3TFO: Titans @ Texans, Week 2
Mike Renner looks into this Week 2 AFC South matchup that features the first installment of the anticipated Watt-Warmack face-off, and the Texans' all-important play-action game.
3TFO: Titans @ Texans, Week 2
This Sunday the Tennessee Titans make the trip back to where their franchise started over 50 years ago. In 1997 the then Houston Oilers relocated to Nashville to become the Tennessee Oilers, and eventually the Titans. Once the Texans were formed in 2002, the Titans immediately became the team’s biggest rival. The Titans lead the overall series with a record of 14-8, but the Texans won both games in 2012 and six of the past nine between the two.
Both squads are coming off much needed road victories, but the Texans had to work a little harder for theirs. Houston was down by 21 points to San Diego early in the third quarter — their defense had been a sieve up until that point. Matt Schaub stormed the offense back, though, with his best passing grade since Week 1 of last season. With a little help from Brian Cushing’s amazing pick-6 the Texans would come away with a victory on a Randy Bullock 41-yard field goal as time expired.
The Titans had no such defensive struggles in their drubbing of the Steelers. Watching them last Sunday you wouldn’t believe it was the same defense that allowed over 29 points per game last season, the most in the NFL. After averaging over eight missed tackles a game in 2012, the Titans missed just two against the Steelers and managed to hold Ben Roethlisberger and company scoreless for the first 58 minutes of the game.
Tennessee will have their hands full trying to repeat that performance this week. The Texans look like they’ve added another legitimate weapon to an already impressive arsenal with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins . The Titans may not be favored, but they’ll have a good chance if they can succeed in these three matchups.
Warmack’s ‘Welcome to the NFL’
The way defenses have had to prepare for Peyton Manning or Tom Brady the past decade, offenses now have to prepare for J.J. Watt. Against the run and the pass Watt is a matchup nightmare, and rookie Chance Warmack will get to evaluate him first-hand this weekend. Watt may not be on pace to break any sack records after one game, but he didn’t show any signs of decline. His +7.2 grade was the highest of any 3-4 defensive end, while his 15.8 Run Stop Percentage was second-best.
While Watt has quite the reputation that precedes him, the Titans’ guard has developed one as well. Warmack, along with Jonathan Cooper, were regarded ahead of this year’s draft as some of the best guard prospects ever, and were the first to be taken as Top 10 picks since 1997. When PFF broke down the BCS Championship Game, Warmack had an unbelievable +5.7 run-blocking grade, and in Week 1 he continued his success with a +2.2 in that area. With Watt lining up on the left side on 41 of his 55 snaps last week, these two are going to be matched-up frequently. No matter who comes out on top, this one will be fun to watch.
Arian Foster vs. Titans Linebackers
Arian Foster isn’t known for his elusiveness, and the Titans’ linebackers aren’t known for their tackling prowess — something’s got to give this Sunday. Last season Foster broke just 32 tackles on 391 touches. His missed tackles per touch was 40th out of 48 qualifying running backs and against the Chargers he didn’t force a missed tackle on any of his carries.
Last season, Akeem Ayers’ Tackling Efficiency was 6.7, Zach Brown’s was 6.6, and Moise Fokou’s was 8.0. All those numbers are very poor, yet all those linebackers are fairly solid run defenders who flow well to the ball and combined to hold Pittsburgh to 32 yards on 15 carries. The Chargers showed that shutting down Foster can halt the Texans’ offense — it will be interesting to see if Foster can get back on track Sunday.
Titans Safeties vs. Play Action
For the Titans, having the linebackers stop the run themselves will affect another part of the game — the play-action pass. The Titans don’t want to have to bring Bernard Pollard down in the box frequently to help stop the run and leave Michael Griffin on an island against play action.
Few teams are as effective with the play pass as the Texans. They used run action on 25.7% of their drop-backs last season and Schaub’s quarterback rating was 23.2 points higher on those plays. In week 1, Schaub completed six of seven passes off play action for 64 yards and a touchdown. It’s in these situations that he takes many of his chances downfield. It’s also in these situations that the Titans’ free safety can get exposed. No play better sums this up than the very first play from scrimmage this season. Griffin was in a single-high look and the Steelers used play action to buy some time for two go routes on the outside. Griffin couldn’t commit to help either side, yet when Roethlisberger cocked to throw Griffin had taken multiple false steps toward the wrong receiver. Luckily, Emmanuel Sanders couldn’t haul the throw in, but this type of play is bound to happen at some point against the Texans and Griffin can’t make the big mistake.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner