Last week, the Houston Texans went on the road and beat the Denver Broncos, 31-25, to move their record to a perfect 3-0 on the season. The Texans had fairly easy wins the first two weeks, first at home against the Dolphins and then in Jacksonville against the Jaguars. In Week 3, they built a 31-11 lead through three quarters in Denver before experience a fourth quarter Peyton Manning-led rally that failed.
Here's what I saw from the Texans last week, plus the first two weeks:
1. Offensively, the Texans are the Texans are the Texans. By now, they're a known quantity and what they do should be pretty familiar. They run outside zone. They run inside zone. They run outside zone again. They run inside zone again. They run outside zone some more. They run bootlegs. They throw deep off a bootleg. They run more bootlegs.
2. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are still Arian Foster and Ben Tate, more or less. Foster still has great vision and is a great scheme fit, plus is an excellent blocker and receiver out of the backfield (though his receiving efficiency numbers aren't great through three games). Foster may not be quite as explosive as he was a couple years ago, though he was never a CJ 2009-type big play back. Tate doesn't have the vision, especially in the red zone, but probably has more big play ability. I think I've written this every time he's played against the Texans, but expect one gain of at least 30 yards on inside zone from him if he gets carries.
3. Andre Johnson is healthy, which means he's one of the best receivers in football. He's destroyed better corners than the ones the Titans have right now. Kevin Walter is still the number two receiver; he was never great and isn't as good as he used to be, but he still beat Tracy Porter (who played great against the Steelers) on a corner-post route for a big play last week. If Michael Griffin is playing free safety this week, he needs to not bite on the playfake and give up the big play. My mind struggles with the concept of Michael Griffin not biting on a playfake, which is why I didn't think Jerry Gray was the least bit crazy for not playing Griffin at free safety.
4. There's a reason I asked Steph in the Q&A about right guard Antoine Caldwell (now in a rotation with Ben Jones) and right tackle Derek Newton-they're clear downgrades early in the season from Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston. Newton got beat quickly (albeit by Elvis Dumervil, a better pass rusher than anybody the Titans have) for a safety against the Broncos last week.
5. Owen Daniels isn't quite the seam-stretcher he was before his third (and most recent) major knee surgery, but he's still a player that can burn the Titans. I think Garrett Graham is a downgrade from Joel Dreessen, especially as a blocker, but he's still a player who could burn the Titans. Jerry Gray played a lot of nickel against the Texans' 2-TE sets last year in the game where the Titans got beat up and down the field on the ground. That's likely to be less of a problem with no Dreessen and less Graham, but still doesn't make it a good idea.
6. Notwithstanding my earlier comments about the right side of the Texans offensive line, they're still not the Chargers. The Titans have barely been in breathing distance of the quarterback the other two games, and I'm not expecting them to get much, if any, in the way of consistent pressure this week. Duane Brown has plenty of athleticism and technique to handle Kamerion Wimbley.
7. Defensive J.J. Watt is your NFL Defensive Player of the Year through the first three weeks of the season. People may want to argue this point, but, not to put too fine a point on things, they are wrong. He's getting sacks (not a particularly common thing for a 3-4 end). He bats down passes. He blows up running plays. He can give Dave Stewart and Michael Roos fits, to say nothing of what he can do against the interior of the Titans offensive line. The other defensive end is Antonio Smith. He is also still good, though maybe Steve Hutchinson could draw him into committing a personal foul penalty after a sack or something.
8. Brian Cushing is the only linebacker who regularly plays as a linebacker every down. Last year he would have been a deserving member of the All-Pro team. I'm not sure yet what I think of his play this year. I'm not even sure he's the best ILB #56 the Titans have faced this year, though Donald Butler of the Chargers is really having a great game (and did a good job in helping hold Jared Cook to his worst game of the year). Cushing just isn't flashing to me in the same way he did last year, though perhaps that's just me being used to how good he is.
9. Johnathan Joseph may be the league's best corner now that Darrelle Revis is out for the year. He missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury, but did practice Friday. I'd expect him to play baring a setback in warmups. A fully healthy Britt against Joseph would be a great matchup. A close to healthy Joseph wins his matchup against any current Titans receiver.
10. The Texans shut down the Jaguars and Dolphins in part by not letting anybody get open. The Titans have better receivers than both those teams, but I'm not sure they're that much better. I am not laughing at the Texans secondary the same way I laughed at the Lions secondary last week.
11. Steph mentioned cornerback Brice McCain, who had a great year playing in the slot last year, as a player the Broncos targeted with some success. The other potential weak point in the secondary is second corner Kareem Jackson. If the Titans had a player other than Kenny Britt I thought was a good slant target, I'd suggest the Titans maybe throw slants at Kareem Jackson. The Texans know Joseph is a strength and Jackson is a weakness, too.
12. I normally don't cover special teams here, just because special teams are boring, but the Texans' Darius Reynaud, Trindon Holliday, has had a terrible year as a kick and punt returner. The Texans have been even worse covering punts and kicks. The idea the Titans could have another punt or kickoff return touchdown this week is plausible, especially to fearful Texans fans. Shayne Graham is the placekicker and is not terrible, though the Texans should not have valued a 53 or 54 yard field goal he made in the preseason in the Superdome as much as they may have done.
The Texans are a very good team, one of the best in the league early in the season. They are favored by something like 12 points. That is a very big line in the NFL. That line is not clearly crazy. The Titans need to play much better this week than they have played at any point this year if they want to come close to winning this game. Yes, I have watched and re-watched the Lions game, and I stand by that statement. No, I do not expect the Titans to do that.