The Texans convened for one final practice session today in the team's practice bubble in preparation for Sunday's fifth meeting with the Tennessee Titans. Houston will look to snap a four-game losing streak against Tennessee that dates back to the team's 2002 inaugural season. Returning home with a win from Nashville would also give the Texans their first divisional win in the AFC South.
And of course, a win against Houston's former NFL occupant would be a great one for the Space City to put in its back pocket.
Houston is certainly a different team from 2002 and has evolved tremendously since last season's run as well. Dom Capers is aware of that fact and it became even more abundantly clear to him while watching game film from the previous four meetings with the Titans during game study this week.
The Titans have also changed on a few fronts. But old faces like Steve McNair, Drew Bennett, Samari Rolle, Kevin Carter and Keith Bulluck, just to name a few, are back in the fold.
Capers got reacquainted with those ghosts of the past this week after researching the history between the two AFC South foes.
"Maybe the best we played defensively was the first year that we played them up there," Capers said about the Nov. 10, 2002 game at The Coliseum. "We had two interceptions by Aaron (Glenn) and Marcus (Coleman); they didn't have a big pass play against us."
That first meeting two years ago came down to the last possession when Houston's defense was able to force a Titans punt with just minutes remaining, but the Texans weren't able to punch the ball into the end zone and the Titans prevailed 17-10.
Houston found themselves against losing in the final minutes of the next Texans-Titans matchup at Reliant Stadium on Dec. 29. Houston was down just 6-3 with minutes left in the game, but McNair aired one out for Bennett to put Tennessee on the four-yard line and the Titans scored soon after to seal another win 13-3.
Then came the moment in Texans-Titans history that Capers would rather forget – the Oct. 12, 2003 road trip to The Coliseum when Houston's defense gave up 14 points in the first quarter. It was a point deficit the Texans wouldn't be able to make up for the remainder of the game.
"They came out and jumped on us quick," Capers said about the 38-17 loss. "They hit some big plays and we gave up too many big plays in the passing game."
Again the two teams met in Reliant Stadium last December in a heart-breaking 27-24 loss in the final minutes.
Now the tide has turned. Houston's offense hasn't been sputtering to produce points. Ranked sixth in the NFL, the Texans' unit will face a tough rush defense in Tennessee who likes to give teams a one-dimensional game.
"When you look at their season to this point in time, when they play within that philosophy, they've been successful," Capers said about the Titans forcing teams to pass the ball. "Against Miami and Green Bay, those teams couldn't run the ball and so they had to get in a throwing match."
The greater the run defense, the better chance the Titans' opponents have in giving up quarterback sacks and throwing interceptions.
But the Texans offense is flying high right now. David Carr ranks second in the NFL with 1,375 yards passing and leads the league in 9.2 average yards per attempt. Carr and his teammates hope their confidence only continues to flourish in the air, but they're mostly looking for a breakthrough in the running game.
"We've had some confidence against everyone that we've played this year," Carr said. "We feel like we can score at any time. We feel like we have the guys on our team that can break open games."
But Carr and the rest of the Texans know that the key to containing the Titans is keeping McNair and his supporting cast off of the field. Tennessee currently holds the top spot in the NFL for time of possession at a commanding 34:22 per game. Houston hopes to turn the tables on that statistic.
"Hopefully we can go out and keep our defense off of the field," Carr said. "They're going to run the ball 30-plus times, Steve McNair's going to do his MVP thing, so we're going to have to try and keep the ball out of their hands.
"It's going to be a tough test for our offense as far as trying to score points but also trying to keep their offense off the field at the same time."
While the Texans offense will look to sustain long scoring drives, Houston's defense will face a new threat in Titans running back Chris Brown who hasn't missed a beat in taking over for the departed Eddie George. Brown just came off of a 148-yard, two-touchdown performance against Green Bay and is rolling as the team's ground shredder.
"He definitely is a threat to take one to the house," linebacker Kailee Wong said. "He's a fast guy; you can see that on film. The running game is the same but he has the ability to take it the distance."
Wong and the rest of the Texans defense will look to contain Brown from breaking
loose on long runs like his 52-yarder in the Titans opening game against Miami.
Houston gave up a 55-yard scoring run against Raiders' Amos Zereoue and the unit
is bound and determined to not have a repeat big play with Brown.
"McNair is a good runner too so we have to stop both of those guys and try to make them pass and then when we get them in those situations we have to capitalize," linebacker Jay Foreman said.
"I think Gary's fine," Capers said after today's practice. "Gary took all of the repetitions the past two days that we had anticipated."
Brown will serve as a key addition in helping stop the Titans running game. Known as one of the team's hardest hitters, Brown will look to prevent the Titans Brown from making an impact.
"I think that's always been one of Eric's strong points," Capers said about Brown's solid run-stop ability. "He's a big, physical guy, a knock-back hitter. That's one of the reasons why it's good to have him back."
Carr also returned to practice for all of his assigned repetitions on Friday after keeping a close eye on his ankle during Wednesday and Thursday's drills.
Stepping in for Wade will be 11-year veteran Marcus Spears who has experience at both the guard and tackle positions. Spears is prepared to face an intense veteran in Carter and young talent in rookie Antwan Odem.
"It's different because on the left side, the quarterback's blind side, you're going to have the most athletic, fit guy on the field," Spears said about the differences between the two tackle positions. "The right side is more the power guy. You just have to do your homework and be ready for whatever."
Houston will look to head into the bye weekend with a 3-3 record while Tennessee also looks for its third win of the season.