Cameron Wolfe, ESPN Staff Writer 326d

Blitz or contain the legs? How the Titans will defend Deshaun Watson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There's no Russell Wilson for the Titans to defend this week, but Tennessee's practice simulations and game plan may look similar to what the team did against the Seattle Seahawks last week.

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is just a rookie, but his legs have garnered him enough respect to be defended in a comparable way to Wilson. The Titans' guidelines will remain the same -- attack and finish -- even if the method shifts.

"It's a benefit to us, very similar guys making plays all the way to the end," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "They had two similar plays, Russell on a fourth down and Watson on a third-down play just about on his knees and letting him go. You've got to cover him to the whistle. It's going to be a difficult task.

Watson leads all NFL quarterbacks with 124 rushing yards and he looked completely different in his first start against the Cincinnati Bengals compared with his second start last week against the Patriots when he threw for 301 yards.

Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau may cook up a scheme predicated on exotic blitzes and diverse looks to confuse the young quarterback. It'll be a week where sacks and turnovers could turn the tide.

"He's really elusive," said Titans linebacker Kevin Dodd, who played two years with Watson at Clemson. "If I can a sack, that’ll be a dream come true. We joked on the phone about it. He not going to go out too easy. He’s slippery. He moves around that pocket really good. He's a really smart player. He's comfortable with what he does in each play."

Tennessee will be certain to test his comfort this week. Wilson has made a career out of exploiting blitzes and making big plays out of extended plays. The Titans knew that and blitzed Wilson on only 13 of his 49 dropbacks. Wilson completed 10 of those for 160 yards, one touchdown and zero sacks. It wasn't a week where blitzing was successful.

"Russell is one of the best guys in the league in getting away from defenders," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "(Watson) is not as elusive as Wilson, but he can play make plays and extend plays with his athletic ability."

Watson has been blitzed on 27 of his 99 dropbacks so far this season. He completed 54 percent of those passes. Watson completed 64 percent of his passes when he wasn't blitzed. Sunday against New England, Watson completed 70 percent of his passes when he was not blitzed. That ratio dropped to 60 percent when he was blitzed.

Those numbers would seem to indicate blitzing might be the most effective play, especially if the Titans' pass rush gets home quickly.

Quickly plugging Lamar Miller and the Texans' run game could be key. Tennessee held Seattle to just 3.1 yards per carry, forcing it to become one-dimensional. Wilson attempted 49 passes in the Titans' 33-27 win. If Watson throws 49 times, there's a good chance the Titans will improve to 3-1.

This will only be Watson's third start, but Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said "he's very comfortable with Deshaun overall," even if the Titans let the dogs loose.

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