The Texans (1-8) face the Titans (8-2) on Sunday in Nashville. It's the first meeting between the AFC South foes since Week 17 of last year. Here are five things to watch when they kick off in Nissan Stadium at noon CT.
1) Tyrod Turnaround – At Miami in Week 9, QB Tyrod Taylor turned in an atypical performance. The normally steady veteran signal-caller was picked off three times. He was also sacked five times and under duress throughout, getting hit nine times on the day. In the aftermath of the defeat, Taylor promised things would improve the next time he was under center for Houston.
He maintained that confidence this week and explained why he was off against the Dolphins.
"Timing," Taylor said. "Some balls out there that I left out on the field. Some plays that were left on the field. Like I said, watch it with a critical eye, put it behind me, eyes forward and continue playing well."
Despite the misfires, Taylor's teammates share in his confidence.
"Absolutely," WR Brandin Cooks said. "I still think he gave us that boost in Miami, but it's good to be able to have that game under his belt, had the Bye Week, had some extra time to prep. So, we look forward to getting back out there together."
The Titans are wary of Taylor's ability to incorporate his legs into the offensive game plan, and Head Coach Mike Vrabel stressed the importance of remembering that mobility.
"The ability to mix in whether it is the RPO game or him running with the football," Vrabel said. "I think that will always be something that is critical to understand with Tyrod, who has won games in this league. We will have to try to make sure we are good on the edges and when we rush."
2) Protection Plus – The Dolphins were repeatedly successful with the blitz two Sundays ago. The Texans struggled with it, and the challenge upfront from the Titans is a different one. Tennessee's Jeffery Simmons is turning in a Pro Bowl-caliber season, and five of his 7.5 sacks this year have come in the past two games. Further, he's hit the quarterback at least once in all but three games this year and has tallied 14 total.
OL Tytus Howard, who was drafted four spots behind Simmons in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, is well aware of what the defensive lineman can do. Howard also pointed out that Simmons isn't alone, as Harold Landry and Denico Autry have teamed up for a combined 15 sacks.
"He's a very good player," Howard said. "They have a pretty talented front, and Jeffery, he's the head honcho there right now. I look forward to the challenge."
Taylor also weighed on the challenge Simmons will present for Houston.
"Very fierce rusher," Taylor said. "He's one of the best in the league. Big human being, moves well, very strong. We definitely have our work cut out for him but have tremendous confidence in our guys to be able to go out and perform at a high level against him."
3) Run Change? – An inability to run effectively has plagued the Texans during their eight-game losing skid. Houston gets just 3.2 yards per carry when they've run it since the start of Week 2 and boosting that number in the right direction has been a continuing focus. Head Coach David Culley explained why he has hope the Texans can get things going again on the ground.
"We've gone back, and we've saw that we've tried to do some things we thought we were capable of doing, but because of certain situations, some being injuries just not been able to get that consistency we need there," Culley said. "During the Bye Week when we went back and assessed who we are and what we need to do to get that going more, I think we'll eliminate some things that we had been doing that weren't good and start doing the things that we feel that we were very, very good at."
The Tennessee run defense has allowed an average of 4.4 yards per carry this season.
4) Tame Tannehill – Titans QB Ryan Tannehill won't be able to hand the ball off to Derrick Henry, who punished the Texans for a combined 462 yards in a pair of 2020 games last year. He also won't throw the ball to perennial All-Pro WR Julio Jones. Both stars are on the injured reserve.
LB Neville Hewitt played in Miami with Tannehill and pointed out how dangerous his former teammate can be with his legs.
"He can run," Hewitt said. "He's pretty fast, and when you see him on film, he can run."
DL Jordan Jenkins agreed.
"He's got some speed," Jenkins said. "He outran me once my second year when I was with the Jets. He's got some speed once he gets going. Deceptive speed. He can get out there and if he can do it on his feet."
Tannehill's completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,358 yards, with a dozen touchdowns and eight picks. He's also been sacked 29 times in 2021, which is the most in the NFL.
5) Get Takeaways, Stay Clean – The Texans came up with a season-best five takeaways at Miami, but they turned it over four times, as well. The only time they won a game this season was Week 1 when they were plus-3 in the turnover differential category. When they've been negative, even, or only plus-1 in turnover differential, they haven't been victorious.
The Titans are plus-2 on the season, which places them in the top half of the NFL.
The next time you can see the Texans at NRG Stadium will be on November 28 as they host the New York Jets in Week 12. Kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets.