All NFL coaches and personnel will always tell you a team has room for improvement. That being said, the levels of each respective team’s need for improvement vary greatly. At 10-1, the Houston Texans are one of those teams with fewer holes to fill when compared to their weekly competition. However, this week, one of the Texans’ growing weaknesses will be on display and alert as they take on the Tennessee Titans.
Currently, the Texans are very banged up at linebacker, particularly the inside linebacker spots with injuries to Brooks Reed, Bradie James, and Tim Dobbins. Factor in Brian Cushing’s season ending injury back in October and the Texans could be heading into Sunday’s game with the Titans with only one of their four opening day starting linebackers (Connor Barwin).
Enter the Titans, a team struggling some at 4-7 coming off a bad loss to the now two-win Jacksonville Jaguars. The Titans didn’t give the Texans might of a fight when they played back in week four, a 38-14 Texans victory. Now, the game is in Tennessee and if the past two games are any indication, teams seem to have figured out the Texans. Furthermore, since the Titans have already seen the Texans once, it gives them a bit of an advantage as a divisional foe.
One of the surprising takeaways from the week four contest was the play of Titans RB Chris Johnson. On that day, Johnson carried the ball 25 times for 141 yards, good for 5.6 yards per carry. This is significant because up until that game, Johnson, a former 2,000-yard rusher, had been in a year and a half slump. Heading into that first game with the Texans, Johnson had only 45 rushing yards total in three games. Since, Johnson has gotten relatively back on track and has become a week in, week out force running the ball.
This is of concern for the Texans because back in week four, the team was completely healthy across the board defensively. Now with the injuries to add to an already average run defense, Johnson could be primed to have a big day on the ground. In an ideal world, the Titans would employ a similar offensive strategy to that of the Texans, run the ball, use play-action, and control the clock. If the Titans are able to get Johnson going, the Texans defense could be in for a long day.
It will be up to the Texans linebackers, particularly inside backers, to hawk Johnson wherever he goes on the field, both in the run and pass games. Any combination of OLBs Barwin, rookies Whitney Mercilus and Bryan Braman and ILBs James, Dobbins, Darryl Sharpton, and Barrett Ruud could be tasked with the job at any point in Sunday’s game. As was the case in week four, the Texans’ defensive game plan needs to be to eliminate Johnson and put the ball in second-year QB Jake Locker’s hands and force him to win the game.
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