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October 19, 2007
by Jimmy Mohr

It can be argued that in order for the Texans to begin to think about the playoffs, they’ll have to start winning within their own division. Since the NFL realigned in 2002, not a single AFC South team has qualified for the playoffs without at least four wins against their division foes. After failing miserably in Jacksonville last week, the Texans have lost 11 of their last 14 games against their AFC South brethren, including 0 for 2 in ‘07. This week, a home game against Vince Young and the 3-2 Tennessee Titans, represents a golden opportunity for the Texans to notch their first victory against a divisional foe and also snap a four-game losing streak to the team that used to call Houston home.

Last week’s poor showing in Jacksonville was the result of too many squandered opportunities coupled with a running game that sputtered for the fourth consecutive week. In an effort to reverse the team’s fortunes running the football, head coach Gary Kubiak has hinted that changes along the offensive line could be on the horizon. Kubiak plans to give rookie guard Kasey Studdard and center Chris White more reps in practice this week and are likely to give them playing time on Sunday. Studdard injured his hamstring Wednesday so his status is day-to-day. If he plays, expect him to take snaps away from Chester Pitts with Fred Weary possibly moving to center.

Regardless of who lines up on the o-line this week, improvements in the running game are not likely. The Titans own the NFL’s #1 ranked run defense, allowing opponents an average of only 63.8 yards per game. Equally daunting is the fact that only a single running back has rushed for more than 49 yards on them in a game this season (Joseph Addai, 81 yards). Despite having Ahman Green back last week, the Texans running game continued to struggle and its continued failures are forcing the offense to become one-dimensional.

Tennessee is coming off a 13-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are very similar to the Jaguars in that they focus on controlling the clock with a solid running game and rely on their defense to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Their defense is vastly improved this season ranking 6th overall after finishing 2006 ranked a dismal 27th. Their front four is one of the best in the league and features DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Albert Haynesworth, who have combined for 31 tackles on the season.

On paper, the Titans offense has an unimpressive ranking of 24th overall (6th rush/30th pass) and 21st in scoring with 18.8 points per game. Where they excel is controlling the clock and converting their 3rd down attempts. They are 3rd in the NFL in third down conversions (50%), which is a major reason why they are ranked 4th in the league in time of possession (33:32/game). Their successful running game also takes the pressure off of Vince Young by not forcing him to throw the ball to move the football.

What to Expect

The Texans have the football…
Houston’s prospects of running the football successfully this week are slim and none. The Titans own the NFL’s #1 ranked run defense and have allowed opposing running backs an average of 3.5 yards per carry. The Texans, on the other hand, have tumbled to 29th in rushing and rank dead last in the NFL with an average of 3.1 yards per carry. Ahman Green could manage only 44 yards on 16 attempts last week against the Jaguars; don’t expect him to post better numbers this week. Kubiak will have to run the ball to keep the Titans defense honest, but the bulk of the heavy-lifting will have to come from the passing game.

Matt Schaub’s drop off in production has coincided with the disappearance of the Texans running game. He’s thrown only two touchdown passes in his last four games and has posted back-to-back passer ratings of 74.9 and 74.5. While he will face a tough Titans defense this week, he should have time to throw the ball since they don’t blitz very often. The Titans defense has only 8 sacks (T-26th) on the season with all of them coming from a member of the defensive line.

Despite the continued absence of Andre Johnson, another receiver seems to step up every week. Last week it was Kevin Walter who exploded for a career high 12 receptions and 160 yards. TE Owen Daniels continues to impress and continues to lead the team in catches and receiving yards. One good sign on the injury front will be the full return of WR Jacoby Jones who was limited to punt return duties last week. He will bring speed to the Texans offense that will hopefully stretch the Titans defense.

The Titans have the football…
The Titans offense is very similar to the one Jacksonville threw at the Texans last week in that they build everything off the run. They do so behind a combination of LenDale White and Chris Brown who have combined for 576 yards on 144 carries. White has struggled during the last three games averaging less than 3 yards per carry but he is the starter and generally sees around 60% of the carries. Brown suffered a sprained ankle last week and may be limited on Sunday, so expect White to see more than his normal load.

Statistically speaking, the Vince Young of 2007 has shown little improvement over the numbers he posted during his rookie season. His passer rating is nearly identical (66.7 vs. 68.0) and this year he has thrown twice as many picks (6) as he has touchdowns (3). Where he has improved is in his completion percentage, which has increased from 51.5% in ’06 versus 64% thru his first five games of ’07. He is listed as questionable this week with a strained quad but it would be a surprise if Kerry Collins started in his place on Sunday. This should work in the Texans’ favor, as he is unlikely to be as mobile.

The Titans top two receivers from ’06, Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade, departed via free agency this past offseason and left the team without a prototypical #1 receiver. Young has adapted by spreading the ball around to five primary receivers that each have between 10 and 15 catches apiece. With WR Brandon Jacobs out this week, look for Young to target WR’s Roydell Williams, Justin Gage and former Texan Eric Moulds.

Match-Ups to Watch

Matt Schaub VS. Vince Young
This Sunday’s game against the Titans will be Matt Schaub’s first crack at former Longhorn and Houston native Vince Young. David Carr lost both games to the player many Texans fans wanted as his replacement and Schaub needs to have a good showing to muffle the VY lovers that just can’t seem to let him go. Sportswriters love to talk about all of VY’s intangibles and that his stats are meaningless because all he does is win games. Here’s hoping VY throws four interceptions and Schaub goes off Tom Brady style.

Ephraim Salaam VS. Kyle Vanden Bosch
Salaam has struggled of late and may start losing playing time to Jordan Black if his performance doesn’t improve. He faces a huge test this week in Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has absolutely feasted on the Texans offensive line in the past two years. In the Texans last four meetings with Tennesee, he has 28 tackles and 5½ sacks. While he has only a pair of sacks on the season, he tallied 19 during his first two seasons with the Titans.

Texans DC Rick Smith VS. Titans OC Norm Chow
Tennessee offensive coordinator Norm Chow has expressed his concern over how opposing defenses are stacking the line in order to keep the Titans from running the ball. Over their last three games they are averaging only 2.9 yards per carry and without a prolific passing game, defenses are daring the Titans to throw the ball. In order to reverse this trend, look for Chow to call for more deep passes regardless of who starts at quarterback. It will be up to Rick Smith to devise a game plan that takes away the Titans running game while not exposing DeMarcus Faggins to single coverage.

Three Keys to Victory

1. Execute in the Red Zone
Their failure to do so last week absolutely killed the Texans. Scoring touchdowns on their first two drives would have changed the dynamics of the game dramatically and they would have been in a great position to win the game. Their ineptitude inside the red zone extends beyond last week. In their last three games, they have scored a touchdown on only two of their 10 trips inside the 20 and came away with nothing on two occasions. The NFL average for touchdowns scored inside the red zone hovers around 50%. It is no surprise that while losing 3 of their last 4 games, the Texans were only 4 for 14 (28.6%).

2. Score Early
In Jacksonville, the Texans opened the game with a fluid 10 play, 78 yard drive that ended at the Jaguars 2 yard line and resulted in a Kris Brown field goal. Their next drive was a 7 play, 67 yard beauty that ended with Andre Davis fumbling the ball away at the goal line. Their next five drives totaled 25 plays for 47 yards essentially leaving the game out of reach. Unless the Texans have success on the ground, as the game progresses, moving the football will become increasingly difficult against a great Titan defense. If the Texans can get on the board early, they will put pressure on the Titans methodical offense to score points.

3. Defend the home turf
The Titans loss at Tampa Bay snapped a five game road winning streak dating back to last season. They are 2-1 on the road this season and haven’t lost at Reliant Stadium since the 2004 season. Since Gary Kubiak became the head coach, the Texans have a 6-5 record at home including a 2-2 home record against AFC South opponents. Last season’s loss to the Titans was arguably the most disgusting loss in team history considering all the storylines involved. They can’t let Vince Young come into town and defeat them a second year in a row.

Views on the Game

Blake says: Pending…

Bob says: It’s not VY, it’s that Tennessee has better linemen on both sides of the ball. Titans 20, Texans 13

Jimmy says: We owe them for last year; I think the Texans have too much pride to let another one slip away. Texans 20, Titans 17

Keith says: Texans give Vince an eviction notice from "his house". Texans 20, Titans 16

Mike says: The VY Houston Love fest continues. Titans 24, Texans 20

Ric says: We owe them a beat down. Texans 21, Titans 13

Roy says: We will have to establish the passing game early to set up the run. Texans 24, Titans 18

Warren says: Let’s hope the Texans have tackled the tackling problems they had against the Jags. Texans 20, Titans 17

2007 Regular Season Records
Blake 4-1; Bob 3-3; Jimmy 5-1; Keith 4-2;
Mike 4-2; Ric 2-4; Roy 4-2; Warren 2-4

Week 7 Tennessee Titans
2007 Record: (3-2)
10.21.07 | 12pm
Houston, TX Texans Leaders Matt Schaub
130/188, 1,558 yds, 5/5 Ahman Green
51/19, 3.8 YPC, 1 TD Owen Daniels
29/372, 12.8 YPC, 0 TD Titans Leaders Vince Young
73/114, 703 yds, 3/6 Chris Brown
57/300, 5.3 YPC, 1 TD

Brandon Jones
13/172, 13.2 YPC, 1 TD

2007 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.11 Chicago 19-20 08.18 at Arizona 33-20 08.25 Dallas 28-16 08.30 at Tampa Bay 24-31 Regular Season 09.09 Kansas City 20-3 09.16 at Carolina 34-21 09.23 Indianapolis 24-30  09.30 at Atlanta 16-26 10.07 Miami 22-19 10.14 at Jacksonville 17-37 10.21 Tennessee 36-38 10.28 at San Diego   11.04 at Oakland   11.11 BYE  — 11.18 New Orleans   11.25 at Cleveland   12.02 at Tennessee   12.09 Tampa Bay   12.13 Denver   12.23 at Indianapolis   12.30 Jacksonville     Overall Record 3-4