Texans 24, Titans 21

Texans take control of AFC South with grind-it-out win over the Titans

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The Texans took control of the AFC South again with a big win in Tennessee. It wasn't pretty, but they made enough big plays on both sides of the ball to escape with a victory. Here is how it all played out:

Offense

Positives: The Texans took advantage of a huge Tennessee turnover for their first score. Deshaun Watson threw a perfect pass to Kenny Stills for the TD. Stills has been a really solid addition and added another touchdown later in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead. After blowing a 14-0 lead, they responded with a seven play, 75-yard drive to retake the lead and then get a key field goal. Carlos Hyde had a nice game running the football, with 104 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. DeAndre Hopkins, held quiet most of the game, came alive in the fourth quarter with 98 yards and finished the game with six catches for 119.

Negatives: Watson's inability to protect the football at times almost cost them the game. And once again, they failed to score on their opening drive. It looked promising, but Watson was fooled by the defense and threw a pick in the end zone. They now have a total of 3 points on 14 opening drives this season. Watson threw another pick in the end zone in the third quarter on a terrible play call by Bill O'Brien and an even worse decision by Watson. It cost them at least three points. Fortunately it did not matter but that was potentially 14 points off the board. The first pick was a great play by the safety, who tricked Watson. The second was just a dumb play.

Defense

Positives: Justin Reid and Whitney Mercilus combined on a massive play to not only keep Tennessee out of the end zone, but set up the Texans first score. Reid knocked a pass loose at the Texans 2 yard line, it bounced into Mercilus' hands and he returned it 88 yards all the way to the Tennessee 12 (see photo above). It was a major play considering the Titans were moving the ball well on the drive and wound up being a 14-point swing. The defense was a different animal in the first half than what they were against Denver, as they held the Titans scoreless. They got a little lucky with a blocked field goal and the deflected interception, but they also sniffed out a fake punt on fourth down to kill another drive.

Negatives: As good as they looked in the first half, they got pushed around in the second as the Titans cut the lead to 14-7 on the opening drive then followed it up with another touchdown drive to tie the score. Throughout the game, the Texans got little pressure on Ryan Tannehill, a problem that has reared its head almost every week since J.J. Watt's injury. They did get a key sack with just over nine minutes in the fourth with a 21-14 lead that caused the Titans to have to punt and also picked one up on the last play of the game. Once again, their prevent defense was awful in the last three minutes, allowing the Titans to march down the field in just over a minute to cut the lead to 24-21. The Texans were able to recover the onside kick and run off most of the game clock, but the Texans have to do a better job in those situations. Fortunately it did not matter.

The bottom line

This was an important win for the Texans, and they got just enough plays on on both sides of the ball to escape with the victory. The Titans were playing very well coming in, so this is a good victory. Watson was solid at times, but also had the two bad turnovers. He was fortunate they did not cost them the game.

Tennessee outplayed the Texans for much of the game, outgaining Houston by almost 60 yards. But the Mercilus play wound up being the difference. That and Watson bouncing back with the huge scoring drive after throwing his second pick and seeing the Titans tie the score.

As they have done in the past, the Texans bounced back from the abysmal Denver loss to get a key victory. They now sit at 9-5, and need to win only one of their two remaining games (at Tampa next week or Tennessee at home in week 17) to clinch the AFC South.

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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