Sunday marks Tennessee’s first divisional matchup.
Recently, the Titans have had an abhorrent record within the division. They’ve only won two games in the AFC South over the past two years. Both wins occurred at home against the Jaguars. It gets worse. The Titans haven’t won a division game on the road since a trip to Jacksonville in 2013. Mike Munchak was head coach back then. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback. A lot has changed. A win in Houston would be big for this team, and it would tie them with the Texans for first in the division.
Injuries continue to be a factor this coming Sunday, but less so for the Titans. Houston will be without their star defender, JJ Watt. The team announced Thursday that he will miss the rest of the season to a back injury. Additionally, Duane Brown will miss Sunday’s matchup with a knee injury. Without their best player on each respective line, the Texans might have some trouble matching up in the trenches.
Kendall Wright is finally healthy, and he needs to be a factor for a struggling passing game. Tennessee’s secondary is a little banged up with Cody Riggs and Da’Norris Searcy out for Sunday. However, Searcy’s absence means a larger role for Daimion Stafford, who has had a great start to the year.
The ground game will decide the fate of each team. Lamar Miller’s 74 carries rank second in the league, and his 269 yards rank fourth. The Patriots did their best to not make him a factor last week, but he still finished with 107 all-purpose yards. Tennessee needs to bottle up Miller and put the offense on Osweiler’s arm. Conversely, Murray and Henry need to shine against Houston’s 26th ranked rush defense. Last week, LeGarrette Blount demolished the Texans to the tune of 105 yards and two touchdowns. Furthermore, Jacoby Brissett, New England’s rookie quarterback, added 48 yards and another score. If Mariota can utilize his legs in a similar fashion, Tennessee can keep pounding the ball and minimize their passing attack.
Regardless of how he runs the ball, though, Mariota has to play smarter. He’s committed seven turnovers over the first three weeks. Piling up rushing yards does no good if the ball is coughed up in the red zone. Hopefully the return of Wright and Delanie Walker gives the young quarterback some more dependable hands to target. The defense, in addition to containing Miller, have a tall task in covering DeAndre Hopkins. Last year, the star receiver registered 211 yards and two scores in both games against the Titans.
Finally, this might be when Mularkey takes the training wheels off Derrick Henry. His carries have progressively increased each week. When given the ball against the Raiders, he fell forward often and got some tough yardage. He finished with an admirable output, 45 yards on ten carries. Murray still takes up the bulk of the carries so far. Hopefully Tennessee uses a more even split between the two on Sunday. There, dead horse beaten.
Murray and Henry, however they divide the workload, should possess the ball for the majority of the game. If the Titans can keep running and maintain most of the time of possession, they should easily handle a beat-up Houston team. The easiest way to forget last week’s ugly loss is to take the lead in the AFC South.