Reporting Paul Gallant
The Texans look to improve to 4-0 for the first time this week against Tennessee. Here’s what you should expect out of the Titans Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
Big Play Brigade
If not for the ineptitude of the replacement refs this past week, we’d STILL be talking about the crazy finish to Tennessee’s victory over Detroit. In case you missed it, here’s what happened. the Titans had a two touchdown lead with under a minute to play in the fourth quarter – thanks to an NFL record FIVE touchdowns of over 60 yards. I’ll expand on all of them in a bit.
But don’t pat them on the back. They found a way to blow that two score lead in the final eighteen seconds, as Detroit marched down the field for one touchdown, recovered an onside kick, then bombed a Hail Mary to send the game to overtime. In OT, after the Titans kicked a field goal, the Lions were stopped on 4th and goal inside the Titans red zone because of miscommunication. Tennessee may have won, but they SHOULD be 0-3.
The Titans were downright offensive offensively the first two weeks of the season. But something clicked against the Lions. And it had nothing to do with former star running back Chris Johnson.
Second year quarterback Jake Locker took it to the skies, and ended up having his best day as a pro. Locker was 29-42 for 378 yards and two scores – a 61 yarder to tight end Jared Cook, and and a 71 yard potential catch of the year courtesy of wide receiver Nate Washington.
Locker might be young. But unlike Blaine Gabbert, he has talent. And his supporting cast – while underrated – is pretty damn good.
You’d think a mobile quarterback like Locker might get a little gun shy. QBs on the go typically get sacked often. But Tennessee’s O-Line has been an effective body-guard. Locker has only been sacked twice this season- thanks to left tackle Michael Roos, right tackle David Stewart and left guard Steve Hutchinson. This will be the toughest test yet for the Texans pass rush.
Locker has a wealth of targets to toss the pigskin to. Unfortunately for him, big play wide receiver – and dumbass – Kenny Britt suffered a slightly sprained ankle against the Lions, while Jared Cook banged up the AC joint in his left shoulder. Britt is unlikely to play Sunday. But Cook may. And if he is good to suit up, he could be a major pain for the Texans – who have struggled in coverage against tight ends.
One guy to keep an eye on is rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright. Wright has been Locker’s go to guy this season, leading the team with 14 receptions and 25 targets. With Britt likely out, the Baylor grad will need to step up.
Is Chris Johnson Still Alive?
It sure doesn’t seem like it. After another snoozer against Detroit – 14 carries for 24 yards – Johnson has 33 rushes for 45 yards on the young season. In fact, Jake Locker – with 67 yards – has had more ground success through three games.
The Texans have told us all week long that Johnson is still an explosive player, and is just a few mistakes away from being the CJ of old. I’m not sure I buy that anymore. The man has been missing in action for over a year – ever since he got paid. I don’t think he’s as hungry.
If Only CJ Could Run On This D
Because it’s bad. Pass first teams like New England (162 yards), San Diego (148 yards without their starting running back), and Detroit (141 yards) have slashed and gashed the Titans by land. Five of Tennessee’s top nine tacklers are in the secondary. That means that the Titan front seven – outside of linebacker Akeem Ayers – isn’t getting ANYTHING done. Defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Sen’Derrick Marks need to step up. If they can’t, expect HUGE days from Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Swiss Cheese Secondary
They haven’t been helped by a paltry pass rush that’s only mustered 5 sacks thus far. Still – the Titans need to figure out a way to make plays in the secondary. Alterraun Verner’s 72 yard fumble return for a score with just over a minute left was a good start. But there is no excuse for giving up nearly 500 passing yards, and if you can’t hold on to a two touchdown lead in the final minute of a game, you may as well quit and join the Arena League.
Tennessee has one interception on the year. That’s it. If by some miracle the Titans actually can stop the run, I wouldn’t bet on their secondary, especially after the passing plays the Texans made down field in Denver. Pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley – moving from edge rusher in the 3-4 to end in the 4-3 this season – only has one sack thus far. That needs to change.
“Special” Special Teams
If there’s any area to be concerned about before the Texans-Titans matchup Sunday – it’s this. Kicker Rob Bironas has been one of the league’s most consistent over the past few years. But he isn’t the guy you need to worry about.
Darius Reynaud was the AFC Special Teams player of the week after his performance against Detroit, and for good reason. First off – he set up this awesome play – a homage to Tennessee’s infamous “Music City Miracle“. Then, he took a kickoff back 105 yards to the house – the longest play in Titans history. The Texans have to be careful when kicking it to this guy.