In the Trenches: Houston Texans review / Pittsburgh Steelers preview

The Titans keep finding ways to win ballgames. It is a reoccurring theme this season. “Just win, baby” is not a terrible mantra. Heart and effort were the themes again this week, and there were some monsters in the trenches this week for the Titans.

I’m going to start handing out my “Wrecking Ball” awards every week to one lucky lineman on both sides of the ball. My winners this week are Jeffery Simmons and Nate Davis. I will have detailed notes below, but both of these Titans of industry were monsters and impacted the game in their own ways.

Offensive Line Review

One day I may flip the format and talk about the defense first, but here are my thoughts on the offensive line. They were once again a very solid unit. There were a few miscues and unwanted pressures, but overall it was a successful day. Nate Davis was the big winner, but there were multiple contributors up front. AND AND AND, we finally got to witness multiple run calls break for explosive plays. It was bound to happen and as I predicted, it came against a divisional opponent when it was needed most. 

(From last week: “This could be the week that you finally see [Derrick] Henry get loose and have a big day. He always seems to find his legs vs a divisional opponent to start his massive runs for chunks of the season. The Texans offer a prime opportunity to attack in the run game.”)

Let’s look at the individual performances from the Texans game.

Individual Notes:

  • Dennis Kelly – Was good again, he has been having some bad habits slip into pass protection recently but still overall good. He and Davis may be the targets to run at in the run game as they both are working well together. Kelly has done enough at this point to silence critics. He may not be playing at a pro bowl level, but he has not had to. He just goes out and does his job. He also has been really good in the run game outside of a few plays here and there that can be chalked up to aggressive mistakes, meaning he is making mistakes going 100 mph — which is what you want
  • Nate Davis  – Let’s get all the negatives out of the way first: he had a holding call in the 3rd quarter. NATE DAVIS WAS SPECTACULAR VS THE TEXANS. Hopefully, I did not oversell it, but he really was fantastic in the run game. He continues to be very good in pass sets but my complaints every week were with run game fits and finishing blocks. Oh man did he finish blocks this go around. He was a bully, he was punishing, and it was beautiful.
  • Ben Jones – Jones was his normal self for most of the game, aside from a few uncharacteristic plays and penalties. I continue to be impressed with his at-the-line blocking. He did have a few miscues in pass protection and let a few blocks slip late. He continues to be one of the leaders for this line, and he will be needed now more than ever with Taylor Lewan out for the season.
  • Rodger Saffold – gave up a pretty bad sack and has had a few of those this season where he punches and has his shoulders turn on a LB blitzing, he should keep his feet square to contact and bring his body with him to stay in front of the blitzer. The blitz goes around him and sacks Tannehill to contribute to the first drive of the second half stalling and ending with a blocked FG attempt.
  • Taylor Lewan – Lewan has a torn ACL. He has asked for people to not feel bad for him, but I can’t help but feel a little bad and wonder a bit. He had a solid game for the little over a half of football he played. He did allow a pressure on the 2nd and 20 conversion from Tannehill to Firkser that was too close for comfort. He punched and was too high/narrow when the defender hit him with a spin move. He was solid as he normally is until 6:15 left in the third when he was able to display his athleticism and get out on a screen play to A.J. Brown. Lewan planted his leg to drive back around Brown to get the corner off of him, and his ACL popped… just awful luck.
  • Ty Sambrailo – comes in and immediately, Lewan’s absence is felt. Sambrailo gets beat by J.J. Watt who gets a strip sack on Tannehill and the Texans take over at the five yard line. On the play, Sambrailo stopped his feet (which is the issue that worries me as it appears on multiple plays) and ducked his head as he punched. All it took was a simple rip and he was beaten. It’s always important to see how a player rebounds after a bad play. Sambrailo came out on the next drive and was pretty dominant in the run game and better in pass protection. You can see him making calls for the blocking scheme and finishing blocks. Losing Lewan sucks, but I am not sure that the Titans are as screwed as social media would have you believe. He obviously needs to not have the slip-ups in pass protection, but this will be the first time he is preparing to play the entire game as a starter this season. Stay positive here, folks, and give him a chance.

Whiteboard Reviews:

Derrick Henry inside zone (18-yard gain)

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Author: Ryan WatsonThe resident Old Dude who's found a way to still be involved with football after years as a college and high school football coach. An O-line truther who cut his teeth coaching wide receivers. A Titans fan since he started paying attention to football again after coaching, roughly 2008. The other half of the greatest podcast you've never heard of (the numbers were very telling) Taking It To The House Sports. Currently involved in multiple podcasts on Broadway Sports Network talking shop on Coaches Corner and trying to guide fantasy football decisions on The Flex.


  1. It sounds like you believe we have a better chance to shut down Pittsburgh’s rushing attack as they do to shut down ours based upon the trench matchups and the fact that our front four pretty much did that to Houston last week. This is an exciting thought!

    I wonder how much Pittsburgh’s low yardage output simply has to do with short fields and playing with leads.

    Seems like for such a great team, the Lowly Eagles really had their number a few weeks ago. Not unlike us with the Vikes or Jags. Nevertheless, I wonder what our coaches have lined up from that particular game film.

    Would be fascinating to see, if our highly physical front 4 does start to get some hits on an aging Roethlisberger, how durable and fearless he is in his advanced age compared to yesteryears.

    But with him getting the ball out so quickly! …it begs the question, do you want our DB’s playing aggressive and taking chances or simply keeping everything in front of them?

    Seems like we are constantly asking so much of our D-line, but if the goal is to play as much 7-8 man coverage looks as possible, it would seem we have a pretty ideal situation for doing just that.

    So cool to see how frequently Simmons is neutralizing two blockers and/or putting this team in an 11 v. 9 scenario by the time opponents are hitting the point of attack. And often Jones is making it 11 v. 8. With how close those two guys play to the ball, they really do grant is an incredible advantage.

    One has to wonder if the LB’s have been coached into more of a bend-but-don’t-break, play the pass and the cutback sort of role given how dominant these two DT’s have been. If that’s the case, is there a tradeoff advantage coming at some point where they eventually get good at what they’re being asked to do? Or do we just keep waiting for the switch to flip and they get violently aggressive kind of like they were last year?

    I’m all over the place, here, but getting some of my pregame excitement out and enjoying so much the way you fill out my understanding of what’s happening in the trenches and stir up my imagination about the possibilities of how good this Titans team can become as the season progresses. Thanks.

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