There were times when you thought the Tennessee Titans were going to make a contest of their divisional clash with the Houston Texans. Unfortunately turnovers, injuries and some poor play ensured they always found themselves out of reach of a Texans team that looks to have one eye on the postseason already.
Still, while the defeat was demoralizing there were positives to take from it. This is a Titans team that is building toward the future, and there was once again enough from their young franchise quarterback, Jake Locker, to suggest they could have something.
Let’s break it down.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
It didn’t start all that well for J.J. Watt (+6.5). A quiet first quarter saw David Stewart (before injury) and then Mike Otto use his own desire to get up field against him. Unfortunately for Tennessee, he woke up in Q2, beating Michael Roos for a tackle for a loss, picking up a sack, forcing a fumble and adding a batted pass (in addition to another hit and hurry).
It was the kind of dominant quarter of football you don’t often see, and encapsulates why Watt is a leading contender for defensive player of the year. His second half didn’t quite have the same wow factor to it, but in ending the day with a sack, two hits, three hurries and two batted passes he was hardly quiet. Another fine day.
Better from Ben
Lost in all the talk as to whether Ndamukong Suh kicked Matt Schaub in the groin, was the fact Suh destroyed Ben Jones. Well, Jones (+3.1) was much better in this one, with the only blemishes being a penalty for holding and a pressure on a stunt. Instead, his run blocking impressed, doing exceptionally well in the first half on a trio of pull blocks that highlighted his athleticism. This year has been hit and miss for the rookie, but Houston will be hoping this is a springboard to better things as we get to the business end of the season.
Struggling Off the Edge
Going up against a combination of Roos and Stewart is never easy. But you’d have be forgiven for thinking with Stewart limited to three plays there may have been something there for the Texans’ edge rush. There wasn’t. Whitney Mercilus (-3.7) produced an exhibition of why stats can only be trusted so much. He picked up two sacks, which is good right? Only both sacks were of the clean up variety, one of his pressures was unblocked and the other was the only time he actually beat a man to cause any pressure. That’s a terrible return on 57 pass rushes, beating a man just once.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Up and Down Locker
What can you say about Locker (-1.0). Firstly, there’s a lot to be encouraged by. He makes time for himself in the pocket, has a rocket of an arm, and really challenges teams vertically. Unfortunately at times he makes some head-scratching decisions, struggles with his accuracy, and could do with putting some touch on throws to help his receivers out a bit.
He walked away with three interceptions, though he can feel unfortunate with all of them coming off balls that were deflected or batted. That said, he was guilty of forcing the ball into receivers that were never open, and his sack in the third quarter where he fumbled without being touched was almost comical for its silliness. But don’t think it was all bad, with a number of his throws downfield being the kind that big-time quarterbacks make. He’s not the finished article, but there’s a lot to work with.
Cook Heating Up
So maybe that will be the big consequences of an offensive co-ordinator shift? Jared Cook (+2.5) walked into the game having played 56.2% of snaps on offense for Tennessee. In this one he managed 85.5%. Still, playing a lot doesn’t guarantee production and so it would have been great for the Titans to see him catching three balls for first downs and have another (where he picked up some yards after the catch) come back on a holding penalty. He wasn’t helped by some inaccuracy from his quarterback, but it was something to get excited about.
You might think that walking away with five tackles and three defensive stops would lead to a decent grade for Zach Brown. His -3.2 will let you know it doesn’t. Brown made some plays unblocked but had problems getting off the block of linemen at the second level, with them happy to just ease him away from running lanes. Throw in some coverage mix ups where he spent a little too long looking into backfield and you have a bad day.
– Jake Locker completed five of eight balls over 20 yards in the air, but just 12 of 22 on balls aimed between 0 and 10 yards.
– Sophomore corner Brandon Harris was targeted seven times, giving up just four receptions but for 78 yards (though he did break up two passes).
– The Titans had eight players miss a solitary tackle.
PFF Game Ball
Another day, another game ball for J.J. Watt. He just keeps earning them.
Follow Khaled on Twitter @PFF_Khaled