Texans will go for a sweep of the Titans for the first since 2004 on Sunday in Nashville. To accomplish the goal, a less than healthy Texans team will have to be play a more solid game than many think. The Texans listed 23 players on the injury list earlier this week, so as we look at key match-ups they’ll also have to dust off the “Next Man Up” mentality from 2011.
- Jake Locker versus the Texans pass defense: Tennessee fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer earlier this week. (Yes this is the same Chris Palmer that some blame for the of development from David Carr – he was the Texans original OC.) Palmer’s multi-option, multi-reads passing game will most likely be simplified in hopes that easier reads will make for a more productive Locker – who ranks 18th in passer rating in the NFL this season, but has seen his passer rating drop from 90.2 to 74.7 since returning from injury this month. Locker has been much more efficient at LP Field than on the road so the Texans cannot overlook his capabilities. If the Texans are going to prove their pass rush is more than just J.J. Watt – and to a lesser degree, Antonio Smith, this Sunday would be a good time to prove it. One thing the Titans do posses is good pass-rush defending tackles in Mike Otto and Dave Stewart. I’m expecting that a refreshed pass rush combined a desire to extend plays will make for a long day for Locker.
- Chris Johnson versus the Texans rush defense: Johnson needs just 58 yards to eclipse 1,000 for the fifth time in his now five year career. Johnson’s season got on track in a 38-14 loss to the Texans in week four when he rushed for 141 yards on 25 carries. The former East Carolina Pirate is having his best season since he led the NFL with 2,006 yards in 2009. Johnson averaged 5.6 yards per attempt in week four, and has run at a 4.9 YPA (yards per attempt) clip this season. That won’t happen Sunday. After giving their first touchdown allowed last Thursday in Detroit, and allowing Johnson to get his career back on track in the season’s first encounter, I expect the “Bulls on Parade” to extremely minimize Johnson’s effectiveness in Nashville.
- Texans running game versus the Titans rush defense: This may be the most significant match-up of the game with the Texans looking for the running game led by Arian Foster to continue being among the league’s best, and the Titans struggling in rush defense – they’re 27th in the NFL. Add in the expected return of Ben Tate, and the assumption that the Texans will have little trouble rushing against a poor rushing front seven in Tennessee will be challenged. Watch for the Texans to run right at the center of the Titans defense. MLB Colin McCarthy is horrible in run defense, and his protection (DT’s) Jurrell Casey and Sen’Derrick Marks aren’t great either.
- Matt Schaub versus the Titans pass defense: As bad as the Titans have been in rush defense, they’ve been equally inept at pass defense as well. Let’s face it, the Titans have been plain bad in overall defense allowing 30.5 points a game. Schaub’s 251 yards a game through the air – good for fifth in the NFL, is less than the Titans have been allowing a game (262.1)! Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are above average corners, but when you get the Titans in nickel or dime coverage, they’re horrible.
The Texans are averaging 29.7 points a game, while allowing 19.2. The Titans are giving up 30.5, and scoring 21.6. Okay let’s go with that as a final score. Texans 30 – Titans 20.