Titans vs. Texans: Takeaways from Tennessee's 30-24 Loss to Houston
A chance at another surprising win slipped through the Tennessee Titans' fingers, as the Houston Texans erased an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie things up with the Titans before winning in overtime.
A loss like that can be hard to stomach, but when your opponent is the Texans, playing it that closely is a good sign.
Here are some things we learned about the Titans from that loss.
1. The Titans Defense Is for Real
Before the season started, I was concerned about the Titans defense. The offense looked strong in the preseason, and the defense was coming off of its worst year in team history (at least in points scored), so there was good reason to be worried.
After the Steelers game, there were still questions, since it's hard to determine just how good the Steelers offense is without any real running backs.
Now, there are no questions. The Titans defense looks like a top-10 unit, maybe even better.
They only sacked Matt Schaub twice officially, but they were in his face all day and picked him off twice. Besides, the Texans feature one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, so getting the pressure on the quarterback that Tennessee did tells you a lot about the defensive line.
Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner had great games, too. Verner would be a lights-out player if he were taller, but his ability to read offenses makes up for a lot of what he lacks physically.
2. Jake Locker Is Never Going to Get over His Inconsistency Issues
Overall, Locker wasn't bad. If you just looked at his stat line, you might even say he did well.
He completed 17 of 30 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That's pretty good.
However, like in Week 1, there were stretches of the game in which Locker couldn't complete a pass, and several passes were completed to receivers well short of the first-down marker on third down.
When Locker is playing well, he looks like a better-than-average starting-quality quarterback. He can play well, and he does. Sometimes for whole series at a time.
But then bad Locker shows up and makes the offense one dimensional.
The coaching staff needs to sit down and figure out just what it is that makes Locker play at a high level and try to make it happen more often. The Titans will not make the playoffs if Locker can't be better consistently.
3. The Running Game Is Shaping Up to Be Dominant
As mediocre as the stats might sound, Tennessee's run game was much better than it was against the Steelers.
The Titans rushed 33 times for a total of 119 yards. That may not sound fantastic, but against one of the best defenses in the league, with the box stacked against the run more often than not, that's pretty good.
Chris Johnson even ripped off a couple of big runs, including one for 16 yards. If Shonn Greene were healthy, the run game would probably have been even better.
Unfortunately, against the stout defense of the Texans, Jackie Battle was less effective than he was against the Steelers. He only had six carries for 13 yards, and nine of those came from one run.
4. Predictability Is Still a Problem, but Less So
Well, Tennessee's offensive play-calling was again a little predictable, but luckily, it looks like Dowell Loggains is learning.
There's not a lot you can do on a 3rd-and-long to hide the fact that it's going to be a pass play, and outside of those situations, the Titans kept it somewhat mixed up. Of course they favored the run and went for whole series without passing, but just when the Texans defense started to just prepare for runs, they'd throw some passes to keep Houston honest.
Since they can't consistently depend on Locker, the offensive coaches are going to end up being a bit predictable, but that doesn't mean that there's no hope at all. Having change-of-pace running backs and several different options with Locker can keep things mixed up.
Loggains is still new, so it's not surprising to see him learning. Hopefully he'll keep improving as the season rolls on.
5. The Special Teams Need Work
For years, the Titans had great special-teams play with Alan Lowry at the helm. Now that he's no longer with the team, that seems to no longer be a guarantee.
Last week, the Titans started the game by giving the Steelers a safety. This week, they didn't see anything that bad happen, but there were a lot of near misses on special teams, like when Alterraun Verner touched a punted ball and it seemed as if the Texans would get the ball back.
That didn't happen, but it was still strange to see Verner on the field at all for a punt, and even stranger that he would touch it in such a situation.
Special-teams play has been poor this season so far, and that needs to change.
6. Derrick Morgan Looks Like a Premier Pass-Rusher
Derrick Morgan had one official sack against the Texans, but he had another that was negated by a penalty, so if you were to count it, he would have three sacks for the season already.
He probably won't keep up this pace, but if he does, he's on pace for a 16-sack season.
In 2012, Morgan was great. He was constantly in the backfield and in quarterbacks' faces, but he didn't turn that pressure into very many sacks.
This season, with his lost weight, he does appear to be faster, and more of his pressures are turning into sacks.
He also added two more tackles for loss and three total tackles to his season totals.
7. Zach Brown Shows No Sign of Letting Up
I wrote last week that Zach Brown was up for big things. While he didn't get anything as flashy as a sack, an interception or even a tackle for loss, he did have a great game.
Brown had 12 total tackles against the Texans, and all but one of them were solo. To put that in perspective, he had as many tackles against the Texans as Derrick Morgan, Moise Fokou, Jurrell Casey and Akeem Ayers combined.
It also brings his tackle total to 20, giving him a commanding lead on the team and making him one of the league's top tacklers.
Brown may be on his way to a Pro Bowl.
8. The Season Outlook Is Getting Better
With one win on the road against a team no one expected them to beat and an overtime loss against a team no one expected them to even challenge, the Titans are showing very quickly that they aren't a team to write off.
The Titans' next three opponents are San Diego, Kansas City and the New York Jets, and all of them are at home. The Chargers and Chiefs look good but are certainly beatable, while the Jets look awful, as usual.
As well as the Titans have played on the road, they have to feel good about going into a three-week stretch of home games against manageable opponents.
If they can come away with a couple of wins from those three games, then the difficult stretch of games that follows might not be as tough.
They might even find their way to nine wins, which could be enough for a playoff spot.