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NFL Preview - Tennessee (5-5) at Houston (4-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - You know when you're having a bad NFL week?
It's when your head coach -- in this case, the Tennessee Titans' Jeff Fisher -- is spending time clarifying whether his injured starting quarterback, namely Vince Young, is actually banned from the team's training facility or was simply told he'd not need to attend a routine players meeting.
Welcome to "As the Football World Turns," Titans' style.
"I went to look for Vince in the locker room prior to a team meeting, couldn't find him," said Fisher on Monday. "I had one of my assistants inform Vince he was not welcome in the team meeting for obvious reasons. I discussed the situation that happened the night before."
That "situation" was a postgame blowout between coach and player after last Sunday's 19-16 overtime loss to Washington, which included a heated exchange. Young left the game with a season-ending thumb injury, tossed his pads into the stands upon leaving the field and then exited the stadium after storming out of the locker room while Fisher was addressing the team.
Young needs surgery that will involve inserting a pin to help heal the flexor tendon in his right thumb. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday amid media reports that he wasn't welcome at the team's headquarters and had been told to leave. The Titans issued a statement hours later, saying Young had simply been told not to attend a team meeting and was free to leave.
Because backup quarterback Kerry Collins is also injured, the start for this Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium goes to rookie sixth-round pick Rusty Smith, who appeared in the Washington game after Young was hurt and completed three-of-nine passes for 62 yards. The Florida Atlantic product will be backed up by veteran Chris Simms, who was signed this week.
"We had an incident in the locker room, and it was very unfortunate. It's been well documented," Fisher said. "As a result of not only the incident in the locker room, but also more importantly the injury to Vince's thumb, Vince is not going to play anymore this season."
Meanwhile in Houston, the only drama involves the way the Texans have lost games.
A week after Jacksonville's Hail Mary toss on the final play resulted in a last-second defeat on Nov. 14, the fortunes stayed frustrating for head coach Gary Kubiak and Co., who rallied in the fourth quarter to take a four-point lead against the New York Jets -- only to see it erased in a final-minute drive that ended in a 30-27 loss.
Houston has lost four straight since a 4-2 start and is last in the AFC South, as well as three games off the current pace of the conference's final Wild Card position now occupied by the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's the third straight season in which the Texans have had a four-game losing streak.
Still, optimism remains heading into Week 12.
"Stats don't matter, yards don't matter, all that matters to me and this team is [wins]," linebacker Kevin Bentley said. "We're going to continue to fight."
Tennessee leads the all-time series with Houston, 12-4, including an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home. The Titans were 34-31 home losers when the teams met in Week 2, but returned the favor with a 20-17 triumph at Reliant Stadium in Week 11. The clubs embarked on a conventional home-and-home split in 2008, including a 13-12 triumph for the Texans over the eventual AFC South champs.
The Titans franchise, which resided in Houston from 1960 through 1996, is 6-2 in returns to its former home city.
Fisher is 12-4 against the Texans, while Kubiak is 2-6 against both Fisher and Tennessee as a head man.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
It could be a long day for the Texans, who've had trouble all season keeping opponents in check. Tennessee is fifth in the league in scoring offense with 25.7 points per game, though its yards per game average of 311.7 is just 26th overall. Passers Young and Collins have been one spot from the bottom with a 184.7 yards per game rate through the air, but the Titans' ground game has churned out 127 yards per week, which is eighth-best among the 32 teams.
Houston, meanwhile, is 31st in both scoring defense (28.7 ppg) and total yards allowed (408.8 ypg), while its pass defense is dead last as opposing quarterback have thrown for 301 yards on average. The Texans have allowed 107.8 yards per week on the ground.
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson is a game short of tying former Houston Oiler Earl Campbell for an NFL-record nine straight 100-yard games in November. He's also 32 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for the third straight year. Johnson has averaged 6.6 yards per carry against the Texans for this career. On the outside, wide receiver Randy Moss is three catches short of Andre Reed for eighth all-time and Nate Washington has gone for 100 yards in two of his last three starts.
For the Texans, safety Bernard Pollard leads the team with 80 tackles and end and former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams has 2 1/2 sacks in his last three games.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The Texans are among the league's elite in scoring offense, total yards and rushing yards, logging in at ninth (24.4 ppg), seventh (369.9 ypg) and ninth (127.0 ypg), respectively, among 32 teams in those categories. Their passing clip of 242.9 yards each week, on the other hand, is just barely out of the top 10 at No. 12.
Tennessee has been stingy on the scoreboard in surrendering 19.8 points per week -- eighth-best in the league -- and is tough against the run with an 11th-best rate of 103.5 yards allowed per game. Opposing passers have had success, however, riddling the secondary for a weekly rate of 258.7 yards that leaves the Titans 26th overall. Their average of 362.2 yards per game allowed is 24th in the NFL.
Houston running back Arian Foster leads the league with 12 rushing touchdowns and needs two to surpass Domanick Williams for the franchise single-season record. He leads the NFL in scrimmage yards as well with 1,382. Houston's total of 15 rushing scores is also tops in the league. Through the air, quarterback Matt Schaub has completed 64.1 percent of his throws for 662 yards, six touchdowns and a 116.5 passer rating in his last two matchups against Tennessee. Top target Andre Johnson has seven career touchdowns against the Titans, his most against any foe, while tight end Joel Dreessen is coming off a career-high 106 receiving yards last week.
The Titans' defense leads the AFC and is second in the league with 15 interceptions and is tied for second in the NFL with 30 sacks. Tackle Tony Brown had two sacks in his last game against Houston, while linebacker Will Witherspoon picked off his first pass as a Titan last week. Also, Tennessee punt returner Marc Mariani leads the league with a 17.1-yard average.
Based on the numbers, the most prolific option ought to be the Texans' passing game, leaving Schaub and Andre Johnson as clear go-to's this week. Foster, with the season he's had, also deserves a start each week regardless of foe. The same can be said of Tennessee's Chris Johnson, though he may have a more difficult time with a novice quarterback under center. On the defensive side, Tennessee's opportunism is the lone reason to consider a play versus such a high-octane foe.
The Texans have endured some gut-wrenching blows since opening the season with a flourish, not the least of which was last week's last-minute comeback by the Jets. That said, they're home this week in a backs-to-the-wall situation in terms of the postseason, and a dysfunctional foe with a first-time starter at quarterback should mean good things as well. Score one for coach Kubiak's wagon-circling abilities.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 27, Titans 20
11/24 13:06:14 ET