TEXANS // TITANS OVERVIEW
Vegas held off on producing a line for this game until Wednesday evening, as they seemed to be waiting to make sure Marcus Mariota would get cleared in time for Sunday. With Mariota practicing on Wednesday and looking probable for the weekend, the line has been posted with the Titans as an early, two-point underdog — with Vegas-implied totals opening at 23 on Houston and 22 on Tennessee. After Tennessee allowed the lowly Dolphins offense to score 27 points in Week 1, I expect the Texans’ total to see a jump before Sunday. We were correct last week in all but one of the places where we predicted line movement, and on Sunday we were correct in all but one of our predictions on teams going over their original Vegas-implied total. Deshaun Watson should look better this week with a full game under his belt, and the Titans’ defense is not in the same class as the Patriots’ new-look unit.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
Last week in New England, the Texans tried to get DeAndre Hopkins going early with quick slants and bubble screens, but with no Number Two threat to lean on, that was about all they could get off the ground. Will Fuller is expected to return to the field this week, and the Texans will have an opportunity to both A) use Hopkins on short routes while straining the defense deep with Fuller, and B) build off this approach to hit Hopkins deep on double-moves. Last week, the Titans’ pass rush struggled to get any pressure on Ryan Tannehill, allowing him to get comfortable and find his open man. If the Titans again fail to get pressure this week, it could be a long day for them against the extraordinary upside that Watson/Fuller/Hopkins bring to the table.
Last year, Fuller averaged 5.5 targets per game when Watson was under center, and he will carry a low-floor, big-play-upside skill set into this matchup against a Titans defense that appears to be running a man-heavy coverage scheme that is similar to both what the Texans did last year under new head coach Mike Vrabel and what the Titans did last year before Vrabel arrived. Hopkins cannot be contained by man coverage; last season, he posted a 10-107-1 line on the Titans with Watson under center, and an 8-80-0 line without him.
Most of the targets on this offense will flow to Hopkins and Fuller, while Bruce Ellington will see moderate, low-upside volume playing heavy snaps in the slot (he ran a pass route on almost 90% of Watson’s drop-backs last week, though this amounted to only four catches for 37 yards with Fuller out of the game; Ellington did snare a touchdown, but that will be the exception for him, rather than the rule).
Meanwhile, our Week 1 darling-turned-disappointment Ryan Griffin played on over 85% of the Texans’ snaps, pass blocked only three times all game, and ran a pass route on 75.6% of Watson’s drop-backs. As noted in my roster breakdown at the top of this week’s NFL Edge, he also saw multiple end zone targets…all en route to a 0-0-0 line, on five charted (and seven true) targets. (Sheesh.) You cannot ask for better usage than that from a cheap guy with talent-driven upside, but he’ll be tougher to trust this week with Fuller back on the field. He should still see around five targets, but these targets are less bankable than they were with Fuller on the sidelines.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
True to projections, Lamar Miller handled the bulk of running back touches last week for Tennessee, taking 20 carries and a pair of targets on a 77% snap rate. He did have only two targets on 32 pass routes run (with Will Fuller missing in action), which speaks to Watson’s aggressive mindset and to the limited involvement Miller will have in the pass game most weeks this season; but he is a 20-touch back who is not impacted heavily by game flow, and he is priced at only 10.8% of the salary cap on DraftKings and 10.1% on FantasyDraft (he is more expensive, relative to the cap, on FanDuel, and there are much better values there). After one week, the Titans appear to be more attackable on the ground this year than they were last year in Dick LeBeau’s safety-in-the-box defense, making Miller a workload-driven floor play with a slim shot at capturing some upside as well.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
Marcus Mariota is expected to play this week, but of greater concern is the lack of comfort he has shown so far in Matt LaFleur’s new offensive system — stretching back to preseason, and carrying over into Week 1. Mariota has been inaccurate and has lacked anticipation on his reads, while failing to establish any sort of rhythm with his pass catchers.
On a more encouraging note: the Texans have lost starting cornerback Kevin Johnson to I.R., and Corey Davis saw 13 targets last week in the Titans’ loss to Miami. At 39 pass routes run in the game, Davis was targeted on a massive 33.3% of his routes, carrying over the usage he saw last season whenever healthy. The Titans are likely to be without stud left tackle Taylor Lewan, which will make life difficult for their passing offense against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus, and will lower the opportunities for Davis to hit for a big play. But the usage should be there, and Davis is seeing work all over the formation, and at various levels of the field.
Behind Davis, Tajae Sharpe and Rishard Matthews ran 34 and 27 pass routes, respectively, though they incredibly combined for one total catch on three total targets. One of these guys will see a boost if Davis unexpectedly misses this week with his hamstring injury, though hopefully it doesn’t come to that. If Davis does miss, Matthews would be the preferred upside play, while Taywan Taylor would step into a sizable role that would make him an intriguing speculative play given his monstrous big-play upside.
Behind Davis, the biggest component of this pass attack is the tight end, and with Delanie Walker on I.R. after his brutal injury on Sunday, stud athlete Jonnu Smith will step into a full-time role. The Titans dropped back to pass 41 times on Sunday, and Delanie and Jonnu combined to pass block on only two of those snaps, while seeing 10 combined targets. Houston was a bottom-10 team last season in both yards and touchdowns allowed to the position.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
We have bad news on the Titans’ backfield:
The Titans were charted with 69 snaps on Sunday.
Dion Lewis was on the field for 49 of them. Derrick Henry was on the field for 20 of them. It appears that these two guys are set to play at the exclusion of one another, which takes away the “Mark Ingram / Alvin Kamara” approach we were hoping the Titans would use. If this team’s ancillary pass game weapons continue to show poorly, perhaps we will see Tennessee expand Lewis’ pass game role while getting him and Henry onto the field together, but for now it appears only one will play at a time. This makes it difficult to establish a quality floor for Henry, as he gets limited pass game involvement and will fall out of the game plan when Tennessee falls behind; and it makes Lewis a dangerous target, as he will have games in which the Titans take an early lead and Henry gets the majority of the work.
Right now, Lewis shapes up as the better bet most weeks, as he is an underrated runner between the tackles, and he puts more strain on the defense with his pass-catching ability. I expect Tennessee to once again slant in Lewis’ favor this week as long as the game remains close. But while the matchup is non-threatening and each guy has ceiling, it will be tough to feel comfortable taking on their floor.
This is a great bounce-back spot for Watson. The Titans have upgraded their secondary pieces, but this is a team that Watson ripped apart last year for 307 total yards and five total touchdowns. If the Titans fail to fix their pass rush this week, Watson could eat. He’ll be in consideration for me at quarterback in cash games and tourneys, while Fuller will be a tourney consideration for me, and Hopkins will be a guy to consider in all formats. He doesn’t pop off the page this week the way Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, and Julio Jones do; but that says more about the matchups the other three have than it does about Hopkins himself, and I absolutely expect a strong game.
I’ll consider Lamar Miller as a “floor” piece if I need the savings, and I’ll consider Dion Lewis (and to a lesser extent, Derrick Henry) as “ceiling” pieces in tourneys, but none of these guys stand out as solid overall plays.
Corey Davis is just too cheap for a talented guy who is going to top 10 targets most games, but the Texans’ pass rush and the broken state of this passing attack limit expectations a little bit. He’s still a strong value, even with the concerns.
Jonnu Smith will probably finish behind only Jack Doyle for me this week among “favorite low-priced tight end options,” and with how little value is shaping up on this slate (and with how much guaranteed work Doyle and Jonnu are locked into), it might even make sense this week to roster both guys in cash games in order to fit in as much ceiling as possible in other spots. Although Delanie’s injury occurred on Sunday, all three sites threw us a bone by keeping Jonnu practically free.
SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Stud left tackle Taylor Lewan is out for the Titans, and right tackle Jack Conklin is out as well. The Texans become a strong DST play with Mariota banged up (and with Vrabel saying that Mariota and Gabbert might both play…). This offense has not looked right, and this is a tough spot.
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