8:15 p.m. ET
Key Coaching Decision #1: (TEN ball, trailing 14-10 / fourth-and-1, HOU 3 / 9:42 Q2)
• After quickly squandering a 10-0 lead, the Titans rebounded with a nice drive only to have the drive stall at the Houston 3-yard line. Facing fourth and less than half a yard, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel decided to bypass a chip-shot field goal to cut the deficit to 14-13. Instead, Vrabel decided to go for the first down. The play call was baffling. Out of a jumbo formation, the Titans decided to give the ball to tight end Luke Stocker, who was playing fullback. The play was immediately stuffed, and on the ensuing play, Texans running back Lamar Miller took a carry 97 yards for a touchdown. Instead of confronting a 14-13 score on the road, Vrabel now was down 11 points and facing a loud home crowd. We understand that every head coach wants to be aggressive, but an early-game deficit of 14-13 in a tough divisional road game that essentially decides your playoff chances, is not a bad situation.
Key Coaching Decision #2: (HOU ball, leading 24-10 / fourth-and-1, TEN 43 / 11:56 Q3)
• Houston head coach Bill O’Brien decided to go for the first down. This was an excellent opportunity for the Titans to get back into the game with a defensive stop. Houston converted an easy throw beyond the sticks to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson was playing several yards off of Hopkins on the play. It was puzzling that Jackson did not press Hopkins, particularly since the Titans blitzed on the play. Houston ultimately went in for a field goal and a three-possession lead at 27-10.
Key Coaching Decision #3: (TEN ball, trailing 27-17 / third-and-8, TEN 20 / 12:23 Q4)
• After forcing a Houston punt early in the fourth quarter, the Titans trailed by 10. The Titans faced third-and-8 at their own 20-yard line, and a conversion would give them a very good opportunity to ultimately cut the deficit once again. On this key third-down play, however, the Titans play call left tight end Jonnu Smith in a one-on-one blocking situation against Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The result was predictable. Watt sacked Marcus Mariota and the Texans forced a punt. The Texans took the ensuing possession in for a touchdown and a game-ending 34-17 lead. We wonder if Mariota had the savvy or authority to change the blocking assignment on this play. On an obvious third-and-long passing situation play, to leave a tight end one-on-one with Watt is puzzling, to say the least.
• The Texans running game continually gashed the Titans defense. We did not see any meaningful adjustments from the Titans. This is puzzling considering that Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees is among the best in the game.
• The Houston front seven completely overwhelmed the Titans offensive line all night. Highly paid Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan had a particularly difficult time. An illegal procedure call on one series stalled the Titans, and a facemask call in a two-minute drill at the end of the first half resulted in a Titans punt.
• Even though Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has not played many NFL games, his command of the offense and his presence on the field is terrific. At the end of the first half, he took the Texans to a field goal with only 45 seconds and no timeouts, and it appeared effortless.
• The Titans are a very physical team, with a big offensive line, and physical tight ends as well. We’d like to see them pick up a traditional fullback in 2019 and try running the ball downhill a little bit more often.