Game Preview: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Nam Y Huh/AP/Shutterstock (13419235bb) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) throws a pass against the Chicago Bears during the first half of an NFL football game, in Chicago Texans Bears Football, Chicago, United States – 25 Sep 2022

Game Preview: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans

The Matchup:

Tennessee Titans (4-2) at Houston Texans (1-4-1)

Game Time: Sunday, October 30, 3:05 p.m. CT

TV/Radio: KHOU-11 (CBS)/ KILT-AM 610/KILT-FM 100.3/KLOL 101.1FM (Spanish)

What’s at stake: The Texans are looking for their first home win of the season. While their overall record of 1-4-1 is the second worst in the NFL, they are 1-0-1 in AFC South. Houston has been plagued by inconsistency, often competitive for most of the game and then falling apart at crucial times. The Titans look to separate from the rest of the AFC South and are on a four-game winning streak. They are a game and a half ahead of the Indianapolis Colts (3-3-1) in the division.

When the Texans have the ball: Nico Collins is out with a groin injury, so they will be without the player who has been their best wide receiver this season. Brandin Cooks is embroiled in controversy, may be trying to push his way out of town, and is questionable to play this week ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. Therefore, as starters, the Texans could be down to their third and fourth receivers, Chris Moore and Phillip Dorsett. Jordan Akins has provided a boost to the team’s passing attack from the tight end position.

The Texans also have potential line issues, as RG AJ Cann (illness), OG Justin McCray (hand), and LG Kenyon Green (shoulder) are all questionable for Sunday. As of this moment, they are expected to play, but it bears watching up until game time. A short or weakened offensive line could mean less time for QB Davis Mills to throw and less room for RB Dameon Pierce to run.

Mills is looking to build off his best game of the season, throwing for 302 yards and a pair of scores. Houston may look to throw to its backs (Pierce, Burkhead, maybe even Ogunbowale) and tight ends more, as they could potentially be short at WR.

When the Titans have the ball: Derrick Henry! I could end this entire segment right here. He is the bell cow back and will be featured early and often against the NFL’s worst rushing defense. Henry is a matchup nightmare for the Texans and has gone over 100 yards in three straight games. QB Ryan Tannehill is battling both an ankle injury and illness. He did not practice Wednesday or Friday and was limited Thursday. He is questionable for Sunday’s game. Realistically the Titans could give Tannehill the week off, feed Derrick Henry and win this game.

Rookie QB Malik Willis, who starred in college and the preseason, would get the nod if Tannehill were out. Willis is a dynamic playmaker with incredible athleticism and would also be a huge rushing threat every time he touches the ball. Willis has also shown a terrific ability to improvise when things break down around him. He is their quarterback of the future.

Key Texans to watch:

QB Davis Mills: This one seems most apparent, but Mills played his best game of the season last Sunday in Las Vegas, finally showing signs of the player he was the final five games of 2021 when he looked like he could develop into a franchise quarterback. He was accurate, calm in the pocket, extended plays, threw the ball downfield, displayed confidence and poise, and went blow for blow with the Raiders’ offense until his offensive line let him down. He was 28 of 41 for 302 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT last week, the interception coming late when the team was down double digits due to defensive inadequacies, and he needed to force plays. It would be a big step for him and the team if he can build off that despite all the problems and drama swirling around the offense right now.

WR Phillip Dorsett: Dorsett is going to get the call to start in place of Nico Collins this week, who is not going to play due to a groin injury. Dorsett has terrific speed, but his career has been hampered by drops. He played well last week and caught a touchdown. This is his opportunity to show he can be a starting-caliber WR. While OC Pep Hamilton told the world that he believes all his receivers are basically interchangeable, Dorsett is not the same kind of player as Collins. Collins (6-4 215) is a big, physical receiver, and Dorsett (5-10, 192) is a smaller, speedy type. They can’t run the same plays, and head coach Lovie Smith admitted as much. Dorsett has the speed to get down the field if Mills can get the time for the route to develop.

TE Jordan Akins: Akins has really blossomed this season, his fifth in the NFL. He has become a weapon in the passing game, able to exploit mismatches and get yards after the catch. While Hamilton made remarks that the team would not rely more heavily on the tight ends (re: Akins) with Collins out, I don’t believe him. The Texans need to exploit those mismatches, as the Titans do not have strong coverage linebackers. Akins could have a big game Sunday if they look for him. He has been the receiving TE of choice for Davis Mills, as Brevin Jordan has looked lost at times (failed to turn around for a throw last week) and O.J. Howard has been utilized primarily for blocking.

LB Christian Harris: The rookie LB is going to play and play a lot. His ascension prompted former starter Kamu Grugier-Hill to ask for his release, rather than sit on the bench on a bad team. Harris is the fastest and most athletic of the Texans linebackers, and has the skills to be an impact player. However, he missed most of training camp and the first five weeks of the season due to injury. He hasn’t had a lot of reps and will make rookie mistakes, just like any other inexperienced player at the NFL level. That said, coaches rave about his speed and ability, to make plays. He may need to make a lot of them Sunday with the Titans looking to ground and pound Houston.

The Bottom Line: This is a nightmare matchup for the Texans run defense, which has been torn apart by every team they’ve faced. The promise of the preseason is long gone. The team signed DT Jaleel Johnson (6-3, 315) to be a big body in the middle of the line. He is not currently listed on the depth chart but with Maliek Collins expected to be out and the possibility that Rasheem Green could also be unavailable, he could be a game day addition to the active roster. If Malik Willis plays over Tannehill, the run threat increases, though the passing threat decreases. The offense will have to overcome the potential for multiple missing key players as well. This game shapes up as a Herculean task for the Texans, though historically Houston plays Tennessee tough. While the Texans have lost four of the last five to the Titans, the most recent three losses have been by a total of 12 points.

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