Titans vs. Texans: 5 Ways Houston Must Plan for Tennessee
The Houston Texans have played great in 2012, but they are still a long way away from the first of their goals, which is to win the AFC South.
A three-game lead after four games would all but lock up a second consecutive division title for Houston. Likewise, if the Titans lose on Sunday, they will know the best they can realistically hope for in 2012 is a wild-card berth.
The Titans are desperate, and the Texans are determined to bury them.
Here are five ways the Texans will attack the Titans in an effort to put them six-feet under in the South.
Offense: Follow the Familiar Formula
Do you detect a theme?
Simply put, the Titans are worst at stopping what Houston does best.
The Texans have ridden Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the passing game all season.
Johnson and Daniels both have 13 catches on the season, while the two runners have 15 combined. The rest of the Texans offense has just 22, and 10 of those are by fullback James Casey and tight end Garrett Graham.
In other words, the Titans are in big trouble.
On paper, the passing attack should be a classic mismatch in favor of Houston.
Offense: Run It Up the Gut
The Titans don't have a great run defense, but they've been especially bad up the middle. They rank last in the NFL in defending runs off left tackle, 30th in runs up the middle and 20th on runs off right tackle, according to Football Outsiders.
The only area in which they are adept at slowing down opposing backs is off the right end.
However, as much as Derek Newton has been criticized for allowing pressure on Matt Schaub, he's been solid blocking in the run game.
Derrick Morgan of the Titans hasn't brought much of a pass rush, but he's been solid against the run in 2012. As long as the Texans don't try to get too wide on the Titans, they should find healthy yardage on the ground.
Defense: Nickle and Dime 'Em to Death
The Titans can't run the football. In fact, the Titans barely even try to run the football.
Tennessee runs the least balanced offense in the NFL, and that's not a bad thing. With only 45 rushing attempts on the year, this squad has tried running the ball less than any other team.
Coincidentally, the Texans have the most rushing attempts at 117.
If the Titans want to pass so much, the Texans must operate out of their nickle package all game.
If they load up on extra defensive backs, they will be daring the Titans to run. The best way to frustrate an offense is to make them do something they aren't comfortable in.
That means that Quintin Demps and Brice McCain will see the field plenty in Week 4.
McCain in particular is a concern for Houston, especially after a lousy performance in Week 3.
However, given how poorly the Titans wideouts have played—with the exception of Nate Washington—giving extra playing time to McCain shouldn't be an issue.
Defense: Contain Jake Locker in the Pocket
The Titans upset the Detroit Lions in Week 3 through a bevy of big plays, among which was a 31-yard scramble by quarterback Jake Locker.
Tennessee struggles to sustain drives, with one of the worst drive success rates in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. The team struggles to convert first downs because of the erratic nature of the offense.
The Texans have piled up the sacks early in 2012, but they can't be so aggressive with the rush that they allow Locker to scamper. His quarterback scrambles are an element that Peyton Manning didn't have last week. If the pocket starts to collapse, Locker will bolt.
His speed in the open field is remarkable, and Houston will do well not to let him break containment.
Given the Texans secondary, it makes sense to sit back and let Locker try to beat them with his arm.
Locker is difficult to sack, and rushing him could lead to big plays on the ground. According to Football Outsiders, the Titans are second in the NFL in adjusted sack rate allowed. Therefore, pressure won't be easy to come by.
Even if the Texans can't bring Locker down, forcing him to stay put could prove an effective alternative.
Special Teams: Avoid a Punt-Fest
If there is one area in which the Titans have a massive advantage in this matchup, it's in special teams.
According to Football Outsiders, the Titans have the best unit in football. Meanwhile, the Texans have the worst through three weeks.
The Titans excel at returning punts and kickoffs, and their punt game has been terrific. The Texans have been miserable at everything, but their punting game has been among the worst in the league.
In fact, Tennessee has averaged 10 more net yards per punt than Houston.
Make no mistake, the Texans don't want to get into a field-position battle with Tennessee.
The Texans played the Miami Dolphins in that style of contest for most of the first half before turnovers gave them the advantage. However, against the Titans, they'd be at a serious disadvantage.
The Titans had two returns for scores in Week 3, and their best hope for an upset will be to make a play on special teams to help even the fight.
I don't think the Titans are as bad as they've looked at times, but I'm not about to go against Houston at home.
Despite the anguish of Gary Kubiak in the photo above, I don't see disappointment for the Texans this week.
Whenever the only major advantage a team has over another is on special teams, it's typically a formula for a beating.
If Houston executes, this game won't be close.
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