The AFC South is up for grabs this week as the tattered Houston Texans (3-3) travel to Nashville to take on the struggling Tennessee Titans (3-2). These two teams hate each other, with a passion, and rightly so.
The Titans are the evil-stepbrother of the Texans.
They began their existence as the Houston Oilers, moved to Nashville where they became the Tennessee Oilers, and eventually claimed their current name. They stole football from Houston and the Texans brought it back. Now, with the top spot in the AFC South up for grabs, this could not be any more heated of a rivalry.
This Season’s Numbers
As if the rivalry itself were not big enough, this years game will be a virtual slug fest between the defenses of these two teams. As it currently stands each team’s defense is ranked as such:
The Tennessee Titans have the 9th best overall defense in the league, the Houston Texans are 10th
The Tennessee Titans have the 12th best pass defense in the league, the Houston Texans are 13th
The Tennessee Titans have the 10th best rush defense in the league, the Houston Texans are 13th
The Houston Texans are 3rd in the league for sacks against opponents, the Tennessee Titans are 19th
The Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans are tied for 10th in the league for interceptions (6 each)
Apparently the Texans and Titans have been sharing defensive playbooks are they look almost identical in defensive stats. However, the Texans’ defense has been suffering from a serious case of apathy late in the past few games.
The Texans have allowed opponents to score 42 combined points in the second half of the last three games. Meanwhile, the Texans have surmounted less than half of that total with only 20 total points scored in the second half of the last three games. This means that the Texans are at a negative 22 points in the second half.
The Titans, on the other hand, have scored 31 points in the second half of their last three games and have allowed their opponents to match those points. Consequently, the Titans are breaking even in the second half of their games.
Offensively, these two teams are very different. Their styles of offense are similar yet vastly different:
The Houston Texans have the 8th best overall offense, the Tennessee Titans are 19th
The Tennessee Titans are ranked 9th in the league for passing offense, the Houston Texans are 11th
The Houston Texans are ranked 7th in the league for rushing offense while the Tennessee Titans are dead last
The Tennessee Titans offensive line has only allowed 7 sacks, the Houston Texans have allowed 13
These statistics, in my opinion, are slightly skewed since the Texans have lost their star wide receiver, Andre Johnson. Without him the team has become almost solely dependent on the run game and the use of its tight-ends. Not that they have become one-dimensional yet, but they are very close to it.
The Match Up
This is the first time in the history of the TNT (Titans and Texans) matchup that these two teams have played for sole ownership of the top spot in the AFC South.
Up to this point the Titans have dominated the meetings between these two teams with a 13-5 record. In fact, the Titans hold a 7-2 record over the Texans when playing in Nashville and beat them by two touchdowns the last time the Texans were in town.
The Titans have a new sheriff in town with QB Matt Hasselbeck displacing Kerry Collins. Offensive starters RB Chris Johnson, WR Kenny Britt and WR Nate Washington return and have been doing their part to make Hasselbeck successful this season. However, the Titans have two new tight-ends in Jared Cook and Craig Stevens who have combined for less than 300 yards and only two TDs.
The Texans, having to rotate players in-and-out of positions due to injuries, look more like a collage than a team at this point in the season – especially at the wide-receiver position. WR Andre Johnson is still recovering from his hamstring injury and will most likely not play this week (although Coach Kubiak will not rule him out). WR Jacoby Jones has done little to fill in for Johnson but will be complimented by new addition Derrick Mason this week.
RB Arian Foster has been struggling to regain his 2010 form in the running game. Still, he dominates Chris Johnson even without playing every game this season. Foster has 55 more yards rushing, 70 more yards receiving, and is averaging a yard more per rush than Johnson despite playing in one less game than Johnson.
Perhaps the greatest difference this year will be the absence of Titans CB Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan, and WR Andre Johnson, made all of the highlight reels for all of the wrong reasons last season. The fight between these two players was simply an expression of the immensity of emotion between these two teams.
The battle of the “Matt”s (Schaub vs. Hasselbeck) will be a great one to watch. Their statistics are very similar to each other:
Schaub is 119/201 with a 59.2% completion rating; Hasselbeck is 117/181 with a 64.6% completion rating
Schaub has thrown for 1,597 total yards and 10 TDs; Hasselbeck has thrown for 1,414 yards and 9 TDs
Schaub has been intercepted five times; Hasselbeck has been intercepted four times
Schaub is averaging 7.9 yards/pass and 266.2 yards/game; Hasselbeck is averaging 7.8 yards/pass and 282.8 yards/game
So, altogether, these two teams are almost identical in every sense of the word. Both have very strong defenses capable of getting to the QB or forcing turnovers, both have versatile QBs with similar stats, and both are fighting for the top spot in the AFC South.
What Matters Most
For the Houston Texans this game could not be any more important. They have been struggling to do anything that resembles winning. Without both WR Andre Johnson and OLB Mario Williams the team is clamoring to find its identity once again.
What started out as one of the most promising defenses in the league has become a defense that is unsure of itself.
The Texans must win this game. They have had only one winning season in the history of the franchise and this may be the only chance that they get at reaching the playoffs.
Not only is the team’s reputation on the line with this game but so is Coach Kubiak’s job. Without a winning season, and a trip to the playoffs, Kubiak will be looking for another job at season’s end.
Most importantly, though, is the team’s pride and integrity. Texans fans are tired of seeing their team start seasons with a roar only to finish whimpering in the corner like a wounded kitten. Injuries are going to happen, every NFL team has to deal with them, winners overcome them.
Even fans of the Titans know that the Texans have the reputation of falling apart over the course of a season. One Titans fan summed it all up when he said,
The Texans just can’t seem to put it all together…they’ve got [the] potential to, but can’t do it consistent enough where anybody takes notice of it.
This game (pardon the cliche) is an epic matchup for the Texans. Winning this game keeps them firmly planted atop the AFC South and provides momentum for their next few games. Losing this game hands the division to the Titans and almost ensures that the Texans miss the playoffs…again. That is not an option for the Texans and is most assuredly not an option for Texans fans or for Texans Bob McNair.