Tennessee Titans | Know your foe

It feels as if these two teams met a lifetime ago, but it was just eight weeks ago when the Tennessee Titans arrived at NRG Stadium and delivered a beat down to the Texans. It was just a seven point win on the scoreboard, but it was not that close throughout the game. Texans Head coach Lovie Smith pointed out after the game that the Titans were the more physical team and had control of that game from the beginning.

But, each team has traveled a much different path since that game in week eight. The Titans have lost four in a row and been ravaged by injuries throughout the roster. The following Titans played in the matchup against the Texans in week eight but missed the game in Los Angeles or were injured during the game

RB Dontrell Hilliard (on IR, out for season)
OC Ben Jones (in fact all five starting OL showed up on Tuesday's injury report)OL Dillon Radunz (just placed on IR after ten plays against Los Angeles last week)
WR Treylon Burks
CB Kristian Fulton
LB David Long Jr. (on IR)
LB Zach Cunningham (in IR designated return window)
NT Teair Tart (birth of his son)
S Amani Hooker
DL Denico Autry

Now, I do expect there will be a handful of these players ready to roll on Saturday in Nashville, including a name not seen above. Some guy named Derrick Henry. Remember him? All he's done is rush for 200 yards in the last FOUR matchups against the Texans. Oh, that's all, huh? Yeah and he's as healthy as he's been and he's become a pass catching nightmare out of the backfield as well. GREAT! (#SarcasmFont)

So, gear up, find all of our COLD clothes for what could be the coldest game in Texans history on Christmas Eve and get ready for another rock 'em, sock 'em tete-a-tete with Tennessee. As such, let's get to Know Week 16's Foe - The Tennessee Titans.

2021 Schedule (7-7)
Week 1 - L New York Giants 21-20
Week 2 - L @ Buffalo Bills 41-7
Week 3 - W Las Vegas Raiders 24-22
Week 4 - W @ Indianapolis Colts 24-17
Week 5 - W @ Washington Commanders 21-17
Week 6 - BYE
Week 7 - W Indianapolis Colts 19-10
Week 8 - W @ Houston Texans 17-10
Week 9 - L @ Kansas City Chiefs 20-17
Week 10 - W Denver Broncos 17-10
Week 11 - W @ Green Bay Packers 27-17
Week 12 - L Cincinnati Bengals 20-16
Week 13 - L @ Philadelphia Eagles 35-10
Week 14 - L Jacksonville Jaguars 36-22
Week 15 - L @ Los Angeles Chargers 17-14
Week 16 - Houston Texans
Week 17 - Dallas Cowboys
Week 18 - @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Titans OFFENSE (in 2022 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 121.6 ypg (15th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 174.4 ypg (29th)
Total offense per game - 296.0 ypg (29th)
Turnovers lost - 16 (7 INT, 9 Fumbles lost)

Expected Titans starting offense for Week 8
QB - Ryan Tannehill (injured ankle last week)/MALIK WILLIS
RB - Derrick Henry
WR - Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
WR - TREYLON BURKS (expected to be ready for Saturday's game, concussion two weeks ago v. Philadelphia)
LT - DENNIS DALEY/Dillon Radunz (injured knee last week at Los Angeles)
LG - Aaron Brewer
C - Ben Jones (suffered concussion in Los Angeles last week)
RG - Nate Davis

Key Offensive Non-Starters
TE - Geoff Swaim
WR - Racey McMath
WR - Mason Kinsey (P Squad activation last week at Los Angeles)

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2022

Keys to winning v. the Titans Offense

1. …and STILL CHAMPION! - Following the Titans week eight win over the Texans, Titans star RB Derrick Henry was again lauded for another 200-yard rushing performance against the Texans defense. That made four 200-yard rushing performances in a row against the Texans. No, I didn't mis-speak - FOUR IN A ROW. That week eight performance was Henry's only 200-yard rushing performance in 2022. Furthermore, he had a four game stretch where he averaged 3.11 yards/carry or less in each game. However, the past two weeks he's been more productive with 100+yard games in each. Unfortunately, he's improved in one key area and that's how much more effective he is in the passing game. He was targeted nine times with seven receptions for 93 yards in the last two games. So, if the Texans finally slow him in the run game, the Titans will find ways to use Henry in the screen game for certain to get him heavily involved in the offense.

2. Chig - With so many injuries impacting the Titans offense, rookie TE/H-Back Chig Okonkwo has found a Jonnu Smith-like role for OC Todd Downing's crew. Case in point, in the first ten games of the season, Okonkwo had eight receptions and just one game with more than one reception in those ten games (three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown against Indianapolis in week four). Since week 12, though, Oknokwo has been THE featured pass catcher for this offense. He has 21 targets and 17 catches and a touchdown in the last four games. I likened him to Jonnu Smith in how the Titans utilize him, but Oknokwo might be a better overall pass receiver, not as dynamic of an athlete, though. Regardless, he's now become more of a problem than he was in week eight against the Texans when he had just one catch for three yards.

3. The QB Quandary, part two - What will they do, part two? Heading into the week eight matchup, the Titans faced a similar quandary. Incumbent starter Ryan Tannehill got hurt the week prior, just as he did last week in Los Angeles. He eventually missed the game as he came down sick in addition to dealing with his bum ankle. So, rookie Malik Willis started and didn't have to do a whole lot in that game with Henry running for well over 200 yards as the Titans went over 300 yards rushing as a team. So, does Willis see the field again this week against the Texans for his third start of the season? Perhaps, but the Texans success comes down to whether they can stop Henry, not so much the QBs.

Titans DEFENSE (in 2022 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 80.8 ypg (2nd in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 284.2 ypg (32nd)
Total offense Allowed per game - 365.0 ypg (25th)
Turnovers generated - 15 (11 INT, 4 Fumble recoveries - Titans are +1 in TO margin)

Expected Titans starting defense for Week 16
DE - Denico Autry (missed last week at Los Angeles Chargers)/MARIO EDWARDS
NT - Teair Tart (missed last week at Los Angeles Chargers due to birth of son)
DT - Jeffery Simmons
OLB - Bud Dupree
ILB - Zach Cunningham (designated for return from IR last week - didn't play)/Monty Rice
S - Kevin Byard
S - Amani Hooke
CB - Kristian Fulton (missed last week at Los Angeles Chargers)/Greg Mabin (leading tackler at Los Angeles Chargers)

Key Defensive Non-Starters
NT - Naquan Jones
DE - Rashad Weaver
Nickel - JOHN REID

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2022

Keys to winning v. the Titans Defense

1. Battlin' - Titans DT Jeffery Simmons was a monster against the Texans in week eight. He literally tackled Texans ball carriers with Texans offensive linemen. He dominated that game and made all Texans fans yearn for a Texans version of Simmons. But, he's dealt with an injured ankle all season long and he's been on the injury report all season long. That said, he's playing through it and he's playing through it as well as he did back in week eight. He got GOT a couple of times in the Chargers run game, but he also racked up six tackles, one sack, a TFL and a QB hurry all the while looking like he was maybe at 85%. If big 98 is on the field, the Texans have to exact a measure of revenge for what he did back in week eight and if the Texans have plans to be more successful on offense, that HAS TO happen. I'll be curious to see if the Texans leave Tytus Howard at left guard to contend with Simmons this week or whether they move him back to right tackle. That is THE number one key to the game, minus holding Henry in check.

2. The Best and the Worst - Since week eight, the Titans secondary has struggled stopping opposing passing games. Now, there's something to be said for facing Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert but I digress. The Chargers gunslinger threw for 313 yards in Los Angeles' 17-14 win over Tennessee. The run defense is as stout as it can be because of Simmons, in particular, but when that front can't get heat on the quarterback, those QBs lit up the Titans secondary, which was a major reason for the four game losing streak for the Titans. Run defense - best. Pass defense - worst. If the Texans QBs can get the ball off, they'll find what they want against this secondary.

3. Spread the wealth, again - The Texans just couldn't get anything going in the run game in the week eight matchup against the Titans. This is the number two run defense in the league so yards are hard to come by, but the Chargers were successful with the few times that Austin Ekeler ran the ball. With no Ekeler, obviously, and no Pierce, even more obvious, the Texans do have strength in numbers. As hard as it's going to be, the Texans have to use all three backs - Royce Freeman, Dare Ogunbowale and Rex Burkhead - to get hard earned yards like last week against Kansas City. In that game, Freeman had 11 carries. Dare had eight carries. Burkhead had two catches. Even the QBs got involved in the run game, piling up 29 yards on nine carries and a touchdown. There's no great way to do it, but the Texans need to keep firing different running options at the Titans to find something that works. Worst case, it cuts down on third down distances, which could really help an offense that was two for 14 on third down back in the first matchup this season.

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