns the health of their quarterback, Houston native Vince Young. The 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year strained his right quadriceps in last week's 13-10 loss at Tampa Bay and did not return to the game. Opposing defenses have done a good job this season of forcing Young to stay in the pocket and beat them with his arm instead of his legs. Through six games, Young is completing 64% of his passes, but has thrown for only 703 yards and six interceptions to three touchdowns.
Should Young not play, his replacement will be 13-year veteran Kerry Collins. With over 34,000 career passing yards, Collins is one of the most experienced and capable backups in the league, and replaced the injured Young last week to throw for 125 yards on 10-of-20 passing.
In the backfield, the Titans employ the running back tandem of LenDale White and Chris Brown. White is the starter, but Brown leads the team with 300 rushing yards, most of which came in Brown's 175-yard rushing performance in the Titans' Week 1 victory over the Jaguars. White receives most of the carries in goal line situations and leads the team with three rushing scores.
At fullback is former Marine and Texas Longhorn teammate of Young, Ahmard Hall. Though Hall rarely touches the ball, with only three receptions and no rushing attempts this season, he provides punishing run-blocking for his running backs.
Young has an array of wide receivers at his disposal. Third-year man Brandon Jones and former Texan Eric Moulds handle the starting duties, but Roydell Williams and Justin Gage also see action. All four receivers have at least 10 receptions on the year. Jones and Williams are tied for the team lead in receiving yards with 172 apiece.
Third-year veteran Bo Scaife, another Longhorn teammate of Young's, starts at tight end. Scaife's ability to make tough catches in crowded areas makes him a valuable piece of the Titans offense. On the season, he has 10 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. His backup Ben Troupe sees plenty of action in an offense full of tight end-heavy sets. Like Scaife, Troupe is very athletic and causes matchup problems for linebackers and safeties with his size (6-4, 270) and speed.
The Titans' offensive line is a major strength, providing Young with time to throw the football as well as giving the backs clear running lanes. Led by 14-year veteran Kevin Mawae at center, the unit is unchanged from last season. Tackles Michael Roos (left side) and David Stewart (right) are the bookends of the line while left guard Jacob Bell and 10-year veteran right guard Benji Olson protect the interior. Depth is an issue, however, as the most experienced backups, Eugene Amano and Daniel Loper, only have three career starts between them.
Stopping the run begins up front, and Tennessee has two Pro Bowl-caliber players on their defensive line in defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and tackle Albert Haynesworth. Vanden Bosch plays with a nonstop motor that makes him nearly unblockable. The seven-year veteran has only two sacks this season, but his tenacious pass-rushing ability usually forces opposing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball in a hurry.
The massive Haynesworth (6-6, 320) is having a strong season with 17 tackles and a sack and his ability to stop the run makes him one of the most valuable defensive tackles in the league. Four-year veteran Antwan Odom starts opposite Vanden Bosch at left defensive end, while third-year man Tony Brown fills the other tackle spot.
The linebacker corps is led by starting weak side backer Keith Bulluck, an eight-year veteran who leads the entire defense with his fiery and charismatic demeanor. Bulluck has 24 tackles on the season and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after the Titans' Week 3 victory over the Saints on Monday Night Football, when he picked off Drew Brees three times. Four-year veteran Ryan Fowler starts at middle linebacker, and team tackles leader David Thornton starts on the strong side. Stephen Tulloch and former Colt Gilbert Gardner are the top reserves.
The Titans' secondary was expected to struggle with embattled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones suspended for the season, but cornerbacks Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan have held their own. They rank second and third respectively on the team in tackles, while Finnegan adds an interception and seven passes defensed.
Rookie cornerback Michael Griffin sees most of his time on special teams, but the former Longhorn may see more time in passing situations as the season progresses due to his knack for causing turnovers.
Strong safety Chris Hope leads the secondary with his work ethic on and off the field. Another Pro Bowl-caliber talent, Hope is punishing in run support, but also plays well in pass defense. At free safety is second-year man Calvin Lowry, who is in his first year as a starter. A former special teams standout, Lowry also provides stout run support. His backup, Vincent Fuller, plays in nickel situations because of his pass coverage ability. Fuller has two interceptions on the season, both of which he returned for touchdowns.
Rob Bironas is firmly entrenched as kicker and Craig Hentrich as the punter. Bironas is 8-of-10 on field goals this year, with a long of 48 yards. Hentrich, the team's all-time leading punter, is a fantastic directional punter, with half of his 14 attempts landing inside the 20-yard line.
Another area in which the Titans miss Pacman Jones is the return game, where he was one of the best in the league at returning kickoffs and punts. In his place, rookie Michael Griffin handles the kickoffs and is averaging 24.6 yards per return. Rookie Chris Davis returns punts and ranks just outside the top 10 in return average with 9.8 yards per return.
What to Watch For
- Even if Vince Young does play, his injured quadriceps figures to limit his running ability, which is what makes him one of the most dynamic players in the game. If the Texans can keep Young in the pocket, they stand a much better chance of limiting his effectiveness.
- The Texans' struggles in the running game may not end this week as they face the league's top rushing defense. The Titans allow only 63.8 yards per game on the ground and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.