J.J. Watt
Texans-Titans Preview
J.J. Watt

Texans-Titans Preview

Published Dec. 26, 2015 6:06 p.m. ET

Four quarterbacks have finished victories and their star running back hasn't played since October, yet the Houston Texans are on the verge of the AFC South title.

They'll have to thrive amid uncertainty again this week as they look to secure it.

It appears Houston will have to start Brandon Weeden over the ailing Brian Hoyer on Sunday when it tries to win a fourth straight meeting with the Tennessee Titans, who will have Zach Mettenberger at quarterback in place of the injured Marcus Mariota.

The Texans (7-7) can clinch with a win, or a tie and an Indianapolis loss at Miami - a scenario not many would have envisioned when they opened 1-4. Coach Bill O'Brien flip-flopped between Hoyer and Ryan Mallett in those games before Mallett eventually was released and Hoyer took the reigns.


T.J. Yates was forced into action twice when Hoyer went down with a concussion and finished a pair of victories. When Yates suffered a torn ACL last week, newly signed Brandon Weeden came on and went 11 of 18 for 105 yards and a touchdown pass to Jalen Strong in a 16-10 win over the Colts.

Hoyer practiced Wednesday but hasn't been cleared to face the Titans (3-11), and multiple reports are saying he has yet to clear concussion protocol and will not play Sunday.

If Hoyer can't go, Weeden will make his first start for Houston after starting two games for Dallas in place of the injured Tony Romo. He lost that job to Matt Cassel before being waived Nov. 17 and claimed by the Texans the next day.

Weeden didn't have any reps with the first-team offense before relieving Yates last week. He'll have had another week of practice to get more comfortable as Houston looks to secure its third South title in five years.

''My confidence and my timing is just not what it needs to be,'' Weeden said. ''That is kind of to be expected. I haven't thrown any of those routes to any of those guys, so that just comes with time.

''I thought as the game went on the communication got better. I think I settled down and started really communicating and getting guys lined up. There is a couple of throws I would like to have back, but like I said, just uncertainty of timing and just getting a better feel for it.''

Houston has persevered through the quarterback carousel and the loss of Arian Foster, who missed the first three games with a groin problem before suffering a season-ending torn right Achilles in Week 7.

DeAndre Hopkins has thrived no matter who has thrown to him on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection. J.J. Watt has 13 1/2 sacks and was also named to the Pro Bowl, leading a Houston defense that has allowed 10 or fewer points five times.

One of those instances came Nov. 1 when Watt had 2 1/2 of the Texans' seven sacks in a 20-6 win over Tennessee. Mettenberger was on the receiving end of each, and that defeat cost coach Ken Whisenhunt his job.

Interim coach Mike Mularkey hopes to better protect Mettenberger in this meeting after Mariota suffered a sprained right MCL in last week's 33-16 loss at New England.

Mariota, who missed the Texans game and one other with a sprained left knee, hasn't been ruled out for the season finale at Indianapolis, but it will be Mettenberger's team this week as he tries to win for the first time in nine career starts.

The second-year player went 20 of 28 for 248 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots, but also threw two picks. He's been sacked 11 times in five appearances, and the Titans are tied with San Francisco for the most allowed in the league with 49.

''Obviously, we'll make some adjustments, so it doesn't happen again,'' Mularkey said of the last time Mettenberger faced Houston. ''He did some really good things (last week). There's some things I know he'd like to take back and he's got to quit doing trying to force some of the deeper throws when they're not there."

Mettenberger has an emerging target in rookie Dorial Green-Beckham, who finished with six catches for 113 yards last week. He had seven catches for 104 yards in his first seven games, but has caught 23 passes for 424 yards in the last seven.

"I just have to stay in my zone, keep with the fundamentals and try and make plays no matter who is throwing the ball,'' Green-Beckham said. "The key is to just stay focused. (The Patriots) game is over with and now (I need to) focus on what we need to do now to beat Houston."


J.J. Watt
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