The Texans (7-6) hit the road for a Week 15 matchup with the Titans (5-8). Houston's looking to bounce back after a 30-6 defeat last Sunday at the Jets. Tennessee, meanwhile, is riding high after a come-from-behind victory in Miami. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at Noon CT in Nashville.
1) Who's under center? – Rookie C.J. Stroud remains in concussion protocol and didn't practice this week. Head Coach DeMeco Ryans wouldn't rule him out for Sunday's game, but it's unlikely he'd suit up for Houston. He was officially listed as doubtful on the final injury report.
Instead, Davis Mills or Case Keenum are in line to start. The former has been the backup and active all season long. The latter has started 64 times over the last decade, with 78 touchdown passes and 48 interceptions in his career.
"Both guys have done a great job," Ryans said. "Everything that we've asked these guys to do, they've done a great job of running the show. We had a really good week of practice. I think guys have been on it mentally, guys are locked in and understand the importance of this game."
Mills finished out the Jets game in the fourth quarter when Stroud exited with a concussion, and he started 15 games for Houston in 2022.
"With time comes reps and experience, and I think the amount of opportunity that I've had and the experience that I've been able to build over these last couple years has made me a better player and I'm looking forward to displaying that."
For the Titans, the uncertainty of who starts at quarterback makes it a little bit tougher to prepare. Tennessee Defensive Coordinator, and former Texans assistant coach Shane Bowen explained.
"For me, it's a little bit of a challenge," Bowen said. "I just really don't know how much schematically they're going to change. I think they're still going to be running the ball. Have the play action. Have the shots down the field. Some of that stuff's going to show up. But we've got to make sure we know their skillsets and their strengths and weaknesses."
2) Next men up – Stroud isn't the only Texan who's availability is in question. A slew of other contributors—like wide receiver Nico Collins, right tackle George Fant and offensive lineman Noah Brown—are questionable. Defensive end Will Anderson, Jr. and linebacker Blake Cashman have been ruled out.
Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik explained how the competition at every position group in training camp helped prepare the team for the challenges it's faced this season when key players have been ruled out.
"I think that shows with how we've played this year," Slowik said. "Just the amount of injuries and things that we've had to work through, and how we've kind of just constantly had a 'next man up' mentality, 'next man up' mentality, 'next man up' mentality."
3) Watch out for Will – Rookie quarterback Will Levis is completing 58.3 percent of his passes for Tennessee, and he's tossed eight touchdowns to just three interceptions. He's started seven games in 2023, and the Titans have won three of them.
He helped lead Tennessee to a thrilling win on Monday at Miami, and he has the Texans' full attention.
"The toughness and the grittiness that he plays with – both emotionally and physically – it shows on tape," Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke said. "That's kind of who he is and how he plays, and it's admirable."
Ryans agreed, and also pointed to Levis' ability to hit deep shots down the field as something the Texans must defend against.
"He has made a lot of big plays throwing the deep ball," Ryans said. "I like his play demeanor. You can tell he's a guy who that locker room is going to rally behind. They feel that toughness from him and I think that really gets the team going."
4) Downgrade Derrick's Damage – Titans running back Derrick Henry has brutalized the Texans the last five times he's played Houston. The numbers in that span boggle the mind. Henry's carried for 1,018 yards in that quintet of games. He cracked 200 yards in a game in four of those contests. On average, he carried 29 times for 204 yards and two touchdowns in that stretch.
"It's going to come down to 'We have to stop the run,'" Burke said. "If we don't stop Derrick Henry, all these questions don't matter. So that's going to be at the forefront of what we're trying to do, and then we'll work back from there, for sure. But, we feel good about all our guys being able to match up."
Henry's already carried for 10 touchdowns this season, and he's rushed for more than 100 yards in a game three different times. He and rookie running back Tyjae Spears, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, are a challenging tandem.
"He is explosive in the passing game, that's where Tyjae sticks out, for sure," Ryans said. "He's a matchup problem on third down, and when it comes to that, you have to be tight on him in coverage."
5) Familiar faces – Of the many former Texans and coaches on the Tennessee sidelines, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is the most notable. One of the greatest players in franchise history, Hopkins is now in Nashville.
With four games remaining in the season, he's two yards shy of 900 on the season. He's already caught six touchdown passes, and he's averaging 15.8 yards per reception. Cornerback Desmond King described the challenge that awaits with Hopkins.
"I know he's a great player, athletic guy who can catch the ball in any radius," King said. "Just got to play my best and do my job."
In addition to Hopkins, former Texans wide receiver Chris Moore is also an important part of the Titans' pass-catching corps. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson spent time in Houston, as did practice squad members in defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and defensive back Shyheim Carter.
Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel was a Texans assistant from 2014 through 2016, and the team's defensive coordinator in 2017. Both coordinators—Bowen on defense and Tim Kelly on offense—were assistants with the Texans. So too, were Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Charles London, Passing Game Analyst Pat O'Hara and inside linebackers coach Bobby King.