Deshaun Watson's 3 TDs Lead Texans to Blowout Win vs. Marcus Mariota, TitansNovember 27, 2018
The Houston Texans can't be stopped and are well on their way to an AFC South crown.
Houston won its eighth game in a row after a 0-3 start and avenged a Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans with a 34-17 victory on Monday at NRG Stadium. The 8-3 Texans are now two games ahead of the Indianapolis Colts and three games ahead of Tennessee in the divisional race entering the stretch run of the season.
Deshaun Watson finished 19-of-24 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions while adding 70 yards and a score on the ground. Lamar Miller ran for 162 yards and a touchdown, and Demaryius Thomas caught his first two touchdowns in a Texans uniform.
Marcus Mariota led the way for the Titans in defeat and completed 22 of his 23 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
Lamar Miller's Resurgence Gives Texans Chance Against AFC's Best
The Titans will want to forget about a two-play stretch during the second quarter.
It appeared as if the visitors were going to take the lead when they had 4th-and-1 from Houston's 3-yard line, but the Texans stuffed Luke Stocker's run. As if that weren't enough, Miller exploded through a hole in the offensive line on the ensuing play for Houston and went 97 yards to put the home team ahead by two scores.
It was more of the same for the resurgent Miller, who reached the century mark on the ground for the third time in five games after doing so against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins as well. He also had 108 total yards against Washington the last time out.
The showings have been a long way from his lackluster 2017 campaign that saw him tally a career-worst 3.7 yards per carry after the Texans selected a running back (D'Onta Foreman) in the third round of the draft. It looked at times as if Miller was done as a prime-time performer, especially when Foreman averaged 4.2 yards per carry as better option for stretches.
Foreman is yet to play this season with an Achilles injury, and Miller has emerged as an X-factor ready to propel the Texans during a potentially deep playoff run.
Winning the AFC South is one thing, but Houston will be measured against the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers come January after this winning streak.
Miller bouncing back from his 2017 form will prevent those defenses from honing in on Watson and making Houston one-dimensional. Additional defenders will be forced into the box if he continues to rip off 100-yard games, which Watson can exploit over the top with DeAndre Hopkins and Thomas.
Miller's prowess also creates a situation where linebackers need a moment's hesitation on read-option looks rather than just teeing off on Watson as a ball-carrier. That will create running lanes for each, and the quarterback demonstrated his speed with a rushing touchdown to put the Texans ahead in the second quarter.
The only way Houston can emerge from a crowded AFC race is with all its offensive weapons operating on all cylinders, and Miller's resurgence provides another one and takes away some of the defensive attention from the likes of Watson, Hopkins and Thomas.
Titans O-Line Has Turned Marcus Mariota into Conservative QB
Mariota entered Monday's game a mere 21st in the league in yards per attempt. He's behind not just the NFL's top stars but the likes of C.J. Beathard, Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning and Jameis Winston, which is not what the Titans are looking for after drafting him second overall in 2015.
Still, that stat is not as much of an indictment on Mariota as it is Tennessee's detrimental offensive line.
According to Football Outsiders, the Titans were dead last in the league in pass protection and 27th in run blocking through Week 11. Mariota is pressured seemingly every time he drops back, and Houston sacked him six times.
Mariota proved he is capable of long strikes when he was finally given time in the third quarter and found Corey Davis for a 48-yard touchdown to pull within two scores. No play was more emblematic of the woes, though, than when J.J. Watt steamrolled his way into the backfield and ended Tennessee's momentum with a strip-sack on its ensuing drive.
Having a conveyor belt up front forces Mariota into a conservative approach because he can't rely on double moves and long-developing routes downfield. It limits the offense's overall effectiveness and has cut into the quarterback's overall development.
The fact that he completed his first 19 passes Monday is a testament to his individual talent but also underscores the fact that many of his passes came on underneath routes and checkdowns because of the pressure.
As if that were not enough, the Titans were a middling 19th in the league in rushing yards per game entering play and haven't been able to open up holes for the run game to take some of the pressure off their signal-caller. As a result, Houston's daunting defensive front didn't even hesitate before attacking Mariota on a number of plays.
The Titans are still in the wild-card race even with this loss, but they can ill-afford to drop multiple games in their last five. The only way they will avoid that is with better offensive line play so Mariota can unleash his full talent.
Each team is at home in Week 13, with the Texans playing the Cleveland Browns and the Titans facing the New York Jets.