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Texans seize control of AFC South by beating Titans

The Texans (3-1) maintained control of the AFC South with a relatively smooth 27-20 victory over the plucky Tennessee Titans (1-3) on Sunday. Here's what we learned:

  1. Bill O'Brien's return as the Texans' primary play-caller was a breath of fresh air for the Texans, especially in the first half. Quarterback Brock Osweiler looked far more comfortable, though an early injury to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz seemed to interrupt a bit of the game plan. O'Brien will get a ton of flak for going for it up by seven points on a fourth-and-1 near midfield (and the decision to hand the ball off to fullback Jay Prosch), but this is also the kind of from-nowhere call that got O'Brien so many looks as a Belichickian disciple in the first place.
  1. In many ways, O'Brien's fourth-down call was also a fairly haughty display of confidence in his defense. And against the Titans, why not? Tennessee's offense in not built to come from behind. Marcus Mariota and the Titans flirted with a deep passing game in spots against the Texans, but ended up relying on the same dressed-up power running scheme that the Titans head coach has been running for a long time. We've lauded its effectiveness -- it kept the Vikings off balance for a half in the season-opener -- but it is nowhere near complete enough to produce a steady winner at the moment.
  1. Derrick Henry only got three attempts (nine yards) on Sunday and nothing notable near the goal line, in part because this game ended up being high-scoring by Titans standards and DeMarco Murray seems more adept in the passing game. But against the Vikings in Week 1, one of Mike Mularkey's strengths as a play-caller was the talent he deployed in versatile backfield formations. Henry and Murray together in a full-house formation forced offenses to prepare for two different running styles. Lately, Mularkey has opted for a full-house combo of Delanie Walker, Murray and fullback Jalston Fowler. We wonder if Mularkey is banking on Henry being his down-the-stretch option once Murray tires.
  1. While we incorrectly associate Jadeveon Clowney's possible ascension with the Texans' ability to close the J.J. Watt Gap, his play was put under a microscope this week. Tennessee did a nice job of keeping him off balance for long stretches of the game, drawing one offside penalty that caused the Texans' coaching staff to pull him out for a play. However, Clowney does not get nearly the credit he deserves against the run. The combination of Clowney and versatile nose Vince Wilfork is good enough up front to keep Houston ahead in the AFC South, especially with no other premiere run threats in the division. If this is all the damage Mularkey's offense can do, we might be able to call this one early.
  1. Will Fuller is a dynamic, Percy Harvin-type weapon that the Texans are just beginning to uncover. His punt return was a track sprint against no one thanks to a coverage breakdown for the Titans. We are blazing past fluke status, even though the Titans' plan was clearly to shut DeAndre Hopkins down (1 catch, four yards) but Fuller is showing that he is more than eager to take advantage of the opportunities.
  1. I'm sure colleague Chris Wesseling -- a fellow Titans Kool-Aid drinker of mine -- will agree: This team is so frustrating to watch. There were moments on Sunday when Mariota would line up in the shotgun, throw a perfect, deft pitch fake freezing Jadeveon Clowney and sprint for a first down the other way. He has so many artfully refined mechanics, and it's hard not to wonder if the play calling is sometimes not perfectly suited for his skill set. Is this a markedly better quarterback that started last season with eight touchdowns and three picks after four weeks?
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