The Tennessee Titans will travel to Houston for tonight’s Monday Night matchup against the Texans. It will be their second meeting this season. The Titans took the first game 20-17, but both teams have made strides since and tonight’s game should look very different.
Marcus Mariota missed the last game with an injury, causing Blaine Gabbert to start. The Titans then opted to run several plays out of the wildcat. The first score of the game came on a 66-yard touchdown pass to rookie defensive back Dane Cruikshank on a fake punt. Simply put, the Texans were outcoached by former staffer Mike Vrabel.
New Look Offense
The Texans’ best offense came against the Titans in the form of Will Fuller V. Fuller caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Watson early in the fourth quarter. He also led all receivers in the game will 113 yards receiving. Quite a few things have changed since then though.
In the form of protection, Watson has had an easier time in the pocket then he did in the early season. In the first six games of the season, Watson was sacked 25 times. That included four sacks against the Titans in week two. In the last four games since the offensive line has given up 8 sacks. It isn’t an astronomical improvement, but this span has also included a game against the Dolphins in which Watson wasn’t sacked.
The offensive line has for sure looked better over the last four games. It should be more difficult for the Titans to get to Watson today. Rookie Martinas Rankin has stepped in at his natural position of guard and has looked much improved from the early season disaster. The biggest protection issues come from the tight ends now.
— Houston vs EVERYbody | Autocrat of #TexanNation (@HouSportsGod) November 20, 2018
In the week two matchup between the Titans and Texans, Keke Coutee had yet to debut due to injury. In five games this season, he has amassed 273 receiving yards. He is a key gadget piece for the Texans’ offense in order to keep defenders guessing. He can come across the formation and drag defenders out of coverage. Coutee can also burn defenders vertically or laterally. He should play quite the role tonight.
Otherwise, Fuller went down with a torn ACL in late October. The Texans pulled the trigger and traded for Demaryius Thomas. After having a solid debut, he did not record a reception last week against the Redskins. That probably stands as an outlier though, and Thomas should be able to be integrated into this offense well. With Coutee and Thomas rather than Fuller and Ellington, the offense will look considerably different tonight than in September.
Red Zone Offense
The Texans sit 30th in the league, converting only 45 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns. The number is skewed from a terrible early season conversion rate, but their 64 percent over the last three weeks is still below average.
On the other hand, the Titans allow a league-low 43 percent of red zone trips resulting in touchdowns. Over the last three weeks, they still sit in the top half of the league, allowing 60 percent.
The Titans secondary struggled last week against the Colts. T.Y. Hilton finished with nine receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns. The Texans will need to take advantage of a struggling defense early in order to prevent confidence gain.
Houston’s red zone challenges will be put to the test tonight. Tennessee is ranked #1 in red zone defense in DVOA per @fboutsiders
— TexansCap (@TexansCap) November 26, 2018
In their first go-round, The Texans only sacked Blaine Gabbert once. This was before J.J. Watt had recorded a sack on the season. Now, with the Texans playing at least one game less than every other, barring the Titans, Watt sits just outside with top five with 10.0.
The Titans offensive line has been a mixed bag this season. They gave up one sack in week two with mostly backups manning the line against a very formidable Texans defense. In week six against the Ravens Mariota was sacked 11 times on route to a shutout loss.
The Colts had five sacks last weekend against the Titans. In order for the Texans to win this game, they will need to pressure the quarterback. Not a huge difference, but the Texans average three sacks a game in wins, while averaging just over two sacks in losses. If the Texans can get to the quarterback tonight, expect the Titans to struggle in the passing game.
The Texans were -2 in turnover ratio in their first three games of the season. Now, riding a seven-game winning streak, the Texans have improved the number to +3. It will be important once again for the Texans to force turnovers tonight.
Every team in the top five of turnover differential are still in the playoff race. The Browns are tied for first and are barely in the race, but let’s blame that on Hue Jackson. Every other team either possesses a playoff spot or is tied by record for one. The Texans are tied in 13th while the Titans sit in 21st.
Winning the turnover battle would be a big first step in the right direction to winning this game.
The Titans are no pushover, and they could beat the Texans once again if they play to their potential. The Texans are hot though, and they are at home. If the Texans can check off each of the keys above, they should find themselves victorious for the eighth straight game.