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Gameday Starting 11: Titans-Texans

11 thoughts about today’s game.

NFL: Tennessee Titans-Rashaan Natalie Allison-USA TODAY Sports

Here are 11 quick thoughts and/or stats about today’s game as we get ready for the Titans home opener against the Texans.

  1. Get loud Titans fans. If you’re reading this and going to the game, or know someone who is, please bring some energy. I know this team hasn’t always given the fans a ton to cheer about, but Titans games are simply more fun when the fans are in to it.
  2. Debuts of top draft picks Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry. The good injury news has all come on the defensive side of the ball as the Titans top two picks should both make their NFL debuts today after missing the Miami game. Landry is another reason for Titans fans to get loud on Sundays. He’s the best speed rusher the team has had in quite some time and nobody will benefit from crowd noise on pass rush downs more than him. With the Texans starting two suspect tackles, Landry could make a big impact early. Where Evans fits in will be interesting. He is a physical, tone-setting inside linebacker who can also add some juice as a pass rusher.
  3. Mariota or Gabbert? Obviously this is THE big question. If Mariota still isn’t able to grip the ball the way he normally does — or could be at risk of making the injury worse — I don’t see how they can put him out there. If Gabbert is the guy, again, I don’t think this is an automatic loss. I know he is a social media and message board punch line, but the guy won 2 of his 3 home starts with the Cardinals last season and showed the ability to move the ball at times during the second half of the Miami game. To be clear, Gabbert is going to need big time help from his defense to get it done, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could win this game if called upon. Everyone had Ryan Fitzpatrick putting up 48 on the road to beat Drew Brees last week, right?
  4. The Titans offensive line, even with 4th and 5th options starting at tackle, is still better than the Texans offensive line. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the drama surrounding the Titans revolving door of starting tackles right now, but the Texans are essentially in the same boat — maybe even worse — with 3rd round rookie Martinas Rankin thrust in to the starting left tackle spot and Julie’n Davenport shifting to right tackle. Rankin will be making his first NFL start, while Davenport makes his 6th start of his young career (his first at right tackle). Give me Pamphile-Spain-Jones-Kline-Marz over Rankin-Kelemete-Martin-Fulton-Davenport.
  5. Since 2010, teams that open the season with two straight road games are 4-21 in the second game. The Texans traveled to New England last week and are obviously on the road again here.
  6. DeAndre Hopkins owns the Titans traditionally, but can he do it against the revamped secondary? I’ve posted these stats elsewhere, but I’m putting them here as well because they’re just so ridiculous. The Texans star receiver has had 5 of his 18 100-yard receiving games against the Titans and 1,010 of his 5,943 career receiving yards against Tennessee. The good news is that the Titans have moved on from the days when Hopkins could pick on the likes of Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Perrish Cox, and Brice McCain. They can now trot out a solid four deep corner rotation and three of those four have had real success against Hopkins at points in their careers. A guy like him is still going to catch some passes, but can the Titans corners hold him to a minimal impact?
  7. Bill O’Brien is 6-2 against the Titans as a head coach, but 0-2 in his last two trips to Nashville. In his 6 wins he has often blown out Tennessee with an average margin of victory of 21.7 points. However, like the revamped secondary, this is also a completely rebuilt coaching staff in Tennessee, one that was built with parts of the Texans staff. Will O’Brien continue his mastery of the Titans or will Vrabel take down his old boss and push Tennessee’s home winning streak over Houston to 3?
  8. Jonnu Smith’s first start as TE1. Smith has been listed as a starter 14 times over his first 17 regular season NFL games, but this will be his first as the tight end at the top of the depth chart after Delanie Walker’s horrific ankle injury in Week 1. The guy that has often been compared physically to Walker will now get a chance to give his best impression of the Titans star tight end. Tennessee will need him to develop in a hurry now. A small silver lining to Walker’s exit could be that the Titans become less predictable on 3rd downs.
  9. Who becomes the team’s new go-to target on 3rd downs? Walker was clearly Marcus Mariota’s security blanket over the past few seasons. The young Titans quarterback would look for No. 82 often, especially in key situations. Now that role has to shift elsewhere. The natural choices seem to be either Corey Davis or Rishard Matthews. Matthews has been a chain mover and reliable target for Mariota, but Week 1’s gameplan clearly featured Davis as the 13 targets he was given led the team by a long shot. Smith and running back Dion Lewis could also factor in to this conversation.
  10. Get Taywan Taylor more involved. I’m an unashamed Taylor believer. He’s simply too talented and dynamic as both a home run threat and an after the catch playmaker for the Titans to only give him 9 snaps in Miami. This is even more glaring this week. With the tackle and quarterback situations facing them, it would be wise to find a way to use Taylor on some screens and let him create after the catch to take some pressure off the tackles and quarterback.
  11. The Titans defense needs to dominate... and score. Tennessee’s defense was just OK in Miami. They created a couple turnovers and had a sack, but they will need to provide much more to get a win against Houston. Deshaun Watson is talented, dynamic, and fun to watch, but he’s also still a young quarterback who is prone to mistakes. In 7 NFL starts, he has thrown 9 interceptions and fumbled 4 times. According to PFF’s charting, he threw turnover worthy throws at the 9th highest rate among all NFL QBs in 2017. When playing on the road Watson tends to be more mistake prone, throwing 6 of his 9 interceptions in 4 road starts. If the Titans defense can force him in to a couple mistakes and then capitalize on them, that could make a huge difference in the outcome of this one. Last season, team’s who scored a non-offensive touchdown won 70% of their games.