Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 11: Texans-Titans — Four Things To Watch For

The Texans won't have to worry about Derrick Henry running over them on Sunday.
The Texans won't have to worry about Derrick Henry running over them on Sunday. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Prior to the Houston Texans' bye week this past weekend, whenever confronted with the question of "What is wrong with your football team?", inevitably head coach David Culley's answers would circle back to two things — turnovers and penalties. In other words, if the Texans could just stop turning the ball over and committing silly penalties, they would be a much better football team.

Of course, anybody with a working set of eyeballs and a brain knows that the Texans' issues go so far beyond merely turnovers and penalties, that you'd need to take a vacation week to document all of them. So I was hopeful that, with a full week to "self scout" his team, Culley would have a little more insight into what nine weeks of Texans football have revealed.

Alas, when asked on Monday, here's what Culley told us he learned last week:

Now, what’s been hid through all the good things we’ve been doing, especially offensively, is the penalties and the turnovers. With that being said, moving forward we have to have a relentless effort in practice from our coaches, our players, every play, every practice, every meeting, of doing things the right way. You eliminate those things and you see the reason the good things get blinded because of us having bad penalties at certain times. Penalties are going to happen, but some penalties are bad penalties. We’ve had some bad penalties. And then the turnovers, we go back and looked at it, talked about the self-evaluation. We feel like there are probably three ball games this year that if we don’t have bad penalties and we don’t turn the ball over, we have a chance to win the game.” 
Yep, David Culley didn't learn one damn thing about his team, or if he did, he chooses not to share with us. It's a pretty hopeless time to be a Texans fan right about now.


Along those lines, here come the Tennessee Titans in Week 11, widely viewed right now as the hottest team in the AFC. However, they are without their most valuable player, running back Derrick Henry, for the rest of the season, so let's start there with a few nuggets for this Sunday afternoon's game:

4. No Derrick Henry
The Texans' defense has actually been a somewhat pleasant surprise this season, as they currently rank around the middle of the pack (17th, to be exact) in overall defensive DVOA (Football Outsiders' efficiency metric). The rushing defense is slightly improved over last season, but still near the bottom of the league (27th overall), so a healthy Derrick Henry would be ready to feast. In each of Henry's last three games against the Texans, he's gone for over 200 yards rushing, including 250 yards in the 2020 season finale. Henry is nursing a foot injury, so look for Adrian Peterson, who was drafted way back before Twitter was invented, to get the rock on Sunday. Henry's absence will have a major impact on Ryan Tannehill's ability to take shots downfield.

3. It's really more about turnovers than penalties
In his return from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for six games, Texans QB Tyrod Taylor threw three interceptions against the Dolphins, and they were all of the "head scratching, eye rolling" variety. This was uncharacteristic of Taylor, who'd only had one start in his career up to that point where he'd even thrown more than one interception. Taylor and the Texans cannot forfeit possessions, and give short fields to the Titans' offense. Henry's absence gives the Texans a puncher's chance, and they can't concede that margin for error with silly turnovers.

2. Jeffrey Simmons is a beast
It's hard enough, though, for Taylor to move the football through the air when there is really one reliable receiver on the field for the Texans (Brandin Cooks). Making it even more difficult is an offensive line that has struggled in pass protection all season, allowing 26 sacks. Against the Dolphins, the Texans had trouble protecting Taylor because the Dolphins ran heavy zero-blitzes like they were coked up MADDEN players. The Titans can put pressure on Taylor by winning one on one matchups with Jeffrey Simmons inside (7.5 sacks, 5 in the last two games) and Harold Landry on the edge (10 sacks). It's going to be a long day for young blockers like center Jimmy Morrissey (second career start) and tackles Geron Christian and  Charlie Heck.


1. Can the Texans score a touchdown?
That may be the most depressing sentence I've typed all season — can the Texans score a touchdown? However, it's a sadly pertinent question, considering this is a road game, and the Texans have not scored a touchdown on the road in 251:32 of game time. That's four full games plus most of the fourth quarter in Cleveland in Week 2. Since Week 1's lone victory of the season, the Texans have scored just ten touchdowns in eight games, and are averaging a league worst 14 points per game for the season. It's fair to wonder, if the Texans get held out of the end zone again Sunday, when does David Culley yank play calling duties from OC Tim Kelly?

SPREAD: Texans +10.5
PREDICTION: Titans 27, Texans 9
SEASON RECORD: 9-0 SU, 6-3 ATS

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast