Shake that Thanksgiving hangover off and get ready for Monday Night Football. We all need this after having to return to work after the long weekend. Tonight, for our Monday Night Football preview and prediction, it’s a battle of the AFC South. The 7-3 Texans have a record that does not match their point differential, which makes sense for a team that started 0-3 before reeling off seven-straight wins.
Houston was practically given wins by the Colts and Cowboys to get the streak started. And granted they did look better against the Bills, Jaguars, and Dolphins before barely squeaking past the Broncos and Redskins with two-point victories.
The Titans have been the most inconsistent team in football. So it’s not surprising that their record stands at 5-5. Tennessee lost the season-opening game to the Dolphins, then won three-straight games (including a then-very-impressive win over the defending champion Eagles). Then they lost three straight (including one to the Bills), decisively beat both the Cowboys and Patriots, and then lost to the Colts in a fashion that was downright awful. So it’s clear they can beat the best of the best and lose to the worst of the worst.
So who’s gonna show up tonight? Who knows. But that’s why they play the game.
More on the Titans
The Titans’ offense has likely been the most inconsistent in the entire NFL. Tennessee has been held to fewer than 20 points five times, but has managed to finish 2-3 in those games. They’ve exceeded 20 points five times, but finished just 3-2 in those contests. They’ve been shut out by the Ravens and hung 34 points on the Patriots. There is seemingly no correlation between how their offense looks one week and how it looks the next. They followed up a 26-point outing against the Eagles by scoring 31 combined over the next three games and responded to scoring 62 combined against the Cowboys and Patriots by hanging just 10 on the Colts.
Like Watson, Mariota has also been sacked a ton, getting taken to the ground on 11.8 percent of his drop backs. Even excluding the 11-sack game against the Ravens, he’s been dropped 8.2 percent of the time he’s taken a drop back. That’s not great. Considering the Texans employ J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, he may have some trouble remaining upright in the pocket. Watt ranks third in the NFL in pressures behind only Aaron Donald and Dee Ford.
The Titans have a strong offensive line but it is weakest, pass-protection-wise, on the interior, and the Texans love to move their guys around and get them better matchups. If they can unleash Watt or Clowney between the guards and center, they’ll do so, and that could spell trouble for Mariota.
As inconsistent as Houston’s running game has been, the Titans’ has been even more so. Derrick Henry was expected to be the lead rusher coming into the season but he has struggled badly with a 3.7 yards per carry average and has shown little ability to even be the kind of short-yardage bruiser his size suggests he easily could be. He’s been overtaken in the rotation by Dion Lewis almost entirely, but Lewis is averaging only 3.4 yards per carry himself, and has largely shown himself to be the better back because he’s more capable as a receiver.
It is somewhat difficult to see this Tennessee offense getting fully untracked against the Texans, especially with Mariota playing injured, tight end Delanie Walker out for the season, and slot receiver Taywan Taylor still out with a foot injury. Mariota has been subpar even when healthy this season, and he’s basically limited to Corey Davis and a bunch of That Guys in the passing game right now. Houston’s run defense is even better than its pass unit, and the Titans can’t run anyway. This seems like it could be a long night for them.
More on the Texans.
After losing receiving stud Will Fuller for the season to a torn ACL, the Texans made a bold move to bring in former Broncos wideout Demaryius Thomas. And clearly that was bringing in a B for an A. Thomas hadn’t been quite as good the past few seasons in Denver as he had been in the past, but Houston badly needed another outside threat to pair with DeAndre Hopkins, and at relatively low cost, they pulled the trigger.
Either way, the key for the Texans will be keeping Deshaun Watson well protected and in the pocket. He’s been sacked on 9.6 percent of his drop backs this season, one of the highest rates in the league. He’s also been under pressure on a ridiculous 40.8 percent of his pass attempts, again one of the NFL’s highest marks. His performance on those throws unsurprisingly pales in comparison to those when he’s been unharassed in the pocket. This is the key to this game in my opinion and where Tennessee can and will get pressure.
Tennessee ranks toward the bottom portion of the league in sacks, adjusted sack rate, and total pressures, but the Titans did get Watson to the ground four times during the teams’ first meeting back in Week 2. And there are individual rushers like Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, and Harold Landry that you definitely have to worry about when facing this team — especially when your offensive line is as beatable as that of the Texans.
This concludes our Monday night preview and prediction and our final conclusion is that Houston wins in a grinder but Tennessee covers and it stays under the total of 42.5.