Texans vs. Titans: Takeaways from Tennessee's 16-10 Win over Houston
The Titans offense had trouble getting started, but eventually, Chris Johnson led a great rushing attack that finally took out the Texans.
With that, the Titans end their season 7-9, one win better than in 2012, and well short of the playoffs.
In the offseason, there will be many decisions to be made about players, coaches and the draft, but for now, here are some takeaways from the Titans' victory.
1. The Coaching Staff Showed Why It Needs to Be Replaced
Even though the Titans beat the Texans, the Titans' coaching staff made some questionable decisions.
For instance, just sending Delanie Walker to attempt to run-block J.J. Watt by himself. Watt is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and has made a lot of trouble for the Titans in the past. You'd think he would be a priority block every time he's on the field.
Another poor decision was the length of time it took to start dialing up pressure against Matt Schaub. With both Arian Foster and Ben Tate out with injuries and Schaub trying to make a case to remain a starter, it was clear Houston would rely on the passing game.
Even so, the Titans defense took nearly the whole first quarter before it started pressuring Schaub more.
Decisions and oversights like that are one reason the Titans aren't winning as much as they should have under this staff.
2. Chris Johnson Had a Great Game, But...
Chris Johnson was fantastic against Houston. By the end of the game, he'd rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for another 14 yards.
Along the way, he also picked up multiple first downs in difficult situations, rushing well between the tackles and along the edge.
He was great.
That said, Johnson's overall season has not been great, and a great rushing performance when the playoffs are no longer attainable doesn't really help the team all that much.
If he'd played like that all season, he'd have a case for a paycheck the size of a quarterback's, but he didn't. Johnson is paid to go out and play like an elite player every game, and he isn't doing that.
Freeing up the cap space that Johnson creates would also allow the Titans to be more aggressive in free agency and get players at other positions that need improvement.
So, even with a great performance against the Texans, I think Chris Johnson's time with the Titans is done.
3. The Offensive Line Played Well Together
J.J. Watt wreaked havoc on the Titans' backfield, but he was pretty much the only one. The offensive line actually had a very good game.
Part of Chris Johnson's rushing success came because the interior line played much better together. Chance Warmack played nearly mistake-free for once, as did Andy Levitre.
The pass blocking was effective as well. Outside of Watt, the Titans allowed only two tackles for loss. They gave up one sack—to Watt. Not perfect, but solid.
It is encouraging to see the linemen clicking and improving as they get used to playing with one another.
4. Jurrell Casey Was Snubbed by the Pro Bowl
The defensive line played well against Houston, but the Titans clearly missed having Jurrell Casey on the field.
The group only sacked Matt Schaub once. Rookie Lavar Edwards had a tackle for loss, but other than Edwards' lone tackle behind the line, all pressure on the defensive line came from Morgan.
It's hard to give the Pro Bowl system much credit when a defensive tackle who leads interior linemen in sacks, has another 11 tackles for loss, 55 total tackles, two defended passes, and a forced fumble doesn't get selected.
5. The Pass Defense Is Much Better When the Titans Blitz Often
The Texans offense came out of the gate swinging.
Schaub picked the Titans apart and led the offense to a touchdown on Houston's opening possession. Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty played well, but covering Andre Johnson and Deandre Hopkins is tough.
After that first drive, Schaub didn't play as well, but he still was noticeably worse when the Titans began dialing up pressure against him. By the end of the game, Schaub fumbled once and threw two interceptions.
The Titans have a good set of defensive backs, but things get a lot easier on them when they are also putting pressure on the quarterback. The defense should have done so all season.
6. Titans Should Consider Franchising Alterraun Verner
Alterraun Verner deserved his Pro Bowl selection, and he has definitely made the Titans' pass defense better.
He was quiet against the Texans, with only one defended pass and one solo tackle. But over the season, Verner totaled five interceptions, two recovered fumbles, a touchdown and a league-leading 23 defended passes.
He's made a lot of plays.
The Titans seem deep at corner with McCourty, emerging nickelback Coty Sensabaugh and rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Still, losing a starting cornerback who makes the defense much more dangerous is tough. Even a first-round selection probably wouldn't replace him.
I'm sure that the Titans will try to retain him, but if they can't, they ought to consider throwing a franchise tag on Verner.
7. Get Used to the Idea of Playing Against Teddy Bridgewater
The Texans' loss secures them the first overall pick in this year's draft, which they'll almost certainly use on the top quarterback prospect, Teddy Bridgewater.
Putting Bridgewater on the Texans, who already feature J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster, and playing that team twice a year doesn't sound inviting, but that's what the Titans will have to deal with in the future.
In 2013, Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,970 yards. He had 32 total touchdowns and only threw four interceptions while leading his team to a 12-1 record.