NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Here’s a look at six things to watch in the contest:
1Back in the Saddle?
Things are trending in the right direction for Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis, who practiced in full all three days after missing last week’s game vs the Seahawks with an ankle injury. Coach Mike Vrabel said on Friday Levis is in line to start on Sunday, barring a setback. Against the Texans, Levis will have a chance to get some valuable reps against a team fighting for a playoff spot, in what’s expected to be a hostile environment. In eight starts, the Titans are 3-5 with Levis, who has thrown eight touchdowns vs four interceptions in those contests.
2Run the Ball
The Texans stifled the Titans and the running game in the Week 15 matchup. Henry had just nine yards in 16 carries in that contest – the 0.6-yard per carry average was a career low. But how much of that was on Henry? According to Next Gen Stats, Henry had minus-22 rushing yards before contact and 31 rushing yards after contact in that game. Henry and the running game (with Tyjae Spears) will look to build on the momentum from Week 16 against Seattle, when the Titans performed much better (162 combined yards). Henry has 200-plus rush yards and two rushing touchdowns in a game vs the Texans four times in his career. Henry (972) needs just 28 rushing yards to eclipse 1,000 for the season. This year’s Texans defense allows just 90.9 rush yards per game, which is ranked 6th in the NFL.
3Protect the QB
The Titans have now allowed 56 sacks on the season through 15 games, including seven sacks of Levis against the Texans in Week 15. A banged-up Titans offensive line can’t afford to let the banged-up Levis get hit as many times as he was in that game. The Texans have played the last two games without rookie defensive end Will Anderson, and he hasn’t practiced so far this week. Texans DE Jonathan Greenard has 12.5 sacks on the season, which is ninth most in the NFL. The Texans have 37 sacks as a defense.
4Defending C.J. and others
The Titans faced quarterback Case Keenum in the first matchup against the Texans. In the rematch, rookie C.J. Stroud is expected back after missing the past two games with a concussion. Throw in receiver Nico Collins, who also missed that December 17 game, and these Texans are even better than the earlier version. Stroud ranks in the top five among NFL QBs in several efficiency metrics – 3rd Pass YPG (279.3), 2nd Pass TD-INT (20-5), and 5th Passer Rating (98.7). The Titans need to create pressure up front while making plays on defense. If they don’t, it could be a rough day.
Titans receiver DeAndre Hopkins returns to Houston for the first time since being traded from the Texans to Arizona. In seven seasons with the Texans (2013-2019), Hopkins racked up 632 receptions for 8,602 yards and 54 touchdowns. After being acquired by the Titans this offseason, Hopkins has delivered in Tennessee. He leads the Titans with 61 catches for 939 yards and six touchdowns. Will Hopkins go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season in a city he still calls home? And, what kind of reception will he get from fans in Houston?
6Importance on Week 17
In the grand scheme of things, this game means more to the Texans than the Titans, who were eliminated from the playoffs with the Week 15 loss. The Titans are underdogs for the 13th time in 16 games this season, as the Texans are favored by 4.5 points. So, what’s there to play for now? Well, the Titans who take the field on Sunday will once again be playing for one another, and for their own reputation. It’s a chance for Levis and others to build momentum at the end of the season. And, the Titans have a chance to play the spoiler role. The Texans are guaranteed to make the playoffs if they win their final two games. The Texans can’t clinch a playoff spot on Sunday, but they could be eliminated with a loss combined with an IND win vs. LV + a JAX win vs CAR + a BUF win vs NE ((OR)) a Texans loss + IND win, JAX win + a PIT loss at SEA + DEN loss vs LAC.