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NFL Preview - Houston (0-1) at Tennessee (0-1)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Call it the "Disappointment Bowl."
The first in what's sure to be a weekly installment of NFL games involving a team - or teams - entering a given Sunday coming off a particularly difficult individual loss or the latest in a season's worth of same, shredding whatever enthusiasm a fan base had been able to muster in August.
The Week 2 participants... Houston and Tennessee.
The Texans and Titans - stepbrothers-in-arms since the original Oilers skipped out of the Lone Star and were replaced by an expansion franchise a few years later - both entered last week's openers brimming with optimism and playoff aspirations for the crowded AFC in 2009-10.
Both appeared to have good reason for chest-puffing.
Tennessee was 10-0 last season before a first-round postseason flameout against Baltimore, while Houston won five of its final six to finish at 8-8 for the second straight year with a young, talented offensive corps and an emerging defensive star in Mario Williams.
Then, Week 1 introduced a touch of harsh reality.
Rather than repeating a double-digit unbeaten streak out of the game this time around, the Titans opened with defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh - missing a pair of field goals and losing a late regulation lead en route to a frustrating 13-10 loss in overtime at Heinz Field.
Tennessee last started 0-2 in 2006, when it lost five straight to begin the season.
"We played the world champs. If we get some things corrected, we are going to be a good football team," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We didn't go out there and get our rear ends kicked and give up 40 points. We lost in overtime in a close game. It was little things. And we all have to understand - I'm talking about players - that when you play close games the difference is the little things."
Meanwhile, for the Texans, it was the little things... and the medium-sized things... and the big things.
Rather than a showcase of its offensive talent and a defensive clampdown against a rookie quarterback on the road, Houston fans were subject to the opposite in heavy doses while enduring a 24-7 opening-week loss to the visiting New York Jets.
Matt Schaub and Co. were limited to just 183 yards of total offense while Williams and his ball-stopping mates were gashed for 462, including 18 completions for 272 yards and a touchdown from Mark Sanchez - making his NFL debut for New York after being selected fifth in April's draft.
In fact, Houston's only touchdown came on an interception return in the fourth quarter, when the score was already 17-0. And it was quickly answered by a four-play, 80-yard scoring drive from the Jets to establish the final 17-point margin.
All of which made for a sullen cast of characters afterward.
"We got outplayed in all phases by that football team," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I don't have an excuse for you. You've got to give them credit. We were in a good football game in the first half in which we turned the ball over on the 15 and had busted one coverage, so we're down 10-0. It doesn't mean you can't win that football game, that you can't play good in the second half and win, but we didn't do that.
"The biggest thing that surprised me was how poor we played on offense. I take the fault for that. I just think the position we had our offensive football team in was not a position where it had a chance to succeed and that starts with me. I've got to, from a plan standpoint and preparation standpoint, get them in position to make plays and succeed on the field."
Tennessee leads the all-time series with Houston, 11-3, including a conventional home-and-home split last year. The Titans were 31-12 home winners when the teams met in Week 3, and the Texans returned the favor with a 13-12 triumph over the eventual AFC South champs in Week 15. That win snapped a seven-game losing streak for Houston against the Titans.
The Texans are 1-6 in Tennessee all-time, with their only win there coming in 2004, and have lost four straight in Nashville.
Fisher is 11-3 against the Texans, while Houston's Kubiak is 1-5 against both Fisher and Tennessee as a head coach.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Schaub and Co. were clearly disappointed with their from-the-gate effort last week, in which the former Atlanta backup completed 18-of-33 passes for just 166 yards and a 55.9 passer rating. Conversely, the Texans are 7-2 in games where Schaub's rating is 100.0 or better. Slaton, meanwhile, was held to just 17 on nine carries, bringing his average over the past six games to 87.5. He, however, did reach 100 yards in both meetings with Tennessee last season (116, 100). In his last four on the road, he's gone for 103.8 per contest, 415 total. Joining him in the backfield is veteran Chris Brown, who played five seasons for the Titans from 2003-07 and gained 2,757 yards. On the outside, wide receiver Andre Johnson established a franchise-record 207 yards on 11 catches in the teams' last game. He has at least one catch in 86 of his 87 career games. At tight end, Owen Daniels has notched 212 yards in three games at Tennessee.
Though it allowed 357 yards to the Steelers, the Titans were masters of the bend/don't break philosophy in only surrendering 13 points and one touchdown. Five players combined to register four sacks of Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger and both cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Vincent Fuller picked off a pass. Elsewhere, veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck made his 114th consecutive start. Safety Michael Griffin can continue a streak that's resulted in three interceptions in his last three games against Houston, and defensive end Jevon Kearse aims for a fourth consecutive game against the Texans in which he posts at least one sack.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
History bodes well for the Titans, who are 6-1 at home against Houston and seeking their fifth consecutive home win against a divisional opponent. As coach, Fisher has a .590 winning percentage in divisional games. At quarterback, veteran Kerry Collins has moved to third among active QBs with 37,637 yards, and is 5-2 since 2007 against division foes. He completed 22- of-35 passes against the Steelers for 244 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Speedy back Chris Johnson was dynamic in spots, but largely held in check at Pittsburgh, gaining just 57 yards in 15 carries. The Titans are 4-0 when he reaches 100 yards. Running mate LenDale White has scored four times in his last four games against the Texans. On the outside, wide receiver Nate Washington is fifth in the league with 16.3 yards per catch since 2006. Rookie Kenny Britt - the 30th pick in April's draft - posted a team-best 85 receiving yards in his debut last week.
Though he was successfully kept away from New York rookie Sanchez last week, defensive end Williams is first in the AFC since 2007 with 26 sacks and is coming off a Pro Bowl selection. Linebacker Brian Cushing, another rookie from USC, made his NFL debut last week and led the team with eight tackles. In the backfield, safety John Busing intercepted his first career pass, fumbled and saw the loose ball run 48 yards for a touchdown by teammate Dominique Barber. Houston was minus-1 in turnover ratio and allowed the aforementioned 462 total yards as a unit.
Based on past pedigree and present talent, Houston's Johnson is a should-be starter at wide receiver. Maybe he gets 11 for 207 again and maybe not, but it's got to be worth the chance. For Tennessee, Johnson fits the bill at running back and wouldn't be a surprise if he exceeds 100 yards. Some fantasy gurus, but not all, expect a big game from Schaub in response to a poor start, but it's a risk against a solid Titans defense. Contrarily, as for those starting defenses, Tennessee is always a good play with its penchant for turnovers and prompting other mistakes.
Take two good teams - one probably a nudge better - and add a sense of Week 2 urgency and you've got yourself a compelling game. The Texans will bounce back at some point and probably get close to the improved season that most are calling for, but it probably doesn't start here. The Titans are a veteran bunch smarting from an opening loss and aware that they can't put themselves two games behind the Colts so early in September. The home field makes it even more likely.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 24, Texans 14
09/17 11:58:44 ET
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