Curious about exactly how the Texans ran the ball so successfully, I decided to watch every running play they had when the game was at least sort of meaningful. In practice, that meant every first half running play, the first drive of the second half to make it 27-7, and then a couple runs from the drive that made it 34-7.
After the jump, what I saw.
The Texans got to the second level, repeatedly, with ease. First and foremost, this is what happened. Over and over again, the Titans' defensive linemen were all single-blocked, normally by an offensive lineman though sometimes by a tight end.
Linebackers got blocked and could not freely make a play. The ease with which offensive linemen, particularly LG Wade Smith and RG Mike Brisel, and tight ends Owen Daniels and Joel Dreesseen could get to the second level meant that the Titans' linebackers had to shed blocks just to get into position to make a play. As a defense, any time you have a linebacker getting blocked by an offensive lineman, you're probably going to lose.
Safeties did not make an impact. We all know Michael Griffin can be an inconsistent tackler, and he had another game where he missed some plays I thought he should have made. Jordan Babineaux, well, more on him below.
Personnel changes are not likely to be the answer. The biggest issue was the Titans' defensive line, and nobody stood out without also getting exploited. Shaun Smith had a couple good plays, and more bad ones. Ditto Karl Klug. And Jurrell Casey. Sen'Derrick Marks isn't the solution to any problem the Titans have. I like Dave Ball, but he's not a force in the run game. I'm not sure Jason Jones did anything that was actually good. I need to stop saying nice things about Derrick Morgan until I notice him more on Sundays. Malcolm Sheppard isn't the solution to any problem the Titans have. Zach Clayton was inactive, but he's not the solution either. That leaves William Hayes, who's not going to solve very many problems.
I've seen people criticizing the linebackers. Frankly, I didn't see them miss many plays when they weren't blocked on Sunday, and a lot of the time it was an offensive lineman blocking them. Linebackers blocked by offensive linemen don't often win in the NFL. The guys who do are superstars. The Titans don't have any superstar linebackers, and I'm certain there aren't any sitting on their bench who can come in next week and make a positive impact.
If you want to make a personnel change, I'd point to putting Chris Hope back in the lineup. Hope is a flawed player, but Jordan Babineaux missed a couple tackles of the sort I've seen Hope make regularly. Frankly, I can't even get angry as Babineaux. The Titans signed him as a stopgap guy, a veteran who isn't terrible, because the backup safeties in 2010 were awful. He's a marginal starter and a useful guy as a backup or when you have extra defensive backs on the field, but isn't a solid starter. Unfortunately Munchak at his press conference today indicated Hope is still out with his broken arm, so we won't see a change this week.
Credit to the Texans. As a reminder, the team on the other side of the ball is getting paid too. The Texans are among the best run-blocking lines in the NFL, and even with their limitations, Titans would have looked better against a team that isn't among the best in the NFL at what they do. Arian Foster in particular is also good at taking angles that make defenders' job harder rather than running right at them.
It wasn't just the run defense. I've written this post exclusively on the run game, and it was a consistent issue. The raw numbers look worse than they were, because the Texans got up and ran the ball an awful lot in the second half, when they had 29 carries for 141 yards. The game score went from a disappointing but manageable 10-0 to an out-of-hand 20-0 at the half, and the Texans those two drives had 2 carries for 4 yards. Matt Schaub after missing his first 3 passes went 13-16 for 220 yards the rest of the first half. That's... not good.
If you'd like to see the full details, they can be found here, but I warn you they're not pretty. I'll be back later this week with a post on this week's edition of "what the heck is going on with Chris Johnson."