TITANS // TEXANS OVERVIEW
Last week’s Monday Night Football classic (63 point Over/Under // total score of 105) has been replaced with what shapes up as a defensive slug-fest between two teams in the 7-3 Texans and the 5-5 Titans who prefer to lean on the run (Tennessee ranks 31st in pass play rate; Houston ranks 29th) and play good defense (Tennessee has allowed the second fewest points per game; Houston has allowed the sixth fewest). The Titans also rank 31st in pace of play and 29th in plays per game. Each team is strong against the run (Houston ranks fourth in yards allowed per carry; Tennessee ranks seventh), which may push the other to the air a bit more often — but as of right now, it also appears that Marcus Mariota will either miss or be playing through another nerve issue. When Blaine Gabbert was forced to start earlier in the year, the Titans did win (incidentally, that game came at home against the Texans), but Gabbert threw for only 117 total yards.
These teams rank 24th and 25th in drive success rate on offense, and the Texans’ defense has allowed the second lowest drive success rate. Tennessee boasts the number two red zone defense in football, while the Texans have struggled in the red zone to the tune of the fourth worst red zone touchdown rate in the league. Defense and field position will be the name of this one — with the Texans better positioned to break through for some big plays or long scores, but with the Titans accustomed to winning ugly by this point in the season, and sure to find some ways to keep this game close.
Vegas has installed the Texans as early six point favorites. This game carries an early-week Over/Under of only 41.5.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
Houston has excelled against the pass this year, allowing a below-average aDOT, a below-average catch rate, and a below-average YAC/R rate — leading to this team ranking top five in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt, while giving up the eighth fewest passing yards per game. Even with Mariota healthy (or at least on the field) for much of the season, the Titans rank 30th in passing yards per game. This is a poor setup for the Titans, who will be leaning on Gabbert or a less-than-100% Mariota in this spot.
The Texans have ranked middle of the pack this year in receptions allowed to wide receivers (even with a below-average catch rate allowed to the position), but only seven teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to wideouts, and no team in the NFL has given up fewer wide receiver touchdowns — making “upside” especially tough to try to pin down in this spot. The Texans have been aided by one of the softest pass game schedules in the NFL (since playing New England in Week 1, this team has faced — in order — the Titans // Giants // Colts // Cowboys // Bills // Jaguars // Dolphins // Broncos // Redskins), but the Titans are very much at home with the worst teams on that list, and it is worth paying attention to the fact that this defense has not allowed bad passing attacks to beat them through the air. T.Y. Hilton, Odell Beckham, and DeVante Parker are the only wideouts this year to top even 85 yards against the Texans. The DeVante Parker outlier theoretically gives some hope to the prospects of Corey Davis if Mariota does indeed start (and does indeed prove to be healthy) — though most of those yards for Parker came on the pass that bounced off a couple players and shot upfield into his waiting arms (not exactly something the Titans can draw up).
On the season, Davis has four games already of four or fewer targets…and five games of seven to 10 targets — creating further inconsistency in stat lines that have already been affected by mostly-poor quarterback play. Davis does have the personal ability to win in this matchup. His 13 red zone targets rank 17th in the NFL.
Behind Davis, this team has produced only two wide receiver stat lines of more than 37 yards — a 77-yard outlier from Taywan Taylor, and an even crazier 101-yard outlier from Tajae Sharpe. Your likeliest outcome from players not named Davis is 37 or fewer receiving yards — but if playing this ugly Showdown slate, you could always bet on an outlier. Taylor appears set to return this week, which will likely push Cameron Batson (yardage totals of 21 // 36 // 5 in his three games on the field) back to the sidelines.
This passing attack (such as it is) wraps up with Jonnu Smith, who “established himself as a main piece on this offense” last week (I’ve seen it framed that way) with an eight target game — though before we get too excited about locking and loading this play, we should keep in mind those outlier games from Taywan and Sharpe (each of whom saw nine targets in those spots). Jonnu saw eight targets last week and went 6-44-0, after going 3-45-1 and 2-33-1 the previous two weeks. He has been an every-down player and has been running pass routes ever since Delanie Walker went down, so there is no guarantee that he is suddenly more than a two- to three-target guy (he had not topped three targets before last week, and he had finished below two targets only twice), but Houston has been stout against wideouts and vulnerable to tight ends (11th most catches allowed to the position; 13th most yards), creating some room for hope.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
The Titans’ up-and-down backfield will have a tremendously difficult matchup against a Houston run defense that is definitely for real, with the fourth fewest yards allowed per carry on the season in spite of facing some challenging running back matchups along the way. Only eight teams have allowed fewer rushing yards to running backs, and only eight teams have allowed fewer receiving yards.
For the fourth consecutive game, Dion Lewis dominated snaps in the Titans’ backfield last week, continuing to relegate Derrick Henry to low-volume, touchdown-dependent status. Henry has not topped 58 rushing yards in a game this year, and he has only eight catches all season. He has not topped 12 carries since Week 3.
Along the way, however, Lewis disappointed for the second consecutive game — notching only 2.4 yards per carry on 10 attempts, and grabbing only one catch for eight yards. In this matchup, Lewis will likely need to return to a heavier pass game role or will require a touchdown in order to provide value.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
The best matchup in this game belongs to a Texans passing attack that will be taking on a Titans team that is above-average, but not scary against the pass — allowing the fifth lowest YAC/R rate in the NFL, but otherwise allowing a league-average aDOT and a league-average catch rate, leading to a yards allowed per pass attempt mark of 7.4 (13th lowest in the league). Tennessee has allowed the ninth fewest passing yards per game this season, but part of this has been their ability to limit receiving production to running backs and tight ends (second fewest receiving yards allowed to each position). The Texans use their running backs and tight ends in the pass game as infrequently as any team in the league. The Titans have been far more attackable with wide receivers — surrendering the eighth most catches, the 10th most yards, and the sixth most touchdowns to the position.
The only thing that really has the potential to stand in the way of DeAndre Hopkins here is the Texans’ recent obsession with running the ball — which they kept up last week against a Washington team that opponents had been avoiding against the run all year. After seeing double-digit targets in five consecutive games to kick off the year, Hopkins has target counts across his last five games of 6 // 8 // 7 // 12 // 6. If this game were on the Main Slate, this would be more of a concern. Ultimately: Hopkins getting six to eight targets in a great matchup is a whole lot better than any receiver on the Titans getting seven to nine targets against the Texans. Hopkins has the most targets in the NFL inside the 10-yard-line. He fairly clearly carries the highest floor/ceiling projection on this one-game slate.
The number two man in this passing attack appears to be our boy Keke Coutee, who saw nine targets in his return to the field last week — eight more than aging teammate Demaryius Thomas (who had zero catches on one look). Coutee adds such an exciting element to this offense with his speed on underneath routes — and even with him failing to connect on his one target that came more than seven yards downfield, he still piled up 77 yards on his five catches.
Behind these two, you could bet on the idea that maybe Demaryius gets more involved (he should certainly see more than just one target) — but this attack will operate best moving forward if it belongs to Hopkins and Coutee, and it’s a safe bet that Bill O’Brien is fully aware of this fact.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
With the Texans becoming one of the run-heaviest teams in the NFL since the first few weeks of the season, Lamar Miller has seen recent touch counts of 17 // 23 // 18 // 14 // 23. He has scored only three touchdowns all year, and he will be taking on a Titans defense that has allowed the seventh fewest yards per carry and the second fewest receiving yards to backs, while allowing the fewest running back touchdowns in the NFL — thoroughly limiting upside expectations on this play. But regardless of what Miller does with the ball in his hands, the touches should be there — creating some value on the Showdown.
Behind Miller, Alfred Blue continues to mix in for eight or more carries per game, though he has still not topped 46 rushing yards in a game this year. My goodness, is this ever an ugly Showdown slate.
There is nothing I like on the Titans’ side the ball from a raw-projection perspective, as this offense we have been avoiding for much of the season is entering one of their most difficult matchups on the year. Houston has allowed the seventh fewest yards per game in the NFL this year, and Tennessee has accumulated the third fewest (ahead of only the Bills and Cardinals). The Bills, Cardinals, Raiders, and Jags are the only teams that have scored fewer points than this team. If you are playing the Showdown, I’m sure you’ll have to scrape around for something on the Titans’ side, but even if Mariota is out there, I would have a difficult time actually getting behind any play.
The clearest play on the one-game slate (by a mile and a half) is Hopkins, followed by Coutee. These are the only two guys on this slate who would draw any serious interest from us on the Main Slate, and each guy will be extremely popular…but will also likely be necessary. Outside of these two, the Texans’ passing attack grows thin, but perhaps Demaryius gets more involved, and perhaps one of the Texans’ tight ends does something worth rostering in a difficult matchup (though…probably not).
Deshaun Watson is also in play on the Showdown, as are the kickers and the defenses. As you look for ways to differentiate from the field, you will have to keep both backfields and the pass catchers on the Titans in mind as well — but none of these are good plays, and you’ll be simply hoping you can guess right on something that might hit.