Will this be the week the Titans make the leap?
The Tennessee Titans have to start playing better.
The headline may promise a five-step plan the Titans can employ to yank the proverbial table cloth out from under the coronation dinner that has become the Houston Texans' season, but the reality is simple.
The Tennessee Titans have to play better than they have in recent weeks.
Lightning strikes are notoriously undependable, and unless Thor is now a Titan, Tennessee has to build a game plan more stable than "run back kicks and fumbles for touchdowns".
That's not to say the solutions are as mundane as the classic coach-speak staple "execute better".
Here's what the Titans can do if they want to flip the script on the Texans and even their record on the season.
Keep the Ball in the Air
Last week, the Titans followed this advice and threw all over the Lions. The Texans are not the Lions, but with Gary Kubiak informing the media (and shared with Bleacher Report by the Texans) that all-world corner Johnathan Joseph hasn't practiced this week, the door is open for the Titans.
When asked about Joseph's availability, Kubiak said:
Well I strictly just listen to our trainers, once you get going in a season in this league, you’re going to always use the word ‘nursing’ guys to Sunday, a lot of them because they play a lot of snaps. He played over 80 some snaps last week, and he’s had some soreness (with) this issue before and he’s been able to play through it and stuff.
I’m sitting here thinking he’s going to be ready to go. As far as making the final decision, I got to listen to our doctors. If they think we’re risking something when we wake up on Sunday morning then you’ve got to move on.
Even if he's available, the Titans may be able to exploit him if he's not 100 percent.
Houston is just as good against the run as they are the pass, so there's no advantage to be gained by running against them.
Jake Locker is the strength of this team now, so if the Titans are going to win, it's going to begin and end with him passing the ball.
Attack Kareem Jackson
Hand in hand with Joseph being injured is that Houston suffers a major drop-off in defending primary and secondary receivers.
The Titans have two legitimate receiving threats in Nate Washington and Kenny Britt, but the major question is: Will they both be available?
According to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Britt is battling an ankle injury, so his availability and effectiveness are in doubt.
That's obviously a blow to the Titans as neither Damian Williams nor Kendall Wright have played well early.
Houston's corner talent drops off dramatically after Joseph, so spreading them out and picking on the lesser corners like Alan ball or Brice McCain is a must.
Force the Ball away from Andre Johnson
When talking about the Titans defense, it's tempting to fall back on the "play better" mantra. After all, not allowing 30 points against the Texans would qualify as an improvement.
Alterraun Verner has been solid for the Titans, but they weren't able to get him on Calvin Johnson often enough in the second half against the Detroit Lions. Calvin Johnson tore them apart late in that game.
The Texans' Andre Johnson is every bit the player that Calvin Johnson is, and the Titans have to discourage the ball being thrown in his direction.
If that means the safety shadows him the whole game, that's fine. He can't be allowed to run free and make the reads easy for Matt Schaub.
The drop off in wideout quality on the Texans is severe. Taking advantage of it will be the key for the Titans' defense.
Stop the Big Play
Titans fans should follow the link for a look at all the defensive breakdowns by the Broncos. It will seem uncomfortably familiar after having watched the Titans defense through three weeks.
The Titans should encourage Houston to run. Safety has been a nightmare for Tennessee all year long, so playing them back and letting them only focus on coverage can't possibly hurt.
If the Texans want to play ball control, let them. It's better to give up 150 on the ground to Arian Foster than to have Schaub throwing long passes all over the field.
Tennessee should play the safeties back and ask Houston to run. Even if they do, and even if they score, it will shorten the game in the process.
Usually the underdog wants to play slow on offense to keep it close. In this case, the Texans yearn to run, so letting them do so allows the Titans to play fast on offense, yet keep the score manageable.
Press the Advantage
As noted in the Texans' preview of this game, the Titans have a huge edge in special teams play.
Other than taking chances like they did against Detroit, there isn't much strategy in this note. The Titans can't "plan" to run back a kick or a punt. Those tend to be random events.
Still, Tennessee won't beat Houston unless they control the kicking game and continue to play well. This ought to be an edge for the Titans, and if it's not exploited, there's little chance they win.
Can the Titans beat the Texans in Houston?
Absolutely, they can. There's a formula to do it, and it's one the Titans are hypothetically capable of executing.
It's going to take playing a lot better defensively, however, and until they actually hold someone under 30, it's hard to predict that they will.
The Titans may still get hot this year, but I suspect their long-predicted run won't start until Week 5.
Quotes provided to Bleacher Report courtesy of the Houston Texans.