I think we all agree that the AFC south has looked bad this season. But the thing is, as we approach the midpoint of the year, it’s still a wide open race. The Houston Texans are a game out and the Tennessee Titans just a game and a half out, despite the two teams having a combined record of 3-10.
This week I caught up with Titan Sized, the fansided Titans site for some insight into this week’s matchup. TS editor Les Bailey and I were able to bounce some questions off one another heading into Sunday’s game.
Me: The Titans are one of the top pass defenses in the league so far this season. What has made the difference this year?
TS: The answer to all questions about the Titans defense is Dick LeBeau. It took some time and a mix of the right players to make this 3-4 thing work, but I think the re-signing of Derrick Morgan and the addition on Brian Orakpo was the key. A good pass defense starts with pressure on the quarterback and adding Orakpo has made Morgan much better. I’m not sure if Perrish Cox who we picked up from the 49ers will be be active for the game on Sunday but Cody Riggs has filled in nicely. They were able to hold Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to 10 points last week.
Me: How do you think the Titans pass defense will fare against DeAndre Hopkins, who has been arguably the best receiver in the NFL so far this year (leads the league in passing yards)?
TS: Like I said above, if they can keep pressure on Brian Hoyer, it can make throwing to Hopkins difficult. But Johnny Manziel and Travis Benjamin torched them pretty bad in Cleveland in week two, so it will depend if the Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde defense shows up in Houston. Of course Jason McCourty was out for a while and this secondary has gotten better since he got back on the field.
Me: If Marcus Mariota can’t play or is limited, will the Titans offense struggle?
TS: The Titans offense started to struggle in the Buffalo game, and I think it was a combination of the constant pressure on the rookie QB, defensive coordinators having film on him and Ken Whisenhunt‘s tendency to abandon the run game too early that has caused the struggles. Both quarterbacks can put points on the board but the play-action doesn’t work unless the running game works.
Me: The Texans run defense has been shredded so far this season and also given up some big passing plays. Who is one playmaker that we should keep our eyes on for Tennessee?
TS: Ken Whisenhunt has been torched all week in the media and with the fan base for not continuing to pound Antonio Andrews at the Falcons last week. I think Andrews is emerging as the lead back and if the Titans can run the ball against Houston, Andrews will be the reason. That will slow the rush a little and let the play action work.
Me: Final score and who wins.
TS: Unfortunately, both teams need a win desperately and I think getting away from Nashville may take some of the pressure off the Titans. If they can get back to where they were when they almost beat the Colts, Houston could be in trouble. Titans have a breakout day and beat the Texans 20-17.