Tennessee Titans: Previewing the 2018 Schedule – Week 2

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 31: Alfred Blue #28 of the Houston Texans runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 31: Alfred Blue #28 of the Houston Texans runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Continuing to examine the 2018 Tennessee Titans schedule by taking a look at their Week 2 matchup against the Houston Texans.

Now that most rosters are largely set in stone following free agency and the draft, we can finally begin to look ahead to next season and gauge how the Tennessee Titans’ roster will match up with opponents’, as well as start to put together a rough estimate for wins and losses. With little to no news coming out of training camps this time of year except for notable absences, this marks a great time to preview how each team the Titans will face has changed over the offseason and whether that team is trending up or down in 2018.

Houston, after years spent searching for a franchise talent at quarterback after Matt Schaub, Bill O’Brien and Co. finally struck gold when they drafted Deshaun Watson out of Clemson. After an ill-advised start from Tom Savage in Week 1, O’Brien allowed the rookie quarterback to spread his wings and he took the league by storm. In a well-crafted offense that incorporated spread elements to ease Watson into the pros, he instantly developed a rapport with DeAndre Hopkins and became one of the league’s biggest spark plugs right out of the gate. He managed a stellar 19 touchdowns, with only 8 interceptions, and 1699 yards before an ACL tear ended his promising start.

Watson was not the only star to suffer a season-ending injury for the Texans. Three-time DPOY J.J. Watt and defensive cornerstone at LB Whitney Mercilus also experienced season-ending injuries, which hamstrung the Texans defense in its first year under coordinator Mike Vrabel. The Texans were unable to overcome this injury bug and ended up with an abysmal 4-12 record. The offense was wholly ineffective under Savage and the defense took a massive step back from when it was No. 1 in total defense the year before.

That said, many people have tabbed the Texans for a quick turnaround in 2018 once Watson, Watt, and Mercilus return to bolster a roster with several players that broke out in 2017, such as Jadeveon Clowney, Zach Cunningham, and D’Onta Foreman (who also went down with an Achilles injury). Furthermore, the Texans added to their secondary by signing CB Aaron Colvin, who was one of the most underrated players on the Jaguars defense, along with surprise release, Tyrann Mathieu. When healthy, Mathieu is one of the league’s most versatile, explosive defenders who can provide Houston with an All-Pro talent opposite Andre Hal.

In an effort to finally fill their hole at quarterback, the Texans traded their 2018 first round pick to move up and draft Watson, after already giving up a 2018 second round pick to offload Brock Osweiler’s onerous contract. This left them with their first pick in the third round in 2018. Their first selection was safety Jessie Bates out of Wake Forest. Although some might look at the selection of Bates as superfluous once Mathieu was signed, with many teams moving towards three safety looks, Bates provided great value in the third round. However, Texans fans are likely more excited about the selection of Martinas Rankins out of Mississippi State to bolster a porous offensive line, which only got worse after LT Duane Brown was traded to the Seahawks during last season. Even TE Jordan Akins and WR Keke Coutee could contribute early on offense as well.

Through a concerted effort to fix their two biggest holes (the secondary and the offensive line), as well as the boost provided by players returning from injury, the Texans will be much more competitive in 2018 and could make noise in the AFC South. The Titans earned a playoff berth last season partly because of their ability to win in the division, but with Watson and Andrew Luck returning in 2018, the Titans will have an uphill battle to replicate that success next year.

Last season, the Titans split their series with the Texans. Their win late in the season means little heading into 2018, as Savage was at quarterback and Houston’s season was already down the drain by Week 13. That said, the earlier 57-14 rout does not tell the entire story either. Marcus Mariota was injured partway through the first half and did not return for the second half. At the same time, the Titans’ secondary was still struggling to gel, as Adoree’ Jackson was still coming into his own and the Titans were still trying to fill Johnathan Cyprien’s safety spot after he went down with an injury.

At that point in the season, Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie were also still clinging to the hope that a banged-up DeMarco Murray would shoulder the load for the offense. With Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis providing a more effective rushing attack in 2018, as well as a healthy Marcus Mariota rejoining the fold, the offense shouldn’t sputter against the Texans like it did in Week 5 last year. Furthermore, the Titans’ secondary grew much stronger as the year went on, and new addition Malcolm Butler has experienced success against Hopkins in the past, which should allow the Tennessee defense to limit the opposing passing attack.

Furthermore, now that DC Dean Pees and other coaches around the league have had an entire offseason to examine Watson’s tape, they will now be able to better slow him down in 2018. Add in an offense that should take a step forward alongside a secondary that is far better equipped to stop the Texans’ aerial attack, and the Titans should not experience a blowout like the one they experienced last year. I expect both games to be relatively close, as the teams are pretty evenly matched on paper.

In the first home game of the season, I expect the Titans to pull out a victory. The Titans should be able to control the line of scrimmage on defense against a weak offensive line and make plays in the backfield that will hamper the Texans’ offense. The secondary will experience much greater success this time around against Hopkins, Fuller, and Co. Provided that the Titans’ offensive line can keep Mariota clean and open running lanes against formidable players like Watt and Clowney, the offense should be able to put up enough points to cement an important division victory.

Predicted Outcome:  Win

Current Predicted Record (Updated Each Installment): 2-0

Next: Cyprien Must Take A Step Forward in 2018