Titans at Texans: What to watch

Friday, September 29, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 39

Sunday, Oct 1, Noon
TV: CBS (WTVF, Channel 5)
Radio: 104.5 FM

Taylor Lewan vs. J.J. Watt. Watt tormented the Titans when Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger were under center. Last year, he was missing due to an injury.

Since Watt last wreaked his havoc on the Titans, Tennessee’s offensive line, led by the likes of Lewan, has improved greatly and is better equipped to handle the Texans star than when they tried to single-block the All-Pro with Will Svitek.

Still, the Houston defense is the focus of the team, and the Titans will have to account for Watt on every single play.

Titans run game vs. Texans front seven. The Titans have found the running game in the past couple of weeks, with Derrick Henry carrying the load against Jacksonville and DeMarco Murray going for 112 yards, despite being limited with a hamstring issue, in the win against Seattle.

The Titans must keep pounding the football and imposing their will because they have proven that it can pay off with second-half point explosions.

Dick LeBeau vs. DeShaun Watson. LeBeau had a good game plan for containing Russell Wilson. Look for the Titans venerable defensive coordinator to have a plan to confuse and contain the Texans rookie quarterback, who has made the Houston offense competitive since winning the starting QB job.

Four downs

1. Stick with the run game. The Titans gashed the Jaguars two weeks ago and wore down the Seahawks in the heat last week with explosive plays like DeMarco Murray’s 75-yard run and Rishard Matthews’ bubble screen that went for a 55-yard TD. It might be ugly at times, but the Titans must stick with their plans to run the football consistently enough to receive the payoff in the second half.

2. Stay close. Of course, the key to being able to use the run game means not falling behind quickly, which was something they did last year in Houston, getting down 17-0 before most people got comfortable in their seats. Turnovers early on can be disastrous, especially on the road.

3. Put Marcus Mariota in good down and distances. J.J. Watt and the Texans defense will want to stop the run and put Mariota in third-and-long as much as possible. The Titans have to be able to avoid third-and-8-plus, which means running the ball effectively on first down and avoiding costly penalties that put them behind the sticks.

4. Win the explosion. The Titans showed against Seattle that they have the capability to make explosive plays in a variety of ways. Last year, a punt return by the Texans’ Will Fuller was their undoing. The Titans have to win on special teams and now allow Texans playmakers like Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins to get loose, while getting a big play or two from their own big-play guys.