The regular season ends this Sunday at NRG Stadium, as the Texans (4-12) host the Titans (11-5). It's the 17thgame of the year for each club and the second time these two have faced each other in 2021. The Texans came up with five takeaways in a 22-13 victory in Nashville in Week 11. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT.
1) Money Mills – The rookie year of QB Davis Mills comes to a close with his 11th start of the campaign. He and the Texans have been victorious in two of the last three, and Mills has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this year for 2,363 yards. He's thrown 13 touchdowns and been picked off 10 times.
Houston would like to see more of the Mills they saw in Jacksonville and at home against the Chargers. In those two wins, Mills threw a combined four touchdowns and one interception and completed 70.2 percent of his passes. He also made key adjustments at the line of scrimmage and capitalized on mismatches.
Head Coach David Culley also wants Mills to continue with good ball security.
"The first thing is he's got to take care of the ball," Culley said. "If he continues to do that and keep progressing the way he's progressing, just the experience that he's getting by playing, he's just got to play well and do the things that we need to do to give us a chance to win the ballgame. First and foremost, it's just protect the football."
A few mistakes last Sunday cropped up in the loss at San Francisco, but overall, Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly has been encouraged by Mills' performance.
"Just really looking forward to him going out there and performing well and playing within the offense and making all the plays that come his way," Kelly said. "I think there were probably one or two plays he would like to have back from Sunday, some uncharacteristic things that we haven't really seen him do. Hopefully, we're looking for him to kind of eliminate those plays and continue to make big plays for us."
Mills, who is always unflappable, has improved throughout the season and is thankful for one final start.
"I didn't know I was going to get this opportunity this early in my career, but I'm extremely grateful for it, and I'm grateful for my teammates and my coaching staff and really the whole team here to put their confidence in me and support me," Mills said. "I'm ready to go out there and give them my all each week."
2) Take, take, take – The Texans defense picked off four Ryan Tannehill passes and the special teams came up with a fumble recovery in Nashville back in November. Houston didn't turn the ball over and came away with the victory. On the season, the Texans are plus-three in turnover differential, which means they have three more takeaways than they do turnovers.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is minus-3 on the year in that statistic.
In three of the Texans victories this season, they've been plus-three in turnover differential: at home against the Jaguars, at Tennessee and at home against the Chargers. They lost the turnover battle but won the game in their contest at Jacksonville.
When they've been even or negative in turnover differential, they've lost nine times and won just once. The Texans have had a positive turnover differential in five games this season but lost twice. They've only won those games when they've been plus-three.
3) Familiar faces abound – A slew of Titans once played for the Texans. C Ben Jones has been a key member of the Tennessee offensive line and has helped pave the way for a potent ground attack. RB D'Onta Foreman has peeled off a trio of 100-yard games over the last six weeks and seems to be hitting his stride. LB Zach Cunningham, who joined the Titans a few weeks ago, has suited up and played roughly two-thirds of the defensive snaps in each of the last three games.
All told, about 10 players, plus Head Coach Mike Vrabel and four assistant coaches, were once Houston Texans.
Check out the best photos from the Texans last Thursday practice of the 2021 Season.
4) Stopping the run – Foreman rumbled for a career-best 132 yards on 26 carries last week versus the Dolphins and scored a touchdown on the ground. He's averaged 4.6 yards per carry the last five games he's played, and he's run for three scores in that span.
There's also a slim chance RB Derrick Henry plays in this game, as he began practicing this week.
Whoever's running the ball, Texans Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith explained how important it is to stop them.
"Everything starts defensively with stopping the run," Smith said. "We have to be gap sound, disciplined, not let any explosive plays break out and if you are able to do that and make a team one-dimensional, of course, there is nothing new with that, but it gives you the opportunity to take the ball away more when they are having to throw it. They threw it last time a lot more than I am sure they wanted to."
Tannehill and the offense threw the ball 52 times in the loss.
5) Be Special – In addition to the five takeaways the last time the Texans and Titans met, Houston's special teams were excellent. P Cam Johnston pinned Tennessee inside their own 20-yard line on five of his seven punts. One of his punts was muffed, Houston recovered inside the five and three plays later, the Texans converted the outstanding field position into a touchdown.
Further, K Ka'imi Fairbairn made all three of his field goals, and on average, Houston began their 12 drives at their own 41-yard line, while the Titans started theirs at their own 28.
Watch the Houston Texans take on the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on January 9. Click here for tickets.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.