The season began with very different expectations of what would come to fruition for these two AFC South foes. The Houston Texans were expected to be Super Bowl contenders, while the Titans looked to break their dry spell on playoff appearances.
With the final game of the season on the horizon, the only things left to play for are job security and pride. The first tilt between these two teams during Week 2 went to overtime, ending with a touchdown drive dominated by Texans' rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Week 2 also happens to be the last time Houston won a football game.
The Titans finally managed to win a game within the division, just slipping by the injury depleted Jacksonville Jaguars 20-16 last week. They're looking to end the season with a better record than last season and can do that with one more on Sunday.
|Titans and Texans NFL Ranks|
|Houston Texans||Category||Tennessee Titans|
|26th||Yards Per Attempt||16th|
|13th||Yards Per Attempt||18th|
|9th||Yards Per Attempt||14th|
|22nd||Yards Per Attempt||17th|
Pass Defense Must Play to Potential
In the first meeting between these two teams, the Texans outgained the Titans 452-248 yards, with 280 coming through the air. Andre Johnson and Hopkins combined for 15 catches, 193 yards and a touchdown.
It was an unusually poor performance by an area of the defense that has proven to be a strength this season. The secondary was able to intercept two passes, however, to help even things out. The Titans' 10th ranked pass defense will need to figure out how to slow the Texans' receiving duo.
Hopkins has had a quiet December to this point, posting nine receptions for 213 yards and no scores. He's been targeted 21 times during December, with two of them being intercepted, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Titans cannot allow Hopkins to come anywhere near his career best game (vs. Titans Week 2). Andre Johnson is his usual self. He will get his numbers, but the goal is simply to hold him under the century mark.
Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner have formed one of the league's most formidable cornerback duos in the league, and the Titans will need them to maintain their high level of play.
Win Turnover Battle
Tennessee hasn't forced many turnovers of late, and as a matter of fact, they've been terrible at hanging on to the ball themselves. Over the last five weeks, the Titans have forced four turnovers but are a combined -8 in turnover differential during the time span.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown seven interceptions and lost one fumble; the rest of the team has turned the ball over four times. Essentially, the team needs Fitzpatrick to take better care of the football. To single-handedly account for eight turnovers during a five-week span is unacceptable from a quarterback.
The defense could help with a few more turnovers of its own, as Case Keenum and Matt Schaub have combined for seven interceptions during December themselves. This week's matchup presents a rare opportunity to face a team as turnover prone as they are.
Run the Ball
The Houston Texans have a weakness on their defense. Despite J.J. Watt and their highly touted front seven, they have fielded a porous run defense. Brian Cushing, who is out for the remainder of the season, piled up 11 sacks, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits.
It's obviously a big loss for the Texans to a player who played a major role in the teams' first encounter. The Titans will need a repeat of last week's 182-yard rushing performance led by Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene.
If the two Titans backs can post similar numbers, there will be much fewer snaps for Fitzpatrick to throw on and, thus, fewer opportunities for him to turn the ball over.