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Glennon's Take: 5 Key Questions for Titans Looking Ahead

Posted Nov 28, 2017

Having won eight of their last nine games at home, the Titans will look for another victory at Nissan Stadium on Sunday. The Titans are looking to break even this season with the Texans after losing at Houston in Week Four.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans will look to take another big step toward an AFC South title when they play host to Houston on Sunday.

A win against the Texans would ensure a winning division record for the first time since 2008 and keep the Titans in first place in the AFC South crown.

Here are five key questions for the Titans looking ahead to the Houston contest:

What's Marcus Mariota doing best this season? – Though Mariota has turned the ball over more often than he'd like this season, he's also done an excellent job of finding ways to win.

When Mariota guided the Titans downfield for a fourth-quarter touchdown against Indianapolis, it marked his fourth game-winning drive of the season. That leaves him tied with Washington's Kirk Cousins for the NFL's top spot in the league in that category.

Mariota's four game-winning drives this year – the three others were the first Indianapolis game, Cleveland and Cincinnati – match his combined total of the first two years.

Mariota completed a critical 19-yard pass over the middle to Corey Davis on that final drive against Indianapolis.

“You can’t be shy as a quarterback,” Mariota said of overcoming interceptions. “You’ve got to go out there and make the throws. I never shy away from an opportunity to get a completion. I’ll find ways to get those guys the football.”

Added Titans coach Mike Mularkey: “That throw to Corey Davis was big, last guy on the progression. Those throws, the throwback throw to DeMarco (Murray) – those are tough throws that he completed after throwing two interceptions.”

A win Sunday by the Titans would even Mariota's career record as a starter at 19-19, a pretty impressive figure considering the team was 2-14 the year before Tennessee drafted him.

Will the Titans use Derrick Henry more often going forward? – Mularkey has given no indication of change in the backfield, though we did see some interesting signs on the field against the Colts.

In the win over Indy, Henry got both more snaps and more carries than Murray for just the second time this season. Henry made the most of his opportunities against the Colts, carrying 13 times for 79 yards. Over the last three weeks, Henry has carried 31 times for 163 yards (5.3 yards per carry), while Murray has carried 34 times for 61 yards (1.79 per carry).

Is it possible that an assortment of injuries, including his hamstring, is slowing Murray?

“I think he's 100 percent,” Mularkey said of Murray. “The way we started the game yesterday in that first half, I’m not sure anybody in this room could have made a yard the way we blocked up front. We still scored on the (first) two drives that we had it and that was without a running game.

“You’ve got to look at the whole picture and see who’s had opportunities, who’s got the plays blocked well, who’s made some runs that weren’t there or were there. We’re happy we have – again, I’m going to say it, we’re very fortunate to have the two guys that we have. They’re both effective in a lot of ways.”

It's worth noting that Murray has 12 catches for 100 yards and a TD over the past three weeks, compared to one catch for 10 yards for Henry. Murray had one of the Titans' biggest receptions against Indy, an eight-yard, third-down reception that gained a first down and helped Tennessee run out the clock.

Should the Titans be winning more handily? – Though the Titans are 5-1 in their last six games and sit atop the AFC South at 7-4, some fans are concerned because recent outcomes have been narrow.

Tennessee has won its last four games by an average of 3.5 points.

But in the age of NFL parity, there are precious few teams that are spanking opponents on a regular basis.

The 9-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, for instance, have won a handful of games by small margins over inferior teams: three points over Cleveland; six points over Chicago (in overtime); five points over Detroit; three points over Indianapolis; and three points over a Green Bay team without Aaron Rodgers.

The 9-2 New England Patriots have put together three straight one-sided wins. But before that, the Pats recorded one-score victories over the likes of the New York Jets, Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Chargers and Houston.

That said, Mularkey does believe the Titans – who have trailed or been tied in the fourth quarter in four of their last five wins – can up their overall game.

“I think we could play 60 minutes, all three phases, better as a whole, a whole game,” Mularkey said. “Putting the gas down, no breaks. I do, I still do, and we'll continue to work until we do. That's the beauty of this game, we get to practice and we keep trying to do that.”

Will the Titans blitz as often against Houston? – According to Pro Football Focus, the Titans defense blitzed on 55 percent of passing plays against Indianapolis, which was a season high for Tennessee. The strategy worked especially well against Jacoby Brissett – the NFL's most sacked quarterback – as the Titans recorded six of their eight sacks when sending extra rushers.

Brissett completed just 33.3 percent of his throws when pressured, per PFF, and posted a 42.4 quarterback rating in those situations.

Whether or not the Titans blitz as much against Houston will depend in part on how well Tennessee believes Houston quarterback Tom Savage reacts to pressure. In his four starts since stepping back into the starting lineup, Savage has been pressured on 38 pass attempts. He's completed 13 passes and posted a quarterback rating of 29.9.

The good news overall for the Titans is that the pass rush has done a much better job of finishing in the last two games. The Titans had compiled just 14 sacks through their first nine games, but have piled up 11 in the last two contests.

“We needed that,” Mularkey said. “It felt like we were close. We've been close a lot of times. We just haven't come through and made the plays, and our guys made the plays (against the Colts).”

Can the Titans pull a Hilton on Hopkins? – The Titans' win over Indianapolis last Sunday marked the second time this season the team put the clamps on T.Y. Hilton, one of the league's better receivers.

Hilton ranks 11th in the league in receiving yardage, but in two meetings against the Titans, he collected just three catches – on nine targets – for 34 yards.

The challenge this week is an even stiffer one, as the Titans try to contain Houston's dangerous DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins leads the NFL with nine touchdown catches, and he's coming off a seven-catch, 125-yard performance against Baltimore on Monday night.

A former first-round draft pick, Hopkins has averaged over 100 yards per game in nine previous contests against the Titans. In the teams' previous meeting this season, Hopkins caught 10 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

If the Titans can keep Hopkins in line on Sunday, they'll take a huge step toward a win against Houston.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.