The Texans and Titans face similar circumstances for the first month of the season, as they both will be missing a strong presence at outside linebacker.
Both Houston’s Brian Cushing, the reigning defensive rookie of the year, and Tennessee’s Gerald McRath, a second-year player expected to be a big factor for the defense, are suspended for the first four games for violations of the league’s policy against performance enhancers.
Their first-choice replacements both have durability issues.
The Texans' Xavier Adibi and the Titans' Colin Allred are constantly nicked up. Adibi’s healthy at the right time and will start Sunday against Indianapolis. Allred’s been limited this week with an ankle injury but practiced Friday. The Titans could go with Jamie Winborn instead, but linebackers coach Dave McGinnis said Allred is ahead because he's been around longer and knows the defense better.
The drop-off at both spots is significant -- certainly more so in Houston than in Tennessee as McRath hasn’t proven much yet.
But both defenses might be quicker to go to nickel packages and take that extra backer off the field. Houston would be kicking Glover Quin inside with Brice McCain taking his spot. Tennessee would be pulling Allred or Winborn in favor of Vincent Fuller, a safety who covers slot receivers.
Against the Colts, the Texans are going to play plenty of five-defensive back sets. How much the Raiders will go three-wide with new quarterback Jason Campbell under center remains to be seen.
But for both teams, it’s something we’ll be monitoring.
Maybe after the weekend, the Titans will talk against with Oakland about trading for Thomas Howard.