By: Justin Hawkins
“They’ll fight, and they’ll compete. That’s why I love them.
Titans HC Mike Vrabel
The day after the Tennessee Titans organization, former teammates, and fans found out about the tragic passing of former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, the Titans were tasked with an improbable matchup with the Miami Dolphins in South Beach on Monday Night. A Titans fan held a sign “Win It For Wycheck” at Hard Rock Stadium. Going up against one of the NFL’s most potent offenses, the Titans needed to be special if they were going to come away with the win. Being down 14 points with 4:34 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Titans needed a miracle.
After turning the ball over twice, resulting in two Dolphins’ touchdowns, the Titans roared back and played the best football we’ve seen this season. Led by rookie quarterback Will Levis, the Titans scored two touchdowns, added a two point conversion on the first one, and took a late lead with 1:49 to play. The defense held up and sacked Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on 4th down and effectively sealed the Titans win 28-27. It was something special and almost like Frank Wycheck was looking down on the team guiding the Titans to another miracle.
The Titans did the unthinkable, going into Miami and completing one of the most improbable comebacks in NFL history and walk away with their first road win of the season beating the Dolphins 28-27. This week, the Titans head home to Nissan Stadium to face a divisional foe in the Houston Texans, and will honor the matchup by dawning the ‘Luv Ya Blue’ Houston Oilers throwback uniforms.
Last Time Out
The Tennessee Titans completed one of the most improbable 4th quarter comebacks in NFL history Monday Night as they went on to defeat the AFC’s top seed in the Miami Dolphins. The Titans, after being down 27-13 with 4:34 left in the game, were given a 0.4% chance to win the game. In the Next Gen Stats era, since 2017, the Titans win was the 2nd most statistically improbable comeback.
To get to the 27-13 score, the Titans were struggling on offense and on punt return. On the Dolphins first possession of the game, defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson strip sacked Tua Tagovailoa in the red zone and the Titans recovered. That was one of the Titans five sacks on the day. However, 3 plays later, Titans quarterback Will Levis threw a pick-six and the Dolphins were on the board first.
The Titans defense played exceptional Monday despite giving up 366 total yards, 208 passing and 158 rushing. When the Titans needed a big play, they got it. Edge rusher Harold Landry had a statement game in the absence of Jeffery Simmons. Landry had three sacks, including the game sealing sack on a Dolphins 4th down try with under a minute to play in the game.
Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill is the real deal and the Titans found that out, but Hill exited the game in the first quarter with an injury and did not return until the second half. The likes of Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Cedrick Wilson Jr. had a few chunk plays but were held scoreless. In fact, the Dolphins did not score an offensive touchdown until the 4th quarter.
The game was low scoring, 13-13 until 5:34 of the 4th quarter, as both sides could not find much room offensively. That was even the case for the Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders as his field goal was blocked by Denico Autry. It took a Titans muffed punt by Eric Garror and a bad toss to Derrick Henry from Will Levis for the Dolphins’ offense to put points on the board. Running back Raheem Mostert had both of the scores.
With 4:34 left in the game and the score 27-13 Dolphins, magic happened and it was all Titans and Will Levis from there. Levis led a 9-play 75 yard drive in under 2 minutes that was capped off by a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown and a wide open Nick Westbrook-Ikhine 2-point coversion. The defense then forced the Dolphins to a three and out. The next Titans possession took just four plays for the Titans to drive 64 yards and get Derrick Henry in the end zone for his second touchdown of the evening.
The Titans defense then stepped up once again as Harold Landry sacked Tagovailoa on 4th down and sealed the Titans first win of the season on the road.
Titans quarterback Will Levis had his first 300+ passing game as he went 23-of-38 for 327 yards with a touchdown and interception. Levis also showed his toughness on a tough run in the second quarter as he forced his way 5 yards up the field making a bit hit on Jalen Ramsey.
The Levis and Hopkins connection continues to be masterful as Hopkins had 7 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets. The connection showed best in the second quarter to set up a field goal on a diving catch falling straight into Hopkins lap. The two also connected on a 45 yard pass and a 36 yard pass.
The Houston Texans traveled north to New York in a matchup with the Jets but left with a 30-6 loss and an injured quarterback.
The Texans and Jets combined for 11 straight punts before the Jets were the first team to put points on the board in the second half. The Texans, however, punted eight straight times before their first score on the day, a Devin Singletary 1 yard rushing score in the fourth quarter.
In his rookie season, CJ Stroud has been lighting up the NFL and all rookies leading the NFL in yards passing prior to Week 14. But, Sunday he ran into a stout New York Jets defense and was missing his favorite target in rookie wide receiver Tank Dell. Stroud threw for just 91 yards on 10-of-23 passing, but he could not complete the game. Stroud exited the game midway through the 4th quarter with a concussion after hit by Quininen Williams and backup, Davis Mills, took over.
The Texans only garnered 135 yards of total offense but gave up 347 total yards to Zach Wilson and the Jets. Wilson went 27-of-36 for 301 yards and two touchdowns to Breece Hall and Randall Cobb.
The Jets were stingy on defense and the Texans could not stop the leak on defense despite sacking Wilson four times. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard had two of the sacks.
The Titans and Texans meet at Nissan Stadium for a AFC Divisional clash with some heat surfacing as the game approaches. For the Titans, it’s Oilers week. The Tennessee Titans will dawn the ‘Luv Ya Blue’ Houston Oilers uniform for the second and final time this season as they face the Houston Texans. The two teams have met a total of 42 times, all in the regular season. The Titans lead the series 23 games to 19. At home, the Titans are 12-9 versus their divisional opponent.
It has taken 15 weeks, but the Titans and Texans finally play each other for their first of two matchups, with the second one coming just two weeks after.
The Titans enter the week coming off an emotional roller coaster that was Monday Night and knocking off the top seed in the AFC, Miami Dolphins, as they got their first road win of the season. Despite the two fumbles and interception, the Titans played good, quality football that seemed like they could challenge any team.
The Texans enter the week as one of the most injured teams in the league as they added rookie phenom quarterback CJ Stroud, concussion protocol, and rookie edge rusher Will Anderson, ankle, to the injury report. If Stroud cannot go, Davis Mills would be the starter. The week prior, the Texans lost go-go gadget wide receiver Tank Dell to injured reserve with a leg fracture.
The Titans can take a page out of the New York Jets playbook in terms of stopping the Texans this week. Play tough and stingy on defense and let the run game be supplemental to the passing game. After last week, Will Levis showed the Titans that he can be an effective passer in short yardage situations and down the field as well. More of that “Billy Jean” magic should be on deck.
The Titans and Texans in comparison on offense this season:
The Titans and Texans in comparison on defense this season:
The Titans strength at home is rushing the football. They average 144 rushing yards per game at Nissan Stadium this season. The Texans have been solid against the run on the road as they are giving up 85.2 yards rushing per game. The key to the Titans success starts with running the football but can be enhanced by the passing game as was the case last week. The Texans have given up the 26th most passing yards per game this season and that could be the opening the Titans need to find a way to win in consecutive games for the first time this season.
The Titans on defense have been great in the red zone as they have the number one ranked red zone defense in the NFL allowing opposing offenses to score a touchdown just 37.5% of the time. It takes complimentary football to beat division rivals, which typically promises tough and exciting matchups.
Houston Texans (7-6) vs. Tennessee Titans (5-8)
Time: Sunday, December 17th @ 12PM CT
Location: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, TN)
TV Broadcast: CBS (News Channel 5 locally)
TV Broadcast Crew: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta, Aditi Kinkhabwala
Radio: Titans Radio (104-5 The Zone)
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Ramon Foster, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Clete Blakeman
Line: TEN -3.0
Keys To The Game
Levis to D-Hop Connection
Will Levis and DeAndre Hopkins though seven games has been fun to watch. Hopkins has 6 touchdown receptions since Levis became the starter in week 8 and is averaging 17.3 yards per reception. That ranks second in the AFC and fifth in the NFL in that time span. When the opposing team has to account for Hopkins, other receivers run free. This is the first time Hopkins will face his former team as a member of the Titans and I expect a big game from him. Plus, we all remember Levis and Hopkins first game this year in the Oiler throwbacks. 4 catches 128 yards and three touchdowns.
Derrick Henry Touchdown King
Derrick Henry has recorded two rushing touchdowns in each of the last three games. The Titans have found red zone success when it goes through Henry as he has looked like he has more burst and playing more physical as of late. The offensive line has played better as well. When in the red zone or near the red zone, let the King feast.
Rookie running back Tyjae Spears has been exceptional this season in a small complimentary role. Last week against the Dolphins, he had a sort of break out game with 118 total yards, 29 rushing and 89 receiving. That is the type of running back the Titans were hoping for when they drafted him, and that is what they need more of as they enter this week. It creates a new style of offensive approach the Titans have not had in the past.
Titans Red Zone Defense
The Titans are the best in the NFL at something and it’s hard to imagine with eight losses. But, they are 1st in defending the red zone as they allow just 37.5% of touchdowns to opposing offenses. With CJ Stroud possibly out and Tank Dell on injured reserved, the Titans have every opportunity to continue to be stingy despite not having Jeffery Simmons.
CJ Stroud or Davis Mills
CJ Stroud has been sensational this season being one of the top passers in the NFL, but Sunday he suffered a concussion and is going to be questionable to play. The rookie versus rookie matchup we were hoping for might have to wait a couple weeks. In the event Stroud does not suit up this week, Davis Mills will start. Mills limits the offense quite a bit as he is less mobile and does not have the arm talent that Stroud possesses. Still, the Titans have lost to Mills in the past, so anything is possible.