Titans at Texans: What to watch

Friday, September 30, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 40

Be smart and disciplined: By now, everyone knows what happened with Taylor Lewan’s penalty late in the game, barreling into the pile and possibly preventing the Titans from tying or winning the game in the final minute.

But Lewan isn’t alone in having to bear the burden of making costly mistakes. QB Marcus Mariota has to take care of the ball, and there were other mental errors by any number of players.

Those types of things must be eliminated, especially in key situations.

Keep on bending: The Titans don’t exactly have a shutdown corner or game-changer at safety, but they have made the most of the hodge-podge of veterans who make up their secondary.

They have given up quite a few completions thus far this season, but haven’t surrendered a lot of points to date.

They will have their work cut out again this week with DeAndre Hopkins leading the Texans’ offense. Let’s see if Dick LeBeau’s tricks can work for one more week against a dynamic receiver.

Find the end zone: The bad news for the Titans is they have scored a league-low 42 points this season through three games. The good news is the Texans are right there with them at the bottom of the league in scoring offense with that same 42 points.

First team to 17 might win. The Titans’ struggling offense could use a big play from defense or special teams to give them a much-needed boost.

Keep on trucking: DeMarco Murray has been as advertised and much more in the early going for the Titans, already rolling up 245 yards in three games. The Titans would be wise to keep feeding the beast and running the football, especially since they are getting only minimal contributions from their wide receivers.

Three matchups to watch

J.J. Watt's replacement vs. Taylor Lewan or Jack Conklin: The Texans have re-signed Antonio Smith, who has been out of the league since helping Denver to a Super Bowl win last year, to replace Watt, who injured his back last week and is expected to miss two months. Lewan has been playing well of late but still has a penchant for penalties. Smith might prefer to test the rookie in Conklin?

Missing Watt could be a boon for the Titans, who has tormented them in the past.

Marcus Mariota vs. Texans’ front seven: This will be Mariota’s first start against the Texans, as he was injured both times the Titans faced Houston last year. In one of those games, Zach Mettenberger took the beating that got Ken Whisenhunt fired by owner Amy Adams Strunk.

The edict is there for the Titans to protect Mariota at all costs, and with the game in Houston, and in front of ownership, you can get that is even more of a priority this week.

DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jason McCourty and Perrish Cox: Hopkins is one of the league’s top receivers, and the Titans have been spotty in the secondary but somehow have held things together.

The Titans can’t afford to let Hopkins get free and make big plays against them on Sunday. So the bend-but-don’t-break tactics that have worked thus far, will be put to the test once again.

-- Terry McCormick