Let's take a closer look at this all-important upcoming divisional game against the Texans this Sunday.
Titans / Steelers
Last week our very own Titans marched into a hostile Heinz Field and departed for home with a W in the win/loss column. The game, which has been looked at in a lot of different lights, was something that Munchak and his squad have lacked the first two years of his tenure: a strong start.
The Titans didn't have many allies in the media, but nevertheless the dominating play of the defense led by the likes of Jurrell Casey, Zach Brown, and Jason McCourty, made life difficult for the Steelers Offense, who generated only 32 rushing yards on 15 carries (including an average of 0.8 yards per carry in the first half) and were held scoreless until the final 2 minutes of play. We also saw some great plays from Alterraun Verner, who nabbed an impressive diving interception to spark the lone Titans TD drive of the game, and Morgan, who was impressive in containing Rothlisberger in the pocket and cutting off the avenues for him to scramble while notching a nifty sack at the end of the first half.
The Titans offense controlled the ball with a rushing attack that just kept pounding forward. This game made me want to buy a Jackie Battle jersey. Despite his low per-carry average, Battle was extremely reliable in his runs, and consistently broke tackles and fell forward. That's exactly what the Titans needed from him after Shonn Greene went down early with an injury. The rest is history.
Texans / Chargers
On opposite end of the spectrum, the Houston Texans had a much rougher time than expected against their week one foes. The "new look" Chargers didn't look so new after the game was over though. They did, however; make the Texans look mortal. The first half performance from Phillip Rivers no less, and an effective ground game, gave them what should have been total control of the game. Matthews didn't break a clavicle, Phillip Rivers wasn't pouting, all was great in Charger's land. Since they are still the San Diego Chargers though, they managed to toss all their good work out the window with a pathetic offensive show that put their own defense to the torch. So the media had this one pegged down correctly, though just not in fashion expected.
Titans / Texans (Sunday 1.00pm)
This will be an important match-up between these two teams, as is any divisional bout. But there is more to this game. Aside from the chippy rivalry between both the players and fans, this will give the Titans a platform to prove last week's strong game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh was no fluke. For the Texans, its an early chance to get ahead in a division that they already see as their own. Unless the Titans and (cringes) the Colts step up their games this year, I'm not going to predict their downfall. We can save that part of their annual story for the Playoffs.
There are several points of interest going into Sunday's must anticipated divisional game. The first one I will point out is also the one most obvious to the casual fans watching at home: the pass rush. Last week the Titans put the Pittsburgh Offensive line to the sword with a good mixture of four man rush, led by the aforementioned Casey who got the QB twice (and who posted a strong +4.9 per PFF) and blitzes led by Zach Brown who notched two sacks of his own to bolster a team high eight tackles.
With the Texans Duane Brown posting a poor -6.6 per PFF against the Chargers, and against an aging Dwight Freeney no less, there should be some concern from the Texans about facing arguably better pass rushers this week, including Kamerion Wimbley, as well as a mountain of a man in Ropati Pitoitua who played very well against the run last week, albeit against lesser options at RB for the Steelers. Brown will have to play better for the Texans to have the run game they have come to rely on to open up the defense for their play-action. He was making Larry English look like Navarro Bowman out there, so stay tuned when Brown and Ayers come in to blitz on that side of the line.
Another place to watch (or worry) for Titans fans will be at the middle of the offensive line, where Rob Turner struggled last week. His performance is crucial for Locker as a poor day will prevent him from adequately stepping into his throws and climbing the pocket. As we've seen to date, Locker will throw lasers with clean protection, but struggles (like most QBs) with interior pressure in his face. Turner posted a paltry -5.0 per PFF and will have to improve for the Titans offense to hum, and to keep himself from being unseated by the rookie Brian Schwenke.
The Running Game
While we're talking about the running game, it should be noted that Tate looks like the back to watch at present. Though he saw less carries than Foster, it is hard to argue that Tate was far more effective overall in reading the blocks and bursting through the line. In fact, Ben Tate's rushing average was almost double his lauded teammate's, with 6.1yds/per carry to Foster's 3.2 Arian Foster didn't look all the way back from injury, at least to me, but I think his pouting on the sideline during Monday night's game will be enough for Coach Kubiak to force the ball to him a little more. One thing the Titans could definitely (cringe again) learn from the Texans is getting the backs more involved in the passing game. For Jake Locker's development going forward, it would be ideal to get more of those swing passes into the game plan to slow that pass rush and build rhythm and confidence for our young signal caller.
As for the Titans running game, Shonn Greene is yet to practice this week, leading me to believe its going to be Jackie Battle taking the secondary RB snaps again. I have no problem with this, as he has definitely proven to me that he can run the ball down hill with the best of them. If the Titans need a tough three yards, he's the guy for the job.
Titans on Defense
It will be an interesting test for the Titans safeties on Sunday going against one of the premier play-action teams in the league. Griffin and Pollard will have to play disciplined football to help prevent the big play to Andre Johnson and "Nuke" Hopkins, which has been a struggle in the past for both players. At the same time, Pollard is going to have to play with one foot in the box to help the run defense with Foster and Tate and that Texan zone blocking scheme which has been tremendously effective for them over the past few years.
Also coming back from injury, expect Akeem Ayers to make a bigger impact. His snaps were limited last week following his knock in the preseason. Titans fans heard all about the plans to stick Ayers at end and let him rush the passer. Hopefully we see more of this against the biggest competition in the AFC South.
AJ will present a huge challenge for the Titans defense as always, but Jason McCourty and ATV are familiar with him at this point in their careers and they put on a masterclass on the deep ball against Antonio Brown (who is hugely underrated and has always been better than Mike Wallace IMHO) and Emmanuel Sanders, who is an up and coming player stepping into a bigger role for the Steelers. I can see some big plays for the Texans, as Andre Johnson has proven time and time again that he is deserving of his immense reputation, regardless of what the defense does to slow him down. That said, I think the Texans will have a tougher time with the Titans defense than San Diego's. It will be a physical match-up yet again.
Two Toned Blue Recievers
The last point I would like to make (sorry if I sound rambling at this point) is the Titans receivers. Britt and Wright need to step up and work hard to get open for Locker. Jake was hung out to dry at times last week, and when things broke down, only Washington and Walker seemed to know what they were doing. Walker will hopefully shake the rust off and become a security blanket for Locker, something the entire offense will surely need to knock of the Texans and improve to 2-0.