Who to watch for when the Tennessee Titans (8-2) host the Houston Texans (1-8)

The The Tennessee Titans (8-2) host the Houston Texans (1-8) in an AFC South showdown between teams going in opposite directions.

On paper, this is a complete mismatch between these two teams. The Titans are surging at the moment and are legitimate Super Bowl contenders despite all the adversity they’ve been hit with. The Texans on the other hand are scouting college players and preparing for the off-season. 

Tennessee does have a history of the occasional letdown game so this game can’t be completely overlooked. But as long as the following players all show up, the Titans should leave Nissan Stadium 9-2 and with their multiple game lead on the rest of the AFC still in tact. 

QB Ryan Tannehill 

Ryan Tannehill has been one of the more underrated players in the league this season considering all the curve balls that have been thrown his way. 

Pro Football Focus (PFF) has Tannehill as the third highest-graded quarterback (89.5), fifth-highest passing grade (85.5), and the highest grade when running the ball of all active quarterbacks (86.8).

This week Tannehill gets to face the Texans and their 29th ranked scoring defense (28.7 PPG), and the 30th ranked total defense (385.9 YPGA).

Look for Tannehill to try to get this offense into a better rhythm against this underwhelming Texans defense. 

WR A.J. Brown

As great as Brown has been against the entire league, there’s one team in particular that the Titans’ receiver tends to shine even brighter against — the Houston Texans.

Tennessee’s third-year receiver averages over nine targets, six catches, 111 receiving yards, and one touchdown anytime he faces the Texans.

Brown has been on somewhat of a drought these last couple of games so facing a familiar opponent could help him regain that confident Alpha attitude we’re used to seeing out of him.

Look for the Titans to get the ball into Brown’s hands early and often in this one.

Running Backs Adrian Peterson & D’Onta Foreman

One thing that has become glaringly obvious over the last two weeks is just how spoiled this fanbase was by Derrick Henry’s greatness. The Alabama legend routinely had 100-yard games anytime he suited up. Unfortunately, since his departure, the Titans haven’t had a running back rush for more than 30 yards in a single game.

To be fair, it’s from ideal to start life without Henry against two of the best run-defenses in the league down in Los Angeles and against New Orleans. Especially when two out of your three backs weren’t even on the team a month ago.

D’Onta Foreman has arguably looked the best of the group since Henry headed to injured reserve (IR). The Texas product only averaged 2.7 yards per carry but he also contributed two catches for 48 yards out the backfield against the Saints for a total of 78 yards on the day.

This week Tennessee’s committee of running backs gets to play against the 31st ranked run defense in the league. The Texans are allowing an average of 136.9 rushing yards per game and that bumps up to 149.6 rushing YPG allowed on the road.

With Jeremy McNichols officially out, Adrian Peterson and Foreman will both get their fair share of touches against this Texans defense. Keep your eyes peeled to see which of these two take advantage of this opportunity against the 31st ranked rushing defense in the league.

DL Jeffery Simmons

The Titans’ defensive tackle has evolved into stardom right before our very eyes. Last year one of the biggest issues with their defenses was the inability to help out Simmons. 

Especially once Jadeveon Clowney got hurt and offenses sole focus along the front line became to stop Simmons. This led to an inevitable slight production drop-off in the second half of the season.

The second-year defender at the time was still adapting to being double-teamed at the professional level. This past offseason he clearly made it a priority to work on and it’s paying off tremendously.

Simmons is still seeing the bulk of the double sometimes even triple teams which helps provide one on one matchups for everyone around him. The Biggest difference in 2021 is those around him are often winning these one on one matchups now while Simmons has reached the point where he’s borderline unblockable.

That combination has led to ridiculous production out of Tennessee’s upgraded front four. The group of Simmons, Denico Autry, Harold Landry & Bud Dupree has accounted for 23.5 sacks this season. 21 of which have come when only rushing four guys (1st in NFL).

Simmons himself has 7.5 sacks on the year which is more than his previous career combined. He is undoubtedly the anchor of this group and their dominance has allowed this defense to thrive without having to blitz.

This week Simmons and company face the Texans and their 32nd ranked scoring offense (14.2 PPG), and their 32nd ranked total offense (280.1 YPG).

The Mississippi State product is having an All-Pro type season, look for him to continue his dominance against a lackluster offense.

CB Kristian Fulton

Last week Fulton made his much-anticipated return onto the field after a multiple-week hiatus on the IR list with a hamstring injury. Fulton was hardly tested and didn’t allow a single catch throughout the entire game.

PFF currently has Fulton as the sixth-highest grade out of any cornerback (76.9), along with the sixth-highest coverage grade out of any cornerback (78.7).

The LSU product has been targeted 29 times and has only allowed 11 catches (37%) for a total of 191 yards.

Adding a cornerback of this caliber to a front seven that has been surging these last six weeks is an exciting thought for Titans fans. This week he gets to take on the Texans and their 32nd ranked offense. Look for Fulton along with these next two to try and bait Houston into bad decisions throughout the game.

Safeties Kevin Byard & Amani Hooker 

If Simmons is the anchor of Tennessee’s front, then Byard is undoubtedly the heartbeat of the backend. Byard himself is having an All-Pro caliber season and is quietly earning his way into the defensive player of the year discussion.

Byard has produced five interceptions and is currently PFF’s highest-graded safety in the league at the moment (90.5). The Mayor of Murfreesboro also has the highest coverage grade out of any safety (90.8), along with the eighth-highest grade against the run (80.6).

On the other side of Byard, you have the second highest-graded safety in the league in Amani Hooker. PFF graded Hooker with an 88.6 for his total grade and has the Iowa product as the fifth highest-graded safety in coverage (86.7).

The combination of these two safeties paired with Fulton on the backend is a scary sight for opposing passing attacks. Especially when you consider the elite pass rush Tennessee has as well. Look for Fulton and this Titans defense, in general, to attempt to flex their muscles against what should be an outmatched opponent.

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