It's come down to this. For the second consecutive season, the Tennessee Titans come to Houston in Week 17 with a ton on the line. A win against the Texans and the Titans will clinch the AFC South for the first time since 2008. However, a Texans win puts the Titans in some peril given the results of PIT-CLE, BAL-CIN, MIA-BUF and JAX-IND. Now, like last year, a loss by the Titans doesn't kill their playoff chances, but said loss won't make things easy for them in the slightest. So, there's a tremendous amount on the line for the Titans in this one.
For the Texans, there's absolutely nothing on the line other than a whole boat full of pride. A win or a loss won't impact a first round draft spot. It's not going to change the Texans place in the AFC South. But, BUT, in a year that has been about as 2020 as any can get, the Texans can start the calendar year 2021 off with a win, leading to even better things ahead. A new GM and a new head coach are on the way, so a little momentum never hurt anyone and a win would be a Happy New Year present for the organization and its fan base.
Either way, a win can only happen with a herculean effort on defense to stop the league's leading rusher Derrick Henry. All Henry's done in the past two matchups with the Texans is account for 475 total yards and five touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Henry totaled 362 yards of offense in the previous SEVEN games against the Texans, but the tide, pun intended, changed in that finale last year. SuperHenry must be stopped for the Texans to have any chance to win this game.
So, let's get to Know The Texans Week Seventeen Foe (again) - the Tennessee Titans.
2020 Schedule (10-5)
W, @ Denver Broncos 16-14
W, Jacksonville Jaguars 33-30
W, @ Minnesota Vikings 31-30
W, Buffalo Bills 42-16
W, Houston Texans 42-36
L, Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24
L, @ Cincinnati Bengals 31-20
W, Chicago Bears 24-17
L, Indianapolis Colts 34-17
W, @ Baltimore Ravens 30-24
W, @ Indianapolis Colts 45-26
L, Cleveland Browns 41-35
W, @ Jacksonville Jaguars 31-10
W, Detroit Lions 46-25
L, @ Green Bay Packers 40-14
(6-2 in one score games)
Titans OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 160.1 ypg (2nd in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 229.9 ypg (21st)
Total offense per game - 390.1 ypg (5th)
Turnovers lost - 11 (7 INT, 4 Fumbles lost)
Expected Titans starting offense for Week Seventeen
QB - Ryan Tannehill
RB - Derrick Henry
WR - Corey Davis
WR - A.J. Brown
TE - Jonnu Smith
TE - Anthony Firkser
LT - David Quessenberry
LG - Rodger Saffold
C - Ben Jones
RG - Nate Davis
RT - Dennis Kelly
Other Key Offensive pieces
TE - Geoff Swaim
WR - Kalif Raymond
WR - Cameron Batson
RB - Darrynton Evans
WR - Adam Humphries
RB - Jeremy McNichols
WR - Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
Bold - Rookie
Keys to winning v. the Titans Offense
- "Kill the Engine", Part Two - I mentioned this as a key in the last matchup and the Texans didn't really heed the call. Derrick Henry flat out embarrassed the Texans in the past two matchups as noted above. Prior to week 17 last year, the Texans had done a great job keeping Henry in check, but then, well, last year happened and Henry has since exploded in 127 minutes, or so, of football against the Texans. The biggest issue wasn't so much tackling him, which was still an issue, mind you, but it was the Texans' inability to play gap discipline football. Henry's 94 yard touchdown run happened because of one gap mistake by a Texans linebacker jumping into the wrong gap. Those mistakes, as the Texans found, lead to huge chunk runs for Henry. In those two games, he had the aforementioned 94-yard touchdown run, a 53-yard reception in overtime and a 53-yard game-clinching touchdown in 2019. That's 200 yards (of his 475 total yards) on three plays. Kill the Engine. Stay disciplined in gaps. Or...else.
- Maintain the Zero - It's been a fabulous year for Titans receiver Corey Davis. He has 60 receptions for 945 yards and it was a near certainty that he would go over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. However, he didn't catch a pass in the snow last week in Green Bay (second time that happened this season) and it would be a great sign for the Texans defense if that happened again on Sunday. He didn't play in the first matchup with the Texans due to COVID issues and I'd imagine that Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith will aim to get him involved early and often. So, the Texans defense must understand that and try to hug up on him in coverage and give help over the top.
- Violently get off of blocks - The Titans tie up blockers as well as any offensive line in the NFL and the Texans must be WAY more violent getting off of blocks than in the first matchup and certainly last week against Cincinnati. First of all, the Texans defensive front must play the defensive call properly THEN get off blocks like lives hang in the balance. The Texans got whipped up front last week by the Bengals, especially in the second half, and if this group doesn't raise the violence quotient, it's going to be another long day against a MUCH better offensive line and running back.
- Don't let Tannehill be the Titans second leading rusher - Last week was a perfect example why Tannehill can't be a rushing factor. He had the second longest rush of the night against the Packers with a 45-yard zone read pull for a touchdown. But, back to my point about discipline in gaps in the run game, remember that comment? Yeah, well, if each guy up front does his job, the safeties can play top down and help the backside on quarterback runs to eliminate Tannehill as a run game factor.
- Please get a turnover - The Texans got two last time against the Titans. That was 25% of the entire turnover total in 2020. PLEASE get a pick, a fumble, something, ANYTHING that resembles a turnover on Sunday.
Titans DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 122.5 ypg (19th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 271.9 ypg (28th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 394.3 ypg (29th)
Turnovers generated - 22 (14 INT, 8 Fumble recoveries - Titans are +11 in TO margin - tied for best in NFL)
Expected Titans starting defense for Week Seventeen
OLB - Brooks Reed
NT - DaQuan Jones
DT - Jeffery Simmons
OLB - Harold Landry
ILB - Rashaan EvansILB - David Long Jr.
Nickel - Desmond King
CB - Malcolm Butler
S - Kevin Byard
S - Kenny Vaccarro
CB - Adoree Jackson
Other Key Defensive pieces
DT - Jack Crawford
DE - Teair Tart
DT - Isaiah Mack
NT - Matt Dickerson
OLB - Wyatt Ray
CB - Tye Smith
S - Amani Hooker
Bold - Rookie
Keys to winning v. the Titans Defense
- Attack - What's there to lose? Go for it on fourth downs. Find a flea flicker in the deepest recesses of the playbook. Go up tempo throughout the game. Do any and all of the above and ATTACK this defense that has been swiss cheese trying to stop the pass, in particular in 2020.
- Help might be needed - With left tackle Laremy Tunsil going down last week and right tackle Tytus Howard the week before that, Rod Johnson and rookie Charlie Heck should step back into those roles on Sunday. Honestly, that duo handled the Cincinnati edge pass rush fairly well for the most part. It wasn't perfect as evidenced by the hit that lodged the ball out of Deshaun Watson's hand in the fourth quarter, but it held up for the most part prior to that mistake. However, the Titans are going to attack those edges, so these two, who have started all of five games combined in their careers, might need some help with chips or double teams in 2nd and 3rd and long situations. Given what they both showed last week, they can handle their own 1-on-1, but the Texans can't get stubborn and not help them in some key instances.
- Big Z isn't just a Texans rookie - The Texans' Big Z (Auzoyah Alufohai) is going to be a solid interior defensive player, but he's not the focus of the Big Z of this key. It took the Texans all year long, really, but they finally realized that running back David Johnson is a Zone runner and a good one at that. When running Zone plays last week, and weeks prior, it's clear that Johnson thrives in that run scheme. The Texans will get some different looks up front from the Titans defensive front, but they have to answer with the Zone game that helped the Texans run game flourish for the first time all year.
- Cooking with Brandin - The Texans passing game really hasn't suffered a significant drop off because Deshaun Watson is a superstar and receiver Brandin Cooks has been the consummate professional in all phases. Whether he's targeted or not, Cooks has been more valuable at the receiver position than perhaps anyone expected. With 16 receiving yards, he'll hit the 1,000 yard mark for the first time since 2018. But, Cooks also helps clear things out for his fellow receivers as well due to his downfield speed. It's been a strong marriage between Watson and Cooks and the Titans should have their hands full with Cooks as they did in the first matchup (nine catches for 68 yards and a touchdown)
- Deshaun - He's great.