Behind Enemy Lines: Tennessee Titans
The Houston Texans return home after two weeks on the road to face the AFC South rival Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Titans are 1-2 and coming off of their first win of the season, a wild 44-41 overtime thriller vs the Detroit Lions. Tennessee rebounded to win in OT after blowing a 41-27 lead in the last minute of regulation. They also made NFL history in that game, becoming the first team ever to score 5 touchdowns of at least 60 yards in a single game.
All 5 of those touchdowns came in different ways. CB Tommie Campbell scored on a 65 yard punt return. TE Jared Cook had a 61 yard TD reception. RB Darius Reynaud returned a kickoff 105 yards. WR Nate Washington had what perhaps will be the catch of the year in the NFL, a sick, circus 71 yard grab from around the back of a Lions defensive back. CB Alterraun Verner capped the long distance home runs with a 72 yard fumble return that gave the Titans the what looked to be an insurmountable 14 point 4th quarter lead. The three return touchdowns tied a single game franchise record.
Aside from the big plays, Tennessee had to be pleased with the play of QB Jake Locker in the win. Locker, in his first season as the Titans starter, had a career day completing 29-42 passes for 378 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 113.0 passer rating. The mobile 2nd year quarterback also had 35 yards rushing to finish the game with 413 total yards. He gives Tennessee a running dimension at quarterback that they did not have with the veteran Matt Hasselbeck at the helm last season.
Unfortunately for the Titans, Locker has been their biggest running threat this season as the struggles for their running game and former 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson have carried over from last season. It does not bode well when your quarterback is the teams’ leading rusher after three games. That is the reality for Tennessee, as Locker leads the way with 67 yards through week 3. Johnson is in the midst of another painfully slow start with 33 carries for only 45 yards, a miniscule 1.4 yard per carry average. The Titans would benefit greatly if the artist formerly known as CJ2K returned this week, as it would behoove them to keep their defense off of the field and Houston’s offense on the sideline.
To say that Tennessee’s defense has struggled this year would be an understatement. They have yet to allow less than 30 points in a game this season and have gotten progressively worse each week. In 3 games they have allowed 34 points to the New England Patriots, 38 to the San Diego Chargers and 41 to the Lions. In this case the numbers don’t lie either, as the Titans defense is dead last in the league in points allowed, opponents QB rating, opponents time of possession and plays allowed. They rank next to last at 31st in total defense, 30th in pass defense, and 28th in run defense. Not pretty at all.
The special teams for the Titans have been strong. They had both the punt and kickoff returns for scores last week. K Rob Bironas is still one of the better kickers in the league. On the punt return, Reynaud fielded the punt, took two steps back, and threw the ball across the field to a wide open Campbell who raced down the right sideline for the 65 yard score. The play was reminiscent of the infamous home run throwback play in the 1999 “Music City Miracle” playoff game vs the Buffalo Bills.
Campbell is especially dangerous on special teams trick plays. Last season, he scored off of a reverse on a kickoff return. Tennessee might need to pull out all of their bag of tricks to win Sunday. Look for the Titans to attempt to get Johnson untracked by running the ball early in the game. That will help protect Locker from the Texans pass rush and also give him better looks downfield to Washington, Kenny Britt and rookie Kendall Wright who is their leading receiver with 14 receptions. Locker will also look to work Cook in the middle of the field. With the way their defense has played, their best hope might just be to try to outscore Houston in another shootout. We will see if Locker will be up to the challenge in his first start against the ‘Bulls on Parade.’