Texans 30, Titans 24
Strategy: Led by All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans have one of the most aggressive and physical 3-4 defensive fronts in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips isn’t afraid to blitz and he sent pass rushers in waves at Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker. That style of play puts pressure on his defensive backs to play tight man coverage, something that can be exploited. Offensively, they’re the same old Texans, relying on Arian Foster and Ben Tate to carry the ball on zone-blocking runs and rolling out quarterback Matt Schaub on play-action bootlegs. But now they have another big-play threat in rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Personnel: The Texans are one of the few NFL teams that still predominantly use two-back sets or two-TE sets. They do go three-wide sometimes, but they like having the extra bulk to pound opponents with the running game. They are most effective when they run left behind their trio of Pro Bowl offensive linemen in left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Wade Smith and center Chris Myers. On defense, they have playmakers at every level, from Watt on the defensive line to inside linebacker Brian Cushing to cornerback Johnathan Joseph in the secondary. Shiloh Keo has been starting at free safety with Ed Reed sidelined, but Reed could suit up this weekend.
What went right: The Texans ran all over the Titans from the start, rumbling right down the field to score a touchdown on their first drive. Foster and Tate combined for 172 rushing yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Their defense tightened up against the run after Titans running back Chris Johnson had success in the first half and they flustered Locker with blitzes. At one point early in the fourth quarter, he had just 41 passing yards. Despite dominating the game, they found themselves down eight points with a few minutes left in regulation and showed poise while rallying to win in overtime with an impressive leaping touchdown catch by Hopkins.
What went wrong: The Texans had some coverage breakdowns, both in man coverage and in zone, when they weren’t able to get to Locker. They allowed Johnson to get to the second level on several occasions, but the Titans back couldn’t break free for a touchdown. And they also struggled to defend screen passes. Offensively, the Texans also struggled to pick up the blitz and Schaub was intercepted twice, once by former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard and another by cornerback Alterraun Verner, who returned it for a touchdown to put the Titans up, 24-16, in the fourth quarter. Kicker Randy Bullock missed three field goals, including a would-be game-winner at the end of regulation.
Turning point: Down by eight points with just over three minutes remaining, Schaub took a hard hit deep in Texans territory while completing a tough throw to Hopkins. That play seemed to kick-start Schaub and the offense. He completed two more passes to Hopkins and another to star wide receiver Andre Johnson as the Texans quickly marched down the field to tie the game.
X-factor: Watt is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. Watt, who had 20.5 sacks last season, sacked Locker twice and hit him two other times. He also swatted a pass at the line. He often lines up at left defensive end in their base defense, but they like to move him around, something they may considering doing often against the Ravens to keep Watt from being lined up across from Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.
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