It’s hard to overstate how important this win was for the 2018 Titans. The FiveThirtyEight study I quoted earlier this week found that teams that start 1-1 make the playoffs 41% of the time versus just 12% for 0-2 teams. In addition to staying out of an 0-2 hole, the Titans got a critical division win despite being without their starting left tackle, starting right tackle, backup swing tackle, starting tight end, and starting quarterback.
This team showed incredible grit and toughness in the face of adversity coming off one of the most soul-crushing losses in recent memory. It would have been easy to make excuses and feel sorry for themselves in this one, but they didn’t do that, even when the Texans put up 17 unanswered to take the lead in the 4th quarter. They remained composed and fought their way back to get the win. Titans fans should be proud of the way this team responded to a tough week.
Without further ado, here are the winners and losers from Titans 20, Texans 17:
This one is easy. Vrabel stole a game his team had no business winning today with great coaching. First, he made the right call sitting Marcus Mariota. While we certainly don’t know everything about how close he might have been today, I’d say the fact that he was in uniform as the backup quarterback tells us he was close. However, with reports Saturday night and Sunday morning that Mariota was still struggling to grip the ball, it’s safe to say that he probably wasn’t going to be his normal self if he did play and another week of rest without putting himself in harm’s way could do him a lot of good from a long term perspective.
Players from both teams heaped credit upon Vrabel after the game with center Ben Jones giving his coach the game ball. The gameplan included some wrinkles too. A fake punt and an out-of-nowhere appearance from the wildcat package among the most prominent. The Titans coaching staff managed the game perfectly, protecting their backup tackles and coaxing a largely mistake-free performance from their backup quarterback.
Things got a little bumpy in the second half when the offense turned in three consecutive three and outs, but they were able to move the ball effectively when it mattered the most without asking too much of Blaine Gabbert.
Vrabel was aggressive with the fake punt call and converting two 4th downs (including one at their own 32-yard line). The Titans have never had an aggressive head coach so seeing some of the gutsy calls that Vrabel made against Houston was a welcome change from the Mularkey Era.
It was just a fantastic job of coaching by Mike Vrabel and his staff this week.
Gabbert’s stats weren’t great in this game. He finished 13 of 20 for 117 yards and a touchdown, but he played turnover-free football and made a few clutch plays when the team needed it late.
There is no quarterback controversy to be sure. Marcus Mariota gives this team the best chance to win, but Gabbert was able to get his job done today in a huge spot against a quality defense.
Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor
The Titans two second year receivers made a big impact against the Texans. Davis was the team’s target leader for a second straight week and turned his 7 targets in to 5 catches for 55 yards. That may not sound that impressive, but he had two huge catches on the Titans game winning drive and is starting to look the part of a No. 1 receiver.
A week after getting just 9 snaps on offense, Taywan Taylor was a much bigger part of the gameplan against Houston. The former 3rd round pick from Western Kentucky caught 3 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a thing of beauty as Taylor took a simple screen and made multiple Texans miss on a weaving run to the endzone.
I’m a big believer in Taylor’s talent and I think plays like this will make it harder and harder for the coaches to keep him off the field. Taylor needs to be getting 5+ touches every game.
Jurrell Casey, Kamalei Correa, and Harold Landry
The Titans pass rush did a nice job most of the game keeping Deshaun Watson from getting comfortable in the pocket. They ended up collecting 4 sacks and adding 9 QB hits along with pressures on other snaps. Casey led the group with 2 sacks and added another hit and a tackle for loss in what was an excellent game for the Titans star defensive tackle. We are used to Casey being great at this point, but that doesn’t mean should stop appreciating it.
Kamalei Correa followed up a good Titans debut in Miami with another good performance this week. He got a sack for a second straight game and added 2 tackles for loss and 2 QB hits. Correa has already been worth the 2019 6th round pick that Jon Robinson gave up for him just before roster cut down day, but based on the early returns I think he has a chance to turn in to a long term piece for the Titans at outside linebacker.
Speaking of long term pieces, Harold Landry made his debut today and despite finishing the game without a tackle or sack, it was hard not to notice him out there. He did have 2 QB hits and was constantly in the Texans backfield helping make plays like this.
Jurrell Casey and Harold Landry getting pressure again. Casey knocked the ball out of Watson's hand but Watson got it back. Field goal for Texans, #Titans lead 14-10 #TENvsHOU pic.twitter.com/CJAxLUMCKW— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) September 16, 2018
Landry made such an impact that the Texans were actively chipping against him on almost every snap by the end of the game. This guy is going to be a stud and if the Titans can continue to develop him, Correa and undrafted rookie Sharif Finch, they could be set at this position for years to come.
(Speaking of Finch, he was active over Aaron Wallace against Houston and that gives us an idea of how much they like their UDFA find.)
Offensive Line Coach Keith Carter and Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur
The Titans are two games in to the 2018 season and the offensive line has allowed just 1 sack despite being without star tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin for the majority of snaps. Credit is certainly due to reserve tackles Kevin Pamphile, Dennis Kelly, and Tyler Marz for coming through when called upon, but when an entire unit is playing at this level, their coaches are doing something right.
The Titans running game never really got on track against Houston, but they were able to grind out a semi-effective ground attack despite the fact that the Texans clearly did not fear Gabbert beating them over the top. Carter is doing a fantastic job getting his offensive linemen ready and LaFleur is putting his players in a position to succeed with his offensive gameplans.
Cruikshank was billed as a potential special teams ace when the Titans drafted him in the 5th round and he is already showing flashes of that just two games in to his NFL career. Obviously, he made the catch on the beautiful fake punt pass from Kevin Byard that resulted in a tone-setting touchdown early in the game, but he also added a fantastic tackle on punt coverage later in the game.
It’s hard to have many losers after a win like that, but Butler gave up a long touchdown catch for the second straight week, only this time he didn’t get the big interception to balance out his ledger. His reputation as a boom or bust corner has been lived up to early on, but I’m sure the Titans would like to limit the busts to less than one per week.
Evans didn’t do anything wrong against the Texans, he just didn’t do anything at all. I’ll have to wait for the official snap counts to come out, but I was looking for No. 54 all day and never saw him step between the lines despite being one of the 46 active players.
It will be interesting to see why Evans never got on the field. Maybe the Titans wanted to be extra careful with his hamstring or maybe they just didn’t feel like he was ready. Whatever the reason, Evans’ development seems like it isn’t where the Titans would like it to be at this point.
Clowney was inactive today as he deals with back and elbow issues, but he still managed to get called for a key penalty. Clowney taunted Titans tight end Luke Stocker after he got knocked down near the Texans sideline, drawing a 15-yard penalty that set the Titans on their way to the game tying field goal. This comes less than a year after he talked trash to LeShaun Sims moments before the Titans corner made the game-clinching interception.
Maybe Clowney should try doing more walking and less talking when he visits Nashville. On second thought, keep doing you Clowney.