NFL Preview - Houston (10-1) at Tennessee (4-7)|
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Houston Texans received an extended and well-deserved
break following a win on their Thanksgiving debut.
Playing 10 straight quarters of football can be draining physically and
mentally, and the Texans look to come out fresh Sunday against the AFC South-
rival Tennessee Titans.
The Texans have won five in a row and back-to-back games in overtime, most
recently a 34-31 win at Detroit last Thursday to kick off the holiday slate.
In the first of three consecutive games on the road, Houston made it five
straight wins away from home and caught a break courtesy of Lions head coach
Jim Schwartz, who threw an illegal challenge flag when he didn't have to.
A furious Schwartz threw the red flag when Texans running back Justin Forsett
scored on an 81-yard touchdown run in the third quarter after two Lions
tackled him. It appeared Forsett's left knee and elbow hit the turf, prompting
Schwartz to challenge the play when rules state that an automatic review
follows all scoring plays.
Challenging a score automatically results in a 15-yard penalty for
unsportsmanlike conduct and makes the play unreviewable.
"Give him (Forsett) credit for continuing to play football," Texans coach Gary
Kubiak said. "We talk about that all the time. You don't stop, you play."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub passed for 315 yards and a touchdown, and was
intercepted once. Schaub, who threw a career-high five touchdown passes,
completed a franchise-record 43 passes and finished with 527 yards in the air
the week before versus Jacksonville, completed 29-of-48 passes for 315 yards
and a TD against the Lions.
Schaub has won 14 of his last 15 starts for the Texans, who share the best
record in the NFL (10-1) with Atlanta and have won five consecutive road wins
for the first time in franchise history. He needs one more touchdown pass to
reach 20 for the third time in his career.
"He's exceptional. He handles a great deal of offense," Kubiak said of his
quarterback. "Volume-wise, we're really up there right now in what we're doing
and he's the one getting it handled."
The Texans, who will visit New England on Dec. 10, are 5-0 in one-score games
this season and have registered two straight 10-win seasons for the first time
in team lore. The 10th win on Thursday wasn't an easy one and stud defensive
end J.J. Watt expressed that.
"Ten quarters in five days is draining, physically and mentally, but our team
persevered," said Watt, who had all three of Houston's sacks and his 14 1/2
sacks this season set a new franchise record. The previous record was 14, set
by former DE Mario Williams in 2007.
Watt owns 13 passes defensed, which ties the NFL record for deflected passes
by a defensive lineman in a single season (Reggie White, 1991). He is the
second player, along with White, ever to record 14 sacks and 13 passes
defensed in one season. Watt is arguably the main reason why the Texans'
defense is sixth in yards allowed (319.7 ypg), fifth in points allowed (19.2
ppg) and second against the run (87.5 ypg) this season.
Texans linebacker Brooks Reed (left groin) became another casualty for the
corps on Sunday. Middle linebacker and captain Brian Cushing is already done
for the year, while Whitney Mercilus and Bryan Braman could see extended time
if Reed is unable to play.
Tennessee is third in the AFC South standings, parked behind Houston and
upstart Indianapolis. Its chances of making a run at the playoffs worsened
with Sunday's 24-19 setback to the division's last-place team, the lowly
The Titans had seven sacks, two by linebacker Zach Brown, and still couldn't
find a way to avoid losing for the third time in four tries. The Titans may
have taken Jacksonville lightly over the bye week.
"I don't think there was any lack of preparation. I don't think guys came in
here expecting just to walk out and win the game," Titans quarterback Jake
Locker said. "We knew Jacksonville was a good football team. If you don't
think that, then you're mistaken. And I don't think our team prepared that
way. I don't think we came here with that mindset today. We just didn't
execute as well as we needed to win the game."
Locker was playing his second game since missing five straight due to injury
and passed for 261 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. The 261 yards
passing were the second highest this season for Locker. Locker also threw two
interceptions in the same game for the first time in his career.
Tennessee came away with just one touchdown in six chances inside the Jaguars'
25-yard line. Running back Chris Johnson did not score for the first time in
three games and was held to 80 yards on 21 carries, his lowest total since
posting 24 rushing yards in a loss at Minnesota in Week 5. Johnson was coming
off back-to-back 100-yard performances and was averaging 130.4 rushing yards
per game in the previous five weeks.
"We basically didn't execute the plays that were called for us. We got down
there so many times and we didn't execute," Johnson said. "We let it get away
from us early in the game. Any time you play a team like Jacksonville, a
division game, it's going to be a very tough game no matter what their record
So, Johnson can expect an even tougher game Sunday with one of the NFL's best
teams set to invade LP Field. The Texans routed the Titans, 38-14, back on
Sept. 30 at Reliant Stadium. These two teams have alternated wins and losses
over the last seven meetings. Houston is just 3-7 on the road in this series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
For most offenses, the ground game usually opens up the pass attack. When
you're fortunate to have a running back of Arian Foster's status, running the
football is primary. The Texans know that all too well. Foster had 86 yards
and a touchdown on 24 carries in the first meeting with the Titans and owns
359 yards and three scores in four lifetime matchups against them.
Foster posted his sixth 100-yard rushing performance of the season at Detroit
and is second in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson with 1,064 rushing yards. His
12 rushing touchdowns are tops in the league and has topped the 1,000-yard
mark in three straight seasons. Foster has the Texans fifth in the league with
144.1 rushing yards per game and third in total yards (394.8 ypg). Kubiak is
feeling optimistic for the rest of the season thanks to Foster's play.
"We've got ourselves in really good position. We have some challenges," Kubiak
said. "Every win right now is huge because every time you reach a new number
now, it can mean the difference in the long haul. We understand that, but
right now we have to kind of regroup our team and see where we go physically
and get ready to go to Tennessee."
The Titans are only 27th in rushing yards allowed, permitting 129.8 yards per
game. They did hold the Jaguars to 100 yards on the ground last week, but
Jacksonville was without last year's leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew. Brown
had 11 stops and is third on the team with 65 tackles. Linebacker Akeem Ayers
leads Tennessee with 80 tackles. Brown, Ayers and DE Kamerion Wimbley have
combined for 11 1/2 sacks this season.
Houston could be without offensive right tackle Derek Newton (knee) after he
left Thursday's game. Newton will most likely be replaced by Ryan Harris if
he's unable to go, which could open the door for Wimbley, who has a sack in
each of his last two games played.
Tennessee failed to record a sack or an interception of Schaub in the first
matchup of the season, but did post seven sacks on Sunday. Brown had two of
those sacks for the Titans, who recorded the most sacks in a game since
posting seven against Jacksonville in 2008 and equaled their total in the
three previous games combined.
Titans defensive back Alterraun Verner was upset his team couldn't cash in on
several opportunities and expressed his displeasure in games against AFC South
"We had a chance with the playoffs, and now it's definitely out of our hands,"
Verner said. "I felt like we still had it under our control if we kept winning
out. So it's definitely frustrating because we still haven't won a division
game. We're 0-3."
A big game from Johnson and efficient play by Locker could alter those results
this week. However, luck is not on Tennessee's side against a stingy Texans
defense. The Titans have a poor defense and sit 27th in both rushing yards
allowed (129.8 ypg) and against the pass (262.1 ypg). They're 29th in yards
allowed (391.9 ypg) and 31st points allowed (30.5 ppg). Houston, which is 3-0
in division play, sits second in points scored with 29.7 ppg.
Tennessee's defense is just too weak to stop Foster and Houston's high-powered
offense. Schaub seems to be hitting his stride at the perfect time, while the
Titans' offense is headed in the opposite direction. If Johnson can break off
some big runs, the Titans might have a chance to avoid embarrassment. But
pulling off the upset and ending their slide in division play won't happen.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 27, Titans 17
11/29 13:31:36 ET