But, it won’t be easy.
Even with an ailing Marcus Mariota, a recovering Taylor Lewan and the likelihood to be without Jack Conklin for another week, a win is not outside the realm of reality.
The Patriots offensive attack didn’t change much since last season. QB Tom Brady still targets TE Rob Gronkowski no matter how many opposing jerseys are surrounding him.
What Brady will also continue to do is utilize his stable of running backs in the passing game.
Brady exposed the Texans coverage mishaps by dink-and-dunking to the running backs underneath. His second passing touchdown of the day was a short dump-off to RB James White. The play looked like a blown coverage assignment by DB Kevin Johnson - who had a dismal day throughout.
But, we’ll get to Johnson later.
The Titans witnessed first hand what former Patriot Dion Lewis could do as a receiver. Expect OC Matt LaFleur to continue to increase Lewis’s workload - especially against a Texans team that struggled covering running backs. Lewis is capable of inflicting the same amount of damage as White did, especially if Johnson continues to have lapses in coverage.
Brady tried to hit White prior to the touchdown coming across the middle, but newly acquired DB Tyrann Matheiu snagged the ball for his first pick as a Texan. This is the instance the Titans should steer clear of targeting their running backs - when Matheiu is covering them.
The Texans use a lot of RPO in their offense. The Titans will be prepared - or should be, at least - considering the defense sees a ton of those looks in practice. The Quality Control Coordinator Chandler Hendley will have to ensure his plan for the scout team is air-tight and will provide a comprehensive sample of what the Titans defense can expect.
Houston will allow QB Deshaun Watson the freedom to use his legs when his instincts beg him to. That’s a given. The Titans have to be able to set the edge and deliver some punishment (within the legal limit) to Watson when he makes himself a ball carrier. The Titans defense has to discourage Watson from using his legs in order to take away one dimension of his game.
Against the Patriots, the Texans tried to get WR DeAndre Hopkins going early. Bubble screens and quick read slants were dialed up early and were effective. The Titans secondary has to avoid giving too much cushion to Hopkins and the ILBs must be prepared to linger in the spaces where Hopkins sees targets coming over the middle.
The Texans will not shy away from attempting a deep strike downfield. Watson connected with TE Jordon Thomas deep. He tried to go deep again on a second and short, but threw an interception in the end zone.
Expect Houston to test the Titans defensive backs ability to cover deep. The Texans will use Watson’s legs to gain some of the Titans’ defenders respect and attention. This will create some opportunities downfield that the defensive backs must be ready for. The communication will be paramount.
Containing the Pass Rush
As of today, it is unclear who will line up at both starting tackle positions on Sunday. An optimist would guess LT Taylor Lewan clears the protocol and is available while RT Jack Conklin is given another week of rest.
The offensive line graded well in handling the Dolphins edge rushers considering they were without two starting tackles for the majority of the game.
The duo of defensive ends in Houston is a much different animal.
The combo of DE Jadaveon Clowney and DE J.J. Watt can induce migraines. Clowney was a nuisance against the Patriots. He had his way a few times with tackle Trent Brown.
The Patriots made some adjustments and were able to keep Clowney from doing more damage than he was already doing. FB James Develin destroyed Clowney on a clean-up chip block in which Brown made the initial contact. The Titans will have to attack Clowney in a similar way to keep him from getting to whomever is under center.
The Texans also were able to create pressure against the Patriots interior front. C Ben Jones and company must be able to withstand the pressure and avoid enabling an interior collapsing pocket.
Attack Kevin Johnson
I mentioned Johnson earlier as I believe he is a weak link the Titans can expose. He was on the wrong end of a few touchdowns and was visibly deflated following his coverage errors that turned into points.
Gronk is Gronk, let that be said. No matter who is covering him or how many defenders there are, sometimes the guy is just flat out uncoverable. Johnson wasn’t in terrible position at times and had the help, but Gronk still hauled in some catches for big gains.
Outside of a controversial catch that Gronk made nearing the tail end of the first half - a catch that moved the chains and contributed to the Patriots putting up 7 before the break - Gronk was unstoppable.
The Titans had their own version of Gronk in TE Delanie Walker, who could’ve been lethal in the game plan heading into Houston.
Now, the Titans must hope TE Jonnu Smith can muster up the confidence in his own abilities to keep the tight end position an area of concern for the Texans defenders.
The Titans can scheme match-ups of Smith vs Johnson early, which could boost the confidence of Jonnu assuming he capitalizes on Johnson’s blunders. That’s also assuming Johnson doesn’t bounce back from his performance against Brady, who routinely makes defensive backs look bad anyway.
Johnson allowed some big gains underneath and was on the opposite end of the James White touchdown early. He also was on the wrong end of the Phillip Dorsett touchdown.
Brady was like a shark smelling blood in the water. He continued to attack Johnson and rattle his confidence throughout the game. The Titans need to be familiar with where Johnson is on the field and scheme for mismatches that could result in new sets of downs, big plays and points.
Whether it is QB Marcus Mariota or QB Blaine Gabbart set to start, the offensive game plan should be unwavering. To beat Houston, the Titans must contain Watson, avoid the deep pass plays, utelize their backs in the passing game and attack Johnson.
The first game against Houston last season was horrific. The Titans must use that as motivation and lean on the blueprint the Patriots laid out to help the team be at .500 and securing a much needed division win.