Titans at Texans: Breaking Down Tennessee's Game Plan
The Tennessee Titans showed that they intend to be a much more physical team in 2013 with their performance in Pittsburgh Week 1. The team proved to be a force on defense, holding the Pittsburgh Steelers to fewer than 200 yards of offense.
Offensively, there is still much to be desired.
The defense cannot be expected to hold opponents to a touchdown every week, and let's face it: The Steelers might not be good.
The Houston Texans will provide a true test for the Titans' new swagger and give a real clue as to how far this team has come since last season.
Since Houston took the reigns as the division's champion in 2011, the Texans seem to have made it a point not only to defeat but to bludgeon the Titans. Over the last two seasons, the Titans are 1-3 against the division champions, and the only win came in a must-win Week 17 game against Houston's reserves.
However, things could go a bit differently than the routine blowout that this matchup has become, and here's how.
Shut Down Foster and Tate
In 2012 the Titans finished ranked 27th in the league in rush defense, averaging 127.2 yards against per game. After Week 1, the Titans have allowed a total of 32 yards on the ground, granted, against a very lackluster stable of Steelers running backs.
Watching the Texans on Monday night, Arian Foster was visibly frustrated by both his performance and the division of carries throughout the game. Foster finished the day with 57 yards on 18 carries, while Ben Tate had 55 yards on nine carries.
Overall, it was a pretty solid day on the ground for the Texans, but the San Diego Chargers do not have Jurrell Casey sitting in the middle of their defensive line. In Week 1 Casey and Tennessee's D-line rotation did a quality job of not only stuffing the run but also pressuring the quarterback.
The Titans will need to stop the run to keep Houston from sustaining long drives and winning the time-of-possession battle.
All stats gathered from Pro Football Focus
Play Keep Away
The Titans ran the ball an astounding 42 times Week 1—37 taking away Jake Locker's five carries—but didn't put up the greatest numbers. Tennessee's running game did just enough to keep drives going, because Jake Locker managed to throw for a paltry 125 yards.
The Texans held the Chargers to 80 yards on 20 carries, but running the ball is not San Diego's bread and butter. One of the key issues that plagued the Titans rushing attack was new starting center Rob Turner.
Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon, whom I highlighted as a key matchup last week, absolutely dominated Turner throughout the game. Turner was touted as a guy that brings some nastiness to the lineup but will need to turn things around quickly.
Turner finished Week 1 rated dead last in overall center performance and pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He wasn't much better in run blocking, either.
We can chalk some of this up to a Pittsburgh defense that is still stout, but the newly departed Fernando Velasco played very well against the Steelers last season, with much weaker guard play on either side of him.
The Titans' biggest offensive weapon is Chris Johnson, and they need to give him just a little more room to make some of the big plays that put him on the NFL map in the first place. Johnson has the ability to score from anywhere on the field, at any time, and will need to improve on his current average of 2.8 yards per carry.
Keep Andre Johnson Under Wraps
Andre Johnson returned to elite form during the second half of last season after recurring bouts with injury over the last couple of years and has carried that over into this year. Johnson was targeted 15 times in Week 1 and finished with 12 receptions for 146 yards.
George Wilson only saw three snaps last season but could reveal a bit more of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray's "Ruby" package in Week 2. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are a formidable duo at corner but will need the front seven to pressure Schaub and some safety help to control Johnson.
McCourty allowed 70 percent of the balls thrown his way to go for completions, while Verner did not allow a reception all day.
The Texans had to whip the ball all over the field on Monday night after falling behind by three scores and proved capable of switching up their offensive identity, if necessary.
Despite not finding paydirt, Johnson was integral to every scoring drive for the Texans. It will take a full team effort, but the Ruby package is one that should allow the Titans to be ready to stuff the run and still provide help over the top.
Is Jake Locker making strides toward improved quarterback play?
Jake Locker Must Be Mistake Free
While Jake Locker's numbers after Week 1 are less than inspiring, one of the main reasons the Titans reverted back to being a more run-oriented offense was to take some of the offensive load off the shoulders of the young quarterback.
Locker sailed a few of his passes but for the most part looked like he had made some strides in his accuracy. He finished the day 11-of-20, helped to sustain drives and kept the offense on the field.
The Titans will need him to do the same this week against a very tough Texans defense.
There should be a bit more room to throw the ball, as evidenced by Philip Rivers, but the most important thing for Locker is not to try to do too much. The revamped offensive line should help to keep J.J. Watt at bay and give Locker some time in the pocket.
The Texans will likely come into the week with a bit more focus after the Chargers nearly stole one from them, but all signs point to this game, at the very least, being a much closer affair than it has the last two years.
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