Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel appeared averse to any chest-pounding or moments of overconfidence as the Titans began preparations for what they hope will be a seventh consecutive victory on Sunday when they host the Houston Texans in Nashville.
Surprising results have become commonplace in the NFL this season, with underdogs rising up to shock favorites with the sort of frequency that reinforces the notion that anything is possible. The Titans (8-2) losing to the rebuilding Texans (1-8) seems unlikely, but that fact didn’t prevent Vrabel from laying out the Titans’ foremost aspirations for this week.
“We’re just trying to continue to improve,” Vrabel said. “Trying to get healthy. Try to play faster, try to play with more urgency and just continue to try to eliminate the things that are going to get you beat. Cleaning up some of the things that showed up on Sunday.”
The Titans edged the New Orleans Saints 23-21 last Sunday, their third victory by three points or fewer during their six-game winning streak. Tennessee has earned raves for its physical play and deserves credit for a series of performances that has netted those close victories. However, the Titans remain on alert and are aware that prior success doesn’t guarantee future results.
Climbing atop the AFC would mean little if the Titans suddenly slipped into reverse.
“It doesn’t mean that we’ve got to start losing games or get comfortable and be like, well, we’ve got ourselves the lead,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said. “No, we’ve got the lead, let’s keep the lead, let’s keep it going. Why not go further? Why not go undefeated for the rest of the year?
“That’s the mentality that you have to have. We are in new territory as far as being the top seed, but if we keep winning, great things will continue to happen.”
The Texans have dropped eight consecutive games and remain in full-blown evaluation mode. The latest such example was the decision to move third-year safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. back to his original position of cornerback, where he played 14 games (seven starts) as a rookie.
Johnson, a second-round pick of the Texans in 2019, leads the team with three interceptions and has recorded 39 tackles and four passes defensed in eight games (five starts).
“He was more comfortable there,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He wasn’t as comfortable playing safety. That wasn’t natural for him. He had been a corner before we got here, they moved him to safety, and then we tried him back there in our scheme. It just didn’t fit what he was athletically. We talked about it and decided the best thing for him to do was to go back to corner. Now that we’ve got him back there, I think he’s comfortable there and will remain there.”
The Texans are desperate for anything resembling positive momentum. After losing 31-21 at Cleveland in their first road game, the Texans have totaled 17 points in four road games since.
Through this string of humbling defeats, Culley is striving to remain optimistic.
“We’ve got eight games left, and we’re looking forward to the next eight games, taking them one game at a time,” Culley said. “We’re not looking at it as a losing streak. We’re looking at it right now as having a one-game winning streak and then moving forward.”