John McClain: 5 plot lines for Texans-Titans

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Becker/AP/Shutterstock (13489109ak) Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks looks on before an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in Las Vegas Texans Raiders Football, Las Vegas, United States – 23 Oct 2022

John McClain: 5 plot lines for Texans-Titans

The Texans take a 1-4-1 record into Sunday’s game against the Titans at NRG Stadium. They’ve had a chance to win every game in the fourth quarter but failed to do so five times. Here are five plot lines that could determine the Texans’ chances of upsetting Tennessee.


The last time the Titans saw quarterback Davis Mills, he played an outstanding game. It was the last game of the 2021 season. Tennessee needed to win at NRG Stadium to secure home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Mills made it tough on them before the Titans were able to escape with a 28-25 victory.

In the last game of his rookie season, Mills completed 23-of-33 passes (69.7 percent) for 301 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His passer rating was 128.5 – one of his four triple-digit ratings during the season. In those four games, Mills had 10 touchdowns and one interception. He’s yet to reach a rating of 100 this season under new play-caller Pep Hamilton.

Mills is coming off his best game in the 38-20 loss at Las Vegas, their most lopsided of the season. He threw a pick-six at the end of the game that allowed the score to get out of hand. Against the Raiders, Mills was 28-of-41 (68.3 percent) for 302 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. His rating was a season-best 95.8.

If the Texans are going to upset the Titans, Mills will have to play like he did in his one appearance against them as a rookie. Through six games, he’s been unable to come close to that performance.


The trade deadline is Tuesday at 3, and there’s a lot of speculation general manager Nick Caserio is going to trade receiver Brandin Cooks, who leads the team with 28 catches. He has one touchdown and averages 10 yards a reception.

There are two issues with trading Cooks. First, his contract makes a deal difficult because of the impact it would have on the Texans’ salary cap. After compiling a second consecutive 1,000-yard season with the Texans, he signed a two-year, $39.7 million contract this year, including $36 million guaranteed. They’d take a $25 million cap hit spread over two years — $8 million this year and $17 million in 2023.

The Texans are $2.27 million under the cap, according to To trade Cooks, they’d have to manipulate another contract or two.

Also, if Nico Collins is going to miss time with a groin injury suffered in the loss to the Raiders, it makes no sense to trade Cooks when Caserio, Lovie Smith, and Pep Hamilton are trying to help Davis Mills improve. Playing without Cooks and Collins makes no sense.

If Sunday is Cooks’ last game with the Texans, he’ll want to go out in style with an impressive performance against Tennessee. So far, there’s been little resemblance between the Cooks of 2022 and the Cooks of his first two seasons with the Texans.


Rookie running back Dameon Pierce is the best thing the Texans have going on offense. He’s Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel’s type of back – hard-working, tough, powerful, and consistent. Vrabel gets his first look at Pierce, who has 106 carries for 504 yards (4.8 average) and three touchdowns. Pierce probably needs to have the best game of his rookie season to help the offense control the ball and defeat the Titans.

Pierce, who played at Florida, is getting his first look at another SEC running back, Derrick Henry (Alabama). Henry is coming off three consecutive 100-yard performances during the Titans’ four-game winning streak. More impressive, Henry is coming off three straight 200-yard performances against the Texans. He’s trying to become the first player in league history to run for at least 150 yards in four consecutive games against one opponent.


It’s going to be compelling to see how Mike Vrabel utilizes his exceptional defensive tackle, Jeffery Simmons, against the Texans. Simmons lines up on both sides and occasionally on the nose. He’s quick, strong, agile, and relentless. It usually requires two blockers to take him on.

Simmons can line up over right guard A.J. Cann. They know each other well because they played against each other twice a season when Cann was with Jacksonville.

On the other hand, it makes sense for Simmons to test rookie left guard Kenyon Green. He’s off to a solid start as a run blocker and pass protector, but he hasn’t faced anyone as talented as Simmons. It’s going to be one of the more interesting strategic decisions Vrabel and his staff will make.


If the Texans have their problems finishing games, as Lovie Smith has to point out almost every week, check out Tennessee’s issues in the fourth quarter.

The Titans bring a four-game winning streak to NRG Stadium. They lead the AFC South with a 4-2 record. They’ve accomplished this feat despite scoring only six points in the fourth quarter. They’ve been outscored 81-20 in the second half, and yet they continue to win. They’re fast starters with a 45-13 advantage in the first quarter and 50-34 in the second.

As for the Texans, they start slow and finish slow. They’ve been outscored 29-10 in the first quarter and 58-17 in the fourth. They have 43-36 and 36-14 advantages in the second and third quarters.

(John McClain writes four times a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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