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Houston Texans Week 12 Recap: Chris Johnson & Tennessee Titans Lay Down, Let Foster, Quin Embarrass Them in Shutout

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The Houston Texans, led by Arian Foster and Glover Quin, dominated division rivals the Tennessee Titans, showing no sympathy for the former Oilers’ controversy-filled past few days.  While any victory for the underachieving Texans is reason to celebrate, the Titans, exhausted from the Vince Young exile, simply rolled over and let the Texans embarrass them.

What Went Right

The Houston Texans’ performance today, led by Glover Quin’s first three career interceptions, most likely kept them from ending the season as the worst defense of all-time.  However, Texans fans should not consider today’s shutout evidence that the defense has turned a corner and are ready to compete in a suddenly very close NFC South.  The Tennessee Titans started a third-string rookie quarterback, Rusty Smith, whose inexperience was obvious from his first snap – which ended in a Mario Williams sack.

Chris Johnson, the Titans’ running back who set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage last season, finished with only 5 rushing yards (after predicting a 2,500 yard season).  With everything the Titans went through this week, they needed their best player to step up and ignite an offensive fire, and while the Texans’ defense could be given credit for stopping one of the NFL’s best, the truth is Johnson didn’t even try.  On several plays, he took the handoff and seemed to just wait for the defender to tackle him (opposed to Arian Foster, who never accepts a tackle and fights for every yard, totaling over 200).  Johnson then sat aloof on the sideline, distant and lackadaisical when his team needed him most.

Johnson’s attitude was prevalent for Tennessee.  In the fourth quarter, Smith (who over and under threw receivers all game) sailed a pass over Randy Moss’s head in the end zone.  Moss, no stranger to laziness, simply watched the pass fly by without making an attempt to catch it.  The Texans have been making opposing quarterbacks into superstars this season, but poor Rusty Smith didn’t have a chance because his teammates phoned it in.  Now, I’m sure analysts will be speculating as to whether the Titans were simply distracted by the week’s events or if they were sabotaging the game in protest of coach Jeff Fisher.

What Went Wrong

The only Titans player who was at least making an effort was cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who came to blows with Texans receiver Andre Johnson.  Johnson and Finnegan are known rivals and always give each other their best, but today tempers flared and Johnson’s Nolan Ryan-esque punches led to both players being ejected.  Given NFL Commissioner Roger Godell’s tendency to hand out punishment, Johnson is likely facing a fine and/or a suspension.  If the Texans are going to make a run in the suddenly winnable NFC South, they’ll need their biggest deep threat.

This section is usually reserved for bashing the Texans’ defense, but since they looked like the Steel Curtain today, the worst thing to come from this game may be false confidence. On several occasions, Titans’ receivers were wide open, only to be missed by Rusty Smith.  Any team should’ve beaten this Titans team and the Texans’ problems are far from solved.

Turning Point

Midway through the second half, Matt Schaub was sacked close to the Texans’ end zone.  Officials didn’t initially rule it a safety, though replay clearly showed the Titans earned the two points.  However, coach Jeff Fisher didn’t throw the challenge flag.  At that time, two points would’ve put them within two scores, but Fisher just let it go, proving that no one on the Titans even cared.

Work on It

I know I’m talking a lot about the Titans in a Texans column, but ESPN analysts often ask if the winning team won the game or if the losing team lost the game.  If they ask if the Texans won this game or if the Titans lost it, clearly the Titans are to blame.  The Texans were better today than they’ve been all season, but the Titans were atrocious and would’ve made the Carolina Panthers look like contenders.

The Texans can’t let this game inflate their heads.  Thursday night they face Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles and undertake the unenviable task of trying to contain the most explosive player in the league.  Still, the Texans snapped a four-game losing streak, so perhaps a little bit of confidence is deserved and hopefully will help them fight to salvage the season.

Numerical Indications of Athletic Achievement

Schaub: 25/35, 178 yds, 2 TD

Foster: 30 rush, 143 yds, 9 rec, 75 yds

Johnson: 9 rec, 56 yds, 1 TD

Dreessen: 3 rec, 15 yds, 1 TD

Quin: 3 tkl, 1 ast, 3 INT

Rackers: 2/2 FG, 2/2 XP