Ryan Tannehill has made 49 consecutive starts since taking over as the Titans’ starting quarterback in 2019, but an injury and illness have threatened that streak this week.
Tannehill has been dealing with an ankle injury throughout the week leading up to Tennessee’s matchup with the Texans, ceding first-team reps to rookie Malik Willis as the Titans aim to extend their win streak to five. Will Tannehill be ready in time for Sunday’s matchup in Houston?
Titans Starting Quarterback vs. Houston Texans
The Titans formally ruled Tannehill out on Saturday, declaring that the quarterback will not make the trip to Houston. Willis will make the first start of his NFL career for a Tennessee team that hasn’t lost since the only other time he logged game action – at the end of a blowout loss to the Bills.
Willis was a projected first-round pick by some analysts leading up to the 2022 Draft, but he slipped all the way to the third-round and didn’t land in a situation that would allow him to compete for a starting role. Still, with Tannehill’s shaky play since last season, Willis could use this opportunity to prove he’s worth keeping around as the long-term solution at quarterback in Tennessee.
The Liberty product has thrown only four regular season passes, but his mobility was utilized right away when he replaced Tannehill late in the Titans’ Week 2 loss. Willis ran for 16 yards on 4 attempts. Though he’s prone to mistakes through the air, Willis has the chance to be dangerous as a runner, and designed runs could be a huge part of Tennessee’s gameplan in Houston.
Malik Willis vs. Houston Texans
The Texans’ defense has been less than impressive this season, allowing 6.7 yards per pass attempt (23rd in the league), though only one team has allowed fewer touchdown passes through the air.
With Houston’s secondary one of the brighter spots of the defense, look for the Titans to run the ball often – both with Willis and Derrick Henry, who is coming off another big game. The Texans’ run defense is 29th in the league, giving up 5.2 yards per carry. Willis will be on the move often in what should be a run-heavy day for both offenses.
Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans Odds
With the news of Tannehill’s absence, the line shifted in the direction of Houston. The Texans are 1-point home favorites, and these two are even on the moneyline at -108. The over/under is just 38.5 points.
There’s a chance this is an overreaction. While Willis can be erratic as a passer, the Titans might be able to win this game by running all over the Texans’ leaky run defense. Tennessee’s impressive defense isn’t going up against a strong quarterback, and the Titans have already proven they’re as well-equipped as any team to win behind a running game and defense.
If the Texans get ahead early and force Willis to pass the ball more than the Titans would like, that’s where Houston would have the advantage.