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Thursday, December 26, 2013
Double Coverage: Texans at Titans

By Paul Kuharsky and Tania Ganguli

Johnson/Greene
This season hasn't turned out as planned for Shonn Greene and Andre Johnson.
Fifteen weeks ago, the Tennessee Titans visited Houston to face the two-time defending AFC South champions.

The Texans mounted a comeback, forcing the game into overtime and winning it.

Who would have guessed it would be their last win heading into the rematch in the season finale for both teams?

ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Titans writer Paul Kuharsky visit to discuss the status of the two teams as the rematch arrives.

Kuharsky: So is there any reason at all to suspect Houston can actually show signs of life and finish with a win?

Ganguli: They showed signs of life against the Denver Broncos for three quarters, especially on defense. They showed signs of life against the New England Patriots, to whom they only lost by three points. This will depend on how much they want this game versus how much they just want to get the season over with. There was a finality about Sunday's game against the Broncos because it was the team's home finale and the sense that the team will look very different next season. It's been an emotionally exhausting season for the Texans and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if they played like they were through with it.

It's been a down year for the whole division, for which the other AFC South NFL Nation reporters and I have chosen to blame you, since you were the steward of the division before we got here. How does the Titans' reality mesh with what you expected prior to the season?

Kuharsky: I’m confused. When I stewarded the division, it was good. The Texans were very good. I yield to you, and they get bad. Sounds like a YOU problem.

Anyhow, I’m terrible at predictions and hate making them, considering unpredictability is the single best thing the NFL has going for it. But I picked the Titans to go 7-9 and thought a lack of defensive playmakers would hurt them. That’s largely how it’s played out. Losing Jake Locker, twice, for a total of nine games obviously hurt. They have overestimated the pass rush for some time. Tackle Jurrell Casey is an excellent pass-rusher. The rush from the ends has been insufficient, and they’ve long overrated what they have there. Derrick Morgan gets close a lot. He’s a second rusher, not the primary guy. I expected the run game would be better, considering the attention they paid to the offensive line. Outside of wins at St. Louis and Jacksonville, they’ve not run well at all.

Chris Johnson needs 53 yards Sunday to get to 1,003 yards on the season -- half his rushing yards from 2009!

I know the injuries to Brian Cushing and Danieal Manning hurt, the Ed Reed signing was catastrophic, the defection of Glover Quin and Connor Barwin left holes and the offense has put the D in a lot of bad situations. But shouldn’t Wade Phillips still have had a better unit than this?

Ganguli: That's four starters gone from last year's defense. You could say they should have been better, but it's unfair to dismiss all of those guys. You look at the Texans' defensive numbers with and without Cushing over the years and his impact is clear. The safety position has been a bit of a catastrophe this season. Losing Danieal Manning was a big deal, especially when coupled with the fact that the plan for the other starting safety position (Ed Reed) turned out to be a bust. If this Texans defense was playing with Cushing, Manning, Quin and Barwin, would it be better? Unquestionably. They've even shown the ability to be that good at times this year. With those guys, or even some of those guys, the Texans' defense would have had a much better season. It might have meant a better record, but I'm not sure they could have made the playoffs even with the other problems the Texans had this season. The broad spectrum of issues is a big part of why Gary Kubiak is no longer the coach.

Speaking of coaches, I recall the Titans quarterback and coach situations being tenuous heading into this season. Where do those stand now?

Kuharsky: Mike Munchak’s hold on his job should be tenuous. He’s heading toward his fourth and final year and has not proved that he’s not a position coach out of his depth. His teams have provided the first win to the 0-13 Colts in 2011 and the 0-8 Jaguars this season. The Titans are 2-9 in their last 11 division games, and we know how great the AFC South has been. They are 2-20 against teams that finish the season with a winning record. Say what you will about the internal sense that they are on the cusp: The three-year sample is bad. Locker missed five games in 2012 and nine this year with three different injuries. He showed promise early this season, but he’s not proved he’s a franchise guy and he’s not proved he can stay healthy. He’s got a guaranteed fourth year, so there is no reason for him not to be on the team in 2014. The question is who is coaching him and if the organization drafts another quarterback to add to the mix.

Let’s stay with coaches. We know you’re about to cover a search and a new hire. What is owner Bob McNair looking for?

Ganguli: He's looking for experience and leadership more than anything else. I've gone back and forth on the matter, because I do think an inexperienced head coach can be a good fit in certain places, as we're seeing in Jacksonville this season. But when you look at this team and this roster, the kind of message that resonates with them might need to come from a more authoritative voice. You just have to find the right one. While it's true that sometimes former head coaches do much better in their second stints, giving a former NFL head coach another chance can backfire. It's important to note why things went bad at their previous stop and recognize if that situation offers red flags.

How is this Titans defense different from the one the Texans notched an overtime win against in Week 2?

Kuharsky: There were more splash plays at that stage. I remember the defensive backs covered very well, even when Matt Schaub was completing passes. I know it qualifies as ancient history down there, but he made some really good throws in that game. The secondary remains a strength. And Jurrell Casey is a very good defensive tackle. But the rush from the edges has been bad, and the linebackers are nowhere near as effective now as they were in the first month of the season. It’s one of the big disappointments of the season. They don’t even know whom to start anymore.