After a drama-filled week that included a blowout defeat, the loss of their star running back for the season and the release of their backup quarterback for missing a flight, the Houston Texans look for better news Sunday against the Tennessee Titans
The Texans (2-5), who were blown out 44-26 by Miami last week, will be without running back Arian Foster, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against the Dolphins. Houston cut quarterback Ryan Mallett on Tuesday after he failed to make the team charter flight to Miami last weekend. The team signed veteran T.J. Yates to a one-year deal to take Mallet's place backing up starter Brian Hoyer.
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The Titans (1-5), losers of five straight and 14 of their last 15, fell to Atlanta last week 10-7, with backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger playing in place of the Marcus Mariota, who sat out the game with a sprained MCL. Mariota returned to practice in advance of the Houston game, but if they team decides he's not ready, Mettenberger will get the start once again.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Titans and the Texans.
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1. Limit DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins has averaged 19.4 yards per catch in four career games against the Titans. He enters this week leading the NFL in receiving yards and is second in the league in receptions. Containing him will go a long way toward limiting the Houston offense, particularly with Foster out of the lineup. Hopkins is coming off a relatively quiet six-catch, 50-yard performance against the Dolphins and will be looking for a bounce-back performance.
2. Give Antonio Andrews a shot
Andrews was productive with limited opportunities last week, running for 57 yards on 10 carries. Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged the second-year back is worthy of more carries, and this is the week to follow through on that idea. The Texans, like the Titans, give up nearly 129 yards per game on the ground. Tennessee needs to turn to the running game to get its sputtering offense going.
3. Go big
The Texans allowed the Dolphins to score four touchdowns of at least 50 yards in the first half last week, and Houston has given up seven completions of 40 yards or more, tied for third-worst in the NFL. The Titans, who are averaging just 19.8 points per game, need to figure out a way to get the ball in the end zone. Ken Whisenhunt, in his role as the team' play-caller, should dial up the big plays against a defense that has proven itself susceptible to them
1. Start fast
Per the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are the lowest scoring team in the league through the first two quarters, averaging just six points per game. The Texans have repeatedly hurt themselves by getting off to slow starts, and last week was no exception, as the Dolphins grabbed a 41-0 lead in the first half to put the game away. Hoyer and the offense have to find a way to put points on the board early.
2. Don't abandon the run
Even without Arian Foster, the Texans need to continue to rely on the ground game, particularly this week. Tennessee has given up the fourth-most rushing yards in the league, including 116 to Devonta Freeman last week. Sunday's game may provide Alfred Blue or one of Houston's other backs a chance for a big day. Brian Hoyer simply isn't dominant enough to win games on his own over the long haul and will need a contribution from the running game if the Texans are to turn the season around.
3. Place a premium on protecting Hoyer
With Houston's decision to cut Mallett, the team lacks a game-ready backup in the event something happens to Hoyer. Yates, who spent last season with Falcons before being cut in training camp, signed with the Texans on Wednesday and doesn't figure to be completely up to speed when game time arrives. If Hoyer is injured Sunday, the Houston offense is in big trouble.