Texans vs. Titans: Houston defense must play stronger than ever in Week 15

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 08: Jake Martin #54 of the Houston Texans reacts after sacking Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium on December 8, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 08: Jake Martin #54 of the Houston Texans reacts after sacking Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium on December 8, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

If the Houston Texans play like they did last Sunday, Week 15 against the Tennessee Titans could mean the end of any playoff hopes.

The Houston Texans can’t afford to lose their Week 15 game against the Tennessee Titans, which is a battle for sole possession of first place in the AFC South because both the Texans and Titans are tied at 8-5 overall this season.

Houston is coming off a big loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday, while the Titans are on a very hot streak, winning five of their past six games, including four straight with wins over the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and the Oakland Raiders.

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The Texans all-time are 16-18 against the Titans, and since January 2017 the Texans are 2-3 in games with their AFC South rival, with both teams each winning a game each in the past two regular seasons. Houston has won the most recent game between the two rivals last season on Nov. 26 by a 34-17 score.

That was last season, though, and to be honest, it is tough to tell just how good the Texans are right now, because some weeks the defense shows up strong, but when they are strong, the offense struggles, and vice-versa.

Take, for example, last Sunday. It took the Texans’ offense way too long to get going against the Broncos, and once they did score points it was too little, too late, and the rest is history there. The Titans are on a whole different level right now because not only have they won four straight games, but Ryan Tannehill has seen a spark in his career after sitting the bench most of the season.

In seven starts (nine games played total) this season, Tannehill has 15 touchdown passes and five interceptions and has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards (1,993). He’s also rushed 34 times for 147 yards with three touchdowns, so at times Tannehill is even a threat on his feet.

During the Titans’ past four wins (starting on Nov. 10), he’s completed 77 percent of his passes in three of those games, and even last Sunday against the Raiders, Tannehill was 21-of-27 for 391 yards with three touchdowns and one interceptions.

In each of their past four wins, Tannehill has passed for no less than two touchdowns in each game and thrown for no less than 180 yards. A big reason for those numbers is the emergence of wide receiver A.J. Brown.

In two of the past three games, Brown had four receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown vs. the Jaguars, and this past Sunday against the Raiders he collected five receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns, plus had one rushing attempt for 13 yards. For the season, Brown had 39 receptions for 779 yards and six touchdowns.

If the Texans want to win this game, they will not only have to slow down the Titans quarterback-wide receiver duo, but stopping the rushing game of the Titans isn’t easy either with Derrick Henry already rushing for 1,243 yards on 250 carries this season.

Henry is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and 95.6 yards rushing per game. The fourth-year running back also has 13 rushing touchdowns to his credit, but don’t forget about his five fumbles this season either.

Houston’s defense has been a roller coaster this season with injuries hurting the secondary, plus the loss of J.J. Watt on the defensive line hasn’t helped matters any, either. For the season through Week 14, the Texans defense is 20th in points allowed (23.8), 25th in yards allowed (375.3) and 27th in passing yards allowed (265.8) per game.

Houston is also 18th in rushing yards allowed per game this season wt 109.5 ypg, so this could be another strong day for Henry, because the secondary and pass rush are going to have their hands full with Tannehill and Brown too.

Is this a winnable game for the Texans? Sure, with the offense the Texans have, they will be able to battle strong in nearly any game, but that unit hasn’t done the defense any favors at times this season.

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For the Texans to win this game, not only will the defense need to play even better than they did against the New England Patriots, but this will and must be the best performance from this unit to date, or it could be a tough outcome for the Texans in Week 15.