HOUSTON – If the 1-2 Houston Texans are to knock off the 2-1 Tennessee Titans and get back into some control of the AFC South race, several players must step up.
Houston has more than enough talent to defeat the visitors from Tennessee. It’s a matter of that talent doing their respective jobs to the best of their ability and living up to expectations.
Here are four Texans who need to have a better game in Week 4 than they have in recent weeks to make a home victory a reality.
Houston’s return specialist has not been special thus far. Other than one nifty punt return in the opener, Ervin has not found the open lanes or been aggressive enough at turning the ball up the field. The Texans blocking in front of him on returns remains substandard, to be fair, but Ervin has left yards on the field too.
The second-year running back can also contribute in this game as a weapon out of the backfield. Ervin doesn’t get many reps but does have good receiving ability, and the Titans do have some vulnerability to backs who can catch.
Houston’s inside linebacker is really on the spot with Tennessee’s versatile running game. With Marcus Mariota capable of running the read option at quarterback, McKinney must make quick and decisive reads and not get caught flat-footed or in the wrong gap.
Both of those issues have been present in the first three weeks. On the whole the third-year backer has played pretty well near the line of scrimmage but has also been caught being a half-count late to the party. That won’t get it done against the likes of Derrick Henry or Demarco Murray.
The Titans also use tight end Delanie Walker on intermediate routes quite frequently. He’s Tennessee’s leading receiver and does a lot of his damage in the void between the LBs and the safeties. That has never been McKinney’s strong suit.
Houston sorely needs Jackson to elevate his play from a bad game in New England. Filling in as the starter for injured Kevin Johnson, Jackson wound up being on the business end of a lot of Tom Brady’s success, particularly on routes to the middle of the field.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson was the team’s least-effective defensive player in Week 3. The Titans offense is a much different stylistic animal from the Patriots. Marcus Mariota can run, and the Titans as a whole love to force defensive backs to make tackles in isolated space. Jackson is a better tackler than he is in coverage, and he needs to step up and prove it.
Miller might rank in the top 10 in the league in rushing yards, but he’s not been able to break out for many big plays. The veteran running back is not making tacklers miss and seems to get hung up on the second cut, which is where most runners really earn their money.
Charles still knows how to run the football. And Lamar Miller still knows how to fall down. pic.twitter.com/l98VRdLn0g— Andy Holloway (@andyholloway) September 28, 2017
The Texans run blocking has done him few favors, but if Miller could shake the first tackler and bake to the outside with a sharp cut, he could move the chains on his own. That would help take pressure off Deshaun Watson, which is a winner for all parties involved.