The Houston Texans make the trip to Tennessee looking to improve on their 5 game winning streak against the AFC South rival Titans. The Texans are 10-1 and can lock in a playoff spot with a win against the 4-7 Titans, who are 2-3 at home this year. Safety Danieal Manning knows the importance of this game. When asked about it, he said, “It’s huge. It’s a long season. Guys get around Week 13 and your body’s aching, but if we can play to win this game, we in. So this game means a lot to us. Then continue to win, we’re trying to get home field advantage throughout. We have a lot to play for, so it’s not like guys are taking it easy.”
Statistically, this game is a mismatch that heavily favors the Texans. The Texans rank 3rd in total offense while the Titans rank 29th in total defense, and the Texans defense ranks 6th while the Titans offense ranks 24th.
The biggest advantage the Titans have in this game is the unexpectedness of play calling by new Titans’ offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who was promoted just this week after the team fired Chris Palmer. There is no game tape on what to expect in terms of offensive play calling. And, the Titans brought in former long time Indianapolis Colts offensive coach Tom Moore to be a consultant to Loggains and the offense.
When asked about the Titans, Wade Phillips said, “Tennessee certainly could present a little bit different problem in that they changed coordinators. We knew what Chris Palmer did and had an idea of how they were going and what direction they were going. Now they brought in another guy. I don’t know that much about (Dowell) Loggains.”
Regardless, Wade Phillips and company will once again try to bring the pressure to force Titans’ quarterback Jack Locker into mistakes. But first, the defense will need to stop the ever dangerous Chris Johnson and the Titans’ running game.
Texans to Watch: Defense
With the injury to Brooks Reed, the “next man up” mantra will be in full affect this week and this week’s defensive player to watch will be his replacement, last year’s first round pick Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus has done well in limited play this year, which primarily consisted of simply pass rushing downs. Now, Mercilus will be challenged to also set the edge in the run game and possibly drop into coverage.
Wade Phillips says Mercilus is ready for the challenge. “He’s picked it up. I think mentally, I’m talking about he’s picked it up. He’s always practiced hard. We told him this is his time and he’s got to come through for us. A lot like we did with Brooks Reed last year, said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go out and play and you’ve got to play like you have been playing.”
Texans to Watch: Offense
This week’s offensive player to watch is the return of running back Ben Tate. Although the Texans have been winning, getting Ben Tate back into the fold will hopefully return the Texans to the clock eating running game that they represented in the beginning of the year. Forsett has done well in Tate’s absense so look for a Foster, Tate, Forsett combination this week as Kubiak looks to get Tate back into game shape. Tate’s performance and how his injury responds to the game stress will be something to watch on the offensive side of the ball.
When asked about the prospects of Tate playing this week, Kubiak said “He’s fine. He’ll be ready to go. He worked special teams, worked with the offense. He should be out there helping us on Sunday. There have been no setbacks. He’s been fine.”
Besides Tate, the Texans offensive line will need to contend with the tough Titans’ defensive front. When asked about the Titans, quarterback Matt Schaub said, “Just they’re very active, they do a lot of different things up front movement wise, they’re just very active. They always give us a tough time. We got to make in game adjustments. They’re a group we know well and they know us well so it’s always a tough battle.”
Knowing that a win this week clinches a playoff spot will keep the Texans from overlooking the Titans.