Last season, the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans did not have the first of their two meetings until mid-December. It turned out that the outcome of that one had a profound impact on which team won the division (it was Houston).
Five weeks into this season, they could not be much farther apart in the standings.
Tennessee is 4-0, one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL and an early contender to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs
Houston is 1-4, has fired its head coach and is tied for last in the AFC South (the Texans actually hold a tiebreaker over Jacksonville based on a head-to-head win last week).
Here is a roundup of some of what the Texans had to say this week about facing the Titans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium:
• Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, on the coaching staff connections: “They know our system. There’s definitely [an element of] trying to not outsmart yourself. Not overthink things. But [you] still put enough thought in and enough preparation to make sure that you are giving them things to blink at and ‘wait a second, is this what I think it is?’ So, there’s a fine line there of where you don’t want to be predictable but you also don’t want to make things so complicated that people go cross-eyed trying to figure out on your own sideline.”
• Inside linebacker Zach Cunningham, on tight end Jonnu Smith: “From what I see he’s definitely a hustle guy that’s always working. I still remember from last year. I think we had an interception on the goal line and he was the one that actually ran all the way down to make the tackle. I definitely see him as that guy who’s obviously hustling and working hard to do what he can for his team.”
• Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver on cornerback Johnathan Joseph: “Every time J-Joe makes a play and he gives that little shoulder shimmy, I know exactly where he’s at. God, I love J-Joe. He made a bunch of plays for us here in Houston. What a tremendous guy. He’s had an incredible career. Let’s just hope that he has a subpar game this Sunday.”
• Quarterback Deshaun Watson, on the Titans’ recent COVID-19 outbreak: “They handled it well. They did what they had to do to get ready for that game and they came out ready to play and handled business. For us, we want to stay safe as possible because people have families and go home to those families each and every day.”
• Defensive end J.J. Watt, on quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “Obviously, he can run, he can throw. He fits obviously in what they’re trying to do. Their offense has multiple facets to it, obviously, with Derrick Henry in the running game and then the play-action game, the boot game, the drop back game with Ryan. I think that their offense really kind of understands what it is and what they’re trying to do. Everybody understands their role within it.”
• Kelly, on cornerback Malcolm Butler: ““We’re making sure that we’re preaching to our guys, when you’re playing against Malcolm, you’ve got to play strong. He’s an incredibly strong player. He’s always working to be disruptive at the catch point. The catch is never over until you’re really on the ground giving the ball back to the official because he’s going to fight, scrap and claw to do whatever he can to get that ball out if you target him. He’s a smart player. He studies. Obviously, you can tell by the way that he plays. It’s a big challenge for our guys because he does have some big play history.”
• Interim coach Romeo Crennel, on Tennessee’s offensive line: “They’ve got a huge offensive line. Their tackles are 6’7 and 6’8 and then Ben Jones, who’s the center, he was here with us. I know he’s a tough, hard nose guy that will fight you.”
• Weaver, on running back Derrick Henry: “This is a guy, when he can get a full head of steam, he is a problem. … It’s like Jadeveon (Clowney is) in the backfield. That’s how big he is. That’s how fast he is. If you can keep from him getting those shoulders square and running down at those DBs, usually that works out in your favor.”
• Crennel, on Henry: “We’re facing a different type of runner. We have to understand what his strengths are then try to take advantage of his inability to get to those strengths. We have to try to make it get tough for him to get to the second level. Once he gets to the second level, he becomes a beast.”
• Safety Eric Reid, on Henry: “I would advise anyone not to run laterally alongside him. It didn’t really work out well for Josh Norman or other players that have done that. You really just got to be physical, make sure you attack him and get low and don’t leave your chest open for him. I hear he really likes that.”