An AFC South showdown between the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans is always an interesting storyline in and of itself, but there are certainly smaller storylines that we’re watching this week.
These two teams have seen quite a bit of turmoil to start the season.
The Texans were unable to navigate a brutal three-game stretch to start the season, leading to an 0-4 start that resulted in the firing of head coach Bill O’Brien. Houston finally got in the win column in Week 5 against a lowly Jacksonville Jaguars team.
On the other sideline, the Titans have had to overcome more adversity than any team in the NFL this season.
After playing three tightly-contested games the first three weeks — all of which were wins for the Titans — Tennessee experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 that led to the postponement of its Week 4 game.
There was some uncertainty about whether or not the Titans would play in Week 5, but Tennessee did in fact take the field and went on to crush the Buffalo Bills with almost no practice and with some key players missing.
As we prepare for this AFC South showdown in Week 6 between two teams who seem to be going in opposite directions, let’s take a look at some of the biggest story lines to follow.
The Texans already have one game under their belts with interim head coach Romeo Crennel after Bill O’Brien was fired, and that game resulted in Houston’s first win of the 2020 campaign versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, for the first time since O’Brien was fired, the Texans are going to be up against a seemingly superior opponent in the Titans, who are undefeated and sit atop both the division and the conference.
We’re going to see just how much of an impact firing O’Brien will have on this team based on how the Texans perform in a game in which they are the underdogs.
We see it time and time again in the NFL: one team comes into a game red-hot like the Titans are after a huge win over the Bills last week, only to have a letdown game against an inferior opponent the following week.
It’s clear the 4-0 Titans are better than the 1-4 Texans thus far, but divisional matchups are always tricky, and this is the exact kind of spot in which we could see an upset happen, with or without it being a divisional game.
I tend to believe that the Titans are better than that and head coach Mike Vrabel, along with the the team’s veteran leadership, won’t let that happen and instead will be fully prepared.
With that said, totally ruling it out would be short-sighted. Any given Sunday, right?
If the Titans really want to prove they’re the class of this division, they have to go ahead and take care of business against the Texans, who have mostly reigned supreme in the AFC South for years.
DeAndre Hopkins had given the Titans fits for years, so no team in the NFL was happier to see him get traded from Houston to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason.
Not only was Hopkins an elite receiver who put up big numbers against the Titans, but he often bailed Deshaun Watson out of sticky situations. When the pocket would break down due to pressure and Watson was left running around, he always seemed to have No. 10 at his disposal to help out.
We know the Texans have receivers who can win their matchups down the field, but who will step up to help Watson in the short-to-intermediate range when he’s under pressure and needs to move the chains?
Derrick Henry is third in the NFL in rushing yards with one less game played than the two players in front of him. However, even though his numbers are solid overall, we still haven’t seen him explode and put up the video-game-type numbers we’ve seen him post over the years.
Well, this is as good a matchup as any to get that done. The Texans are giving up 160.4 rushing yards per game this season, the second-worst in the NFL, and they surrendered 211 rushing yards and three scores to Henry in Week 17 last season.
Furthermore, Houston will be without inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney, which will only make stopping Henry more difficult.
Henry is primed to go off in this game and he stands to be the biggest difference-maker for Tennessee in Week 6.
A pair of Titans defenders, Jadeveon Clowney and Johanthan Joseph, will be making their first appearance against their old mates, the Texans, since parting ways with the organization.
Clowney was traded from Houston to the Seattle Seahawks last season, and Joseph signed with the Titans during the offseason.
Adding to those two, we might also see running back D’Onta Foreman, who was drafted by the Texans in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, get elevated from the Titans’ practice squad with Darrynton Evans on IR.