The Tennessee Titans (4-2) are set to travel to Houston to take on the Texans (1-4-1) in a divisional matchup between the first- and last-place teams of the AFC South.
Regardless of records, this isn’t a matchup that should be overlooked by any Titans fan, player, or coach. The Texans tend to play gritty games against the Titans that seemingly go down to the wire more often than not.
Last season, an inferior Texans team beat the Titans in Nashville and nearly beat them again in a crucial Week 18 matchup with the No. 1 seed on the line.
This week, the Titans face quite a bit of uncertainty with some of their most important players.
Among those who are injured are quarterback Ryan Tannehill and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, both of whom are listed as questionable with ankle injuries after getting in little to no work during practice this week.
These potential absences could impact some of Sunday’s key battles. With all that said, let’s take a closer look at four of the matchups that will help to decide Sunday’s AFC South showdown.
Derrick Henry vs. Texans’ run defense
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Not only do the Texans enter Sunday’s game with the worst run defense in the NFL, but they’ve also arguably been the worst team at stopping Derrick Henry over his legendary career.
In 10 career games against the Texans, Henry has recorded 1,035 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. The King has been particularly hot during the last three meetings, recording 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns in each of his last three meetings against the Texans.
Henry will be looking to increase his ridiculous historical totals against the AFC South, which includes having the highest yards-per-carry average (5.45 yards per carry) in divisional games in league history (minimum 500 carries).
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) October 27, 2022
The Titans running back also averages the second-highest amount of rushing yards per game against divisional opponents (99.0). Henry has already eclipsed 100 rushing yards in both of his divisional games this year.
In total, the Alabama product has accounted for 536 rushing yards and five touchdowns through six games. Look for the King to try and continue that dominance against a Texans-run defense that is the worst in the NFL.
Titans’ passing attack vs. Texans pass defense
Syndication: The Tennesseans
As we discussed in the earlier, this is a big one because, for the first time in the Ryan Tannehill era, the Titans have some uncertainty regarding who will be under center on Sunday.
Tannehill has started 49 straight games since taking over as the full-time starter in Week 7 of the 2019 season, but that streak is in jeopardy with Tannehill dealing with an ankle injury.
As the week progressed, it became obvious that there is a very real chance that we could be seeing rookie Malik Willis making his first NFL start this weekend.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 29, 2022
Tannehill only had one day of limited practice this week, and on top of his ankle issue he is now also listed with an illness, leaving him officially as questionable for Week 8.
Either way, the Titans will be forced to start a hobbled quarterback or an inexperienced one. If the Liberty legend is indeed starting on Sunday, at least it’s against a favorable opponent who is struggling in its own right.
The Texans’ pass defense is ranked 21st at the moment, allowing over 249 passing yards per game this season. However, Houston seemingly plays the Titans tough more often than not, so this won’t be a pushover by any means.
If Willis does get the nod, expect him to use his explosive legs a ton in this one, but he’ll also have a soft landing spot in terms of the pass defense he’s facing.
Whoever it is that starts at quarterback for the Titans will have to rely on their wide receivers to help them out.
Tennessee’s receivers have struggled mightily to separate this season, and they face a rookie in Derek Stingley who is one of two rookie defenders to play 200 coverage snaps without allowing a single touchdown in 2022.
The only rookies to play 200 coverage snaps and not allow a single TD yet this season:
• Derek Stingley Jr
• Jaquan Brisker pic.twitter.com/XYQGhBkY8o
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) October 28, 2022
The offense may not look pretty again, but this will be another game the Titans just have to find a way to survive and advance no matter how it looks.
Bud Dupree vs. Laremy Tunsil
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Titans outside linebacker Bud Dupree has been a force whenever he’s on the field. Anyone who consistently watches the Titans play can tell you the type of impact Dupree’s presence makes for the entire defense.
The #Titans in the nine total games that Bud Dupree has missed:
— Shaun Calderon (@ShaunMichaels31) October 25, 2022
This season, the former Steeler has accounted for two sacks while being a frequent nuisance in the opposing backfield. A lot of what makes Dupree special doesn’t show up on a simple stat sheet, though.
Whether he’s constantly blowing up blocks and creating gaps for his teammates to shoot, or driving an offensive tackle into the backfield, Dupree’s impact is obvious whenever he’s on the field.
This week, he will have a chance to show how dominant he can be against one of the better offensive tackles in the NFL. Tunsil has only allowed one sack on the year and has a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.9 this season.
Unfortunately, Dupree did pop up on the recent injury report again, this time listed with a hamstring injury. The Titans’ defender had been dealing with a hip injury that has already sidelined him for a few games.
He has no official injury designation, though, which means he’s going to play on Sunday, but keep an eye on whether or not the hamstring hampers Dupree’s ability to be the tenacious defender we’ve come to know.
Titans’ run defense vs. Dameon Pierce
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
Over their four-game winning streak, the Titans have had the stingiest run defense in the entire NFL, allowing 60.5 yards per game during that span.
In that time, the defense hasn’t allowed a running back to ecplipse 70 rushing yards in a game. That accomplishment becomes even more impressive when you realize the backs they faced included Josh Jacobs, Jonathan Taylor (twice), and the Commanders’ stable of running backs.
This week, they face the Texans’ rookie sensation, Dameon Pierce. At the moment, Pierce not only leads all rookies in rushing yards, but he also currently has the sixth-most rushing yards in the entire NFL (504).
The Florida product has had a fantastic start to his career and he is the primary engine for the Texans’ offense at the moment. Pierce will have his chance to make a statement against a stout run defense that is a little banged up at the moment.
If the Titans want to leave Houston with a 5-2 record, they have to make sure they slow down the rushing attack and make second-year quarterback Davis Mills beat them.
If they do that, the Titans should be in a good position to leave Houston with a fifth-straight victory.