1:00 p.m. ET
81 degrees/ Party Cloudy/ Light to Moderate Wind
Key Coaching Decision #1: (TEN ball, no score / fourth-and-6 TEN 34 / 9:51 Q1)
• The Titans’ first drive of the game stalled. They lined up to punt but instead ran a fake punt successfully for a 66-yard touchdown. The play was a pass from safety Kevin Byard to rookie cornerback Dane Cruikshank. The uncovered Cruikshank was a “gunner,” a position on punt coverage that is reserved generally for a fast special teams players.
• This must have been practiced frequently during the week. Credit to Titans special teams coach Craig Aukerman for recognizing this opportunity during the week and applying that knowledge to this game situation.
Key Coaching Decision #2: (TEN ball, leading 14-7 / third-and-14 TEN 38 / 8:34 Q3)
• The Texans are forced to call a timeout to avoid having a substitution penalty and/or delay of game penalty. This was a wasted timeout that could have been avoided by getting proper personnel on the field. This timeout was much needed at the end of the contest.
Key Coaching Decision #3: (HOU ball, trailing 20-17 / second-and-10 HOU 48 / 0:17 Q4)
• Houston needs a field goal to tie the game. They don’t have the ability to stop the clock as they are without timeouts (see above). They are near midfield.
• DeShaun Watson moves around the pocket while avoiding the rush and looking downfield for an open receiver. He eventually finds DeAndre Hopkins for a 31-yard completion to the Tennessee 21, but time ran out and the Texans could not run another play.
• This situation needs to be coached better. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien admitted as much after the game: “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching that play up.”
• Watson, in his second year in the league has less than 10 starts under his belt.
While Watson’s ability to extend plays with his downfield vision, instincts and feel for the rush hurt them here, it’s important to note that these attributes, combined with DeAndre Hopkins’ ability to improvise and keep plays alive as a receiver, contributed to the Texans scoring at the end of the first half. The Texans and Watson just need to be more consistent in these situations.
Tennessee was without key offensive personnel. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Jack Conklin all missed the game, as did tight end Delanie Walker, who is out for the season. Blaine Gabbert started in place of the injured Mariota at quarterback. They overcame these injuries to earn a win over their division rival. Here’s how they did it:
• The Titans’ creativity was the key to their success as they scored on a fake punt for a touchdown on their first drive. On their second drive, RB Derrick Henry lined up in the “wildcat formation” (running back takes the snap from center and the quarterback stays on the field, usually as a wide receiver, far away from the play) for five straight plays. The Titans scored on this drive and it would be their only offensive points until two field goals in the fourth quarter. (Interesting point: The Titans scored on both their first two and last two drives of the game).
• HCR believes that they would be able to score more consistently if they continued to run their “quick game” with three-step drops and quick passes. They did this successfully at the onset of the Dolphins game as well as in this Week 2 matchup. This is something we tweeted about during both games as well as in last week’s game post.
• The Titans offensive line played exceptionally well considering it was without two of their starters and a “swing” tackle. They only allowed one sack and two hits of Gabbert. This was a job well done by the Titans offensive line and their coach, Keith Carter, one of the better young offensive line coaches in the NFL.
Some observations from the Texans side:
• The Texans’ run defense was exceptional for most of the game and limited the Titans to 2.9 yards per rushing attempt.
• The Texans found some success with targeting Titans cornerbacks with deep pass plays.
• One of the most impactful occurrences of the game came from the Texans sideline involving a player not even suited up to play. In the fourth quarter, Jadeveon Clowney was penalized for taunting on the sideline. The penalty led to the Titans extending a drive that led to a game-tying field goal.