The Titans have punished opposing defenses the last two weeks, averaging 35 points per game. They’ll look to continue that trend in an AFC South showdown.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Titans team that’s getting used to winning on a regular basis will head to Houston this weekend in search of another big victory.
The Titans are coming off consecutive wins over Jacksonville and Seattle, and – dating back to last season – have now won six of their last eight contests.
Here are five key questions for the Titans looking ahead to the weekend:
Is this the next measuring-stick game for the Titans? –Yes, it is. As far as AFC South play is concerned, the Titans took a step in the right direction two games ago when they won in Jacksonville – snapping an 11-game road losing streak in the division.But a win in Houston – against the team that’s won the AFC South in four of the last six years – would be even an even bigger statement by the Titans. Tennessee has lost its last five road games to the Texans, the last Titans win coming on New Year’s Day in 2012, when Matt Hasselbeck was the starting quarterback.
A victory on Sunday would also put the Titans in great shape in the division. They’d be 2-0, with three of their final four AFC South games to be played in Nashville.
“If you want to win the division, you’ve got to win on the road and you’ve got to beat the teams that have won the division, especially this team who’s won it the past two years,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “So yeah, it’s important.”
Can the Titans’ offensive line tame J.J. Watt? – Watt hasn’t had quite the impact as linemate Jadeveon Clowney so far this season, but he always seems to save some of his best performances for the Titans.In 10 career games against the Titans, Watt has piled up 15.5 sacks, more than he’s totaled against any other team. He’s also made 39 tackles against the Titans, tied for the second-most he’s totaled against any other team. Just for good measure, Watt’s forced six Titans fumbles over the years.
But if there’s ever been a time to believe the Titans are well protected from the likes of Watt and Clowney, this would be the year. The Titans have surrendered just two sacks in three games this season, which is tied for the league best. Maybe even more impressively, the Titans have allowed a league-low five quarterback hits over those three contests. Tennessee’s offensive line may well be the best in the league at present.
Will the Titans’ defense continue to hold the line? – Much has rightfully been made about the Titans remaining patient on offense during the last two games, sticking to their ground-and-pound approach until it pays dividends.
But keep in mind that if the Titans’ defense hadn’t kept the last two games close in the first half, the team’s offense might not have had the opportunity to stay so patient.
The Titans’ defense held the Jaguars to just three points in the first half in Week Two and held Seattle to just seven points in Week Three. So despite the fact the Titans scored six points in the first half against Jacksonville and nine points in the first half against Seattle, Tennessee’s offense was able to keep hammering away until the opposing defenses broke.
Can the Titans’ offense dominate another second half? – The Titans have brutalized their last two opponents – the Jaguars and Seahawks – in the second half. In a combined 12 possessions in those contests, the Titans have scored seven touchdowns, kicked two field goals and run out the clock twice. They’ve punted just once.The running game has been especially dominant in the second half. The Titans ran for 43 yards in the first half against Seattle, 152 in the second half. They ran for 58 yards in the first half against Jacksonville, 121 in the second half.
“I think (conditioning) has a lot to do with it,” Mularkey said. “We condition in practice on the plays. Everybody’s finishing at the ball, just like they do in a real game … They’re getting in a game-type condition (so) that games should be easier than they are in practices. I think it’s made a difference in these last couple games.”
Is quarterback Marcus Mariota off to a slow start? – Some of Mariota’s numbers are down a bit from the end of last season, such as quarterback rating (95.6 to 86.9) and yards per attempt (7.6 to 7.0), but not drastically.It’s worth remembering two things as well:
First, the Titans have already gone up against two defenses – Seattle and Jacksonville – that finished among the top six in the league last year. This week, the Titans take on a Houston defense that finished as the league’s best defense in 2016.
Second, Mariota, who’s thrown three touchdowns and suffered just one turnover, is off to a much better start than last year. In his first four games of 2016, Mariota threw four touchdowns and five interceptions in the season’s first four games, then rebounded with 22 touchdown passes and four interceptions in his next 11 starts.
— Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.