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NFL Preview - Tennessee (1-0) at Houston (1-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Gary Kubiak's request is simple: Once more, gents, with a little less drama.
The Houston Texans got off to the victorious Week 1 start expected of a reigning AFC South Division champion with designs on bigger things, but the path they took to get there was by no means without its Texas-sized potholes.
Kubiak and friends hope for a smoother ride this week, when they host the visiting Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium.
The coach was forced into damage-control mode following a come-from-behind win at San Diego, during which annoyance was tangible in the aura of running back Arian Foster after he was waved off the field by teammate Ben Tate during a fourth quarter sequence in which Tate didn't want to exit.
Kubiak explained the running back issue as a matter of both competitiveness and strategy. He understands why two NFL-caliber players would want to be in the game, and he's OK with Tate taking a bigger share of the early load from veteran standout Foster, who was inactive in the preseason.
"I want to keep it somewhat close right now and watch them working to what's going on," Kubiak said. "Arian's been a player who's at his best when he carries the ball 25 times, so we'll head back in that direction. If we're running the football well and we're in the type of football game that we want to be in, I think there's plenty of carries to go around."
Tate finished with nine carries for 55 yards, while Foster had 57 yards on 18 rushes. Quarterback Matt Schaub wound up with 346 yards on a 34-of-45 performance that included two TD throws to tight end Owen Daniels and three overall. No. 1 wide receiver target Andre Johnson caught 12 passes for 146 yards.
The Chargers led the game by 21 points before Houston rallied for a tie at 28, then won it with a 41-yard field goal from Randy Bullock in the final seconds.
"There's a lot of times people say, 'We'll get 'em next week.' That's not part of this team's make-up," Kubiak said. "There's a belief there that regardless of what happens on any given Sunday, we can find a way to win a football game."
The visiting Titans smothered their hosts in Pittsburgh in a Week 1 road win, keeping the Steelers to less than 200 total yards and keeping their offense off their scoreboard until the final 90 seconds.
It was quite a contrast from last season, when Tennessee was last in the league in scoring defense and had just five teams beneath its porous average of 374.9 total yards per game.
Jurrell Casey and Zach Brown each had two sacks for Tennessee.
The Titans allowed a league-worst 29.4 points per game last season while ranking 27th by giving up 374.9 yards per game. In fact, they hadn't held a team to as few as 195 yards in three years.
"That's what we're going to try to do all season long and keep fighting and not let the past keep up with us and turn this thing around for ourselves," third-year defense tackle Casey said. "We got a little swagger to us."
The defensive prowess suited a vanilla offense just fine -- at least this week.
The Titans ran the ball more than twice as often as they threw it, with top back Chris Johnson winding up with 70 of the team's 112 rush yards while making 25 of the overall 42 attempts. QB Jake Locker made 20 pass attempts and completed 11 for 125 yards.
"Next week it may be having to pass 40 times rather than run it 40 times, so we feel we have the people to do it either way," coach Mike Munchak said.
Locker turned the ball over five times in the second of two games with Houston last season, and the Texans forced a total of nine turnovers while sweeping the series, 38-14 and 24-10.
New to the rivalry this time around, if he continues to progress from offseason hip surgery, could be safety Ed Reed in his Houston debut. The former Baltimore Ravens star was inactive last week, but has taken on increasingly more work during the run-up to Week 2.
Also back is defensive end Antonio Smith, who missed last week while serving a one-game suspension.
"We're very close," Kubiak said. "Does (Reed) take more of a load than he did last week? We'll see, but I know we're very, very close. It's still a day-to- day thing right now."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Titans were all well and good up front when facing an aging and depleted Pittsburgh defensive front last week, but they'll get a reality jolt this week in the form of Houston havoc-wreaker J.J. Watt, who's aiming for 20 sacks, 20 deflections and 20 tackles for loss this season. Among his assigned chaperones this week is rookie Chance Warmack, the 323-pound guard Tennessee selected with the 10th overall pick in April.
Similarly, the Tennessee defense fared well with a Steelers offense that lost its top wide receiving threat to free agency and has had a MASH unit's worth of injuries in the backfield. This week, the multi-headed threat of Schaub, Foster, Tate, Daniels and Johnson is much more likely to cause significant problems over 60 minutes of on-field time.
The Titans were a nice story going into an old rival's house and looking good en route to a win, but they step up in class this week.
The Texans made it uglier than it needed to be, but they scored when they had to and stiffened when they needed to against the Chargers. At home, with advantages at the pertinent positions across the field, it seems unlikely to require the same sort of late urgency.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 28, Titans 13
09/12 11:05:56 ET