- Associated Press - Thursday, September 28, 2017

HOUSTON (AP) - The Tennessee Titans know that if they hope to win the AFC South this season, they’ll have to figure out a way to play better against the Houston Texans than they have in recent years.

The Titans have dropped five of their last six to Bill O’Brien’s Texans, who have won the division the last two seasons - and haven’t won in Houston since Jan. 1, 2012.

“We didn’t have enough (wins) in the division and Bill’s done a good job of winning games in this division, and that’s made the difference of why they’ve won it the last two years,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “So, we understand that. Tough lesson learned for us last year, but it’s still early this year. Our guys understand what it takes.”

Mularkey, who took over in 2015, wasn’t around for the start of the streak but wants to see this team snap it on Sunday.

“The ‘in-a-row’ thing has to end some time, it can only go on for so long, and I’m hoping (it ends) this week,” Mularkey said. “They’ve had a nice run at their place.”

The Titans (2-1) enter Sunday’s game tied with Jacksonville for the division lead. Houston (1-2) needs a win to avoid going into an 0-2 hole in division play after losing to the Jaguars in the opener.

The Texans are coming off a 36-33 loss to New England, but are encouraged by the progress rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson showed in that game, which was his second NFL start. Watson threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 41 yards against the Patriots.

He’s been lauded for his ability to extend plays with his feet and for his running ability, but O’Brien is quick to point out that he’s a solid passer as well.

“He’s not a runner first, he’s a passer first. He wants to throw the football,” O’Brien said. “He’s a very good passer and then he takes it from there. But I’ve always been impressed with his ability to throw.”

Some things to know about the Titans-Texans game:

SACKLESS WATT: Houston defensive end J.J. Watt doesn’t have a sack this season, but that could change this week considering the success he’s had in his career against the Titans.

Watt, who missed the final 13 games of last season after back surgery, has at least one sack in eight straight games against Tennessee. He has 15 1/2 sacks in his career against the Titans, which is his most against any team.

Watt isn’t concerned about failing to take down the quarterback so far, and said he’s more worried about how the defense plays as a whole than his statistics.

“If I end the year with zero sacks, but we have 40 as a team and 20 forced fumbles, I’ll take that all day long,” he said. “The older I get in my career and the more that … I don’t care about the stats, to be honest with you. All I want to do is win football games.”

PROTECTING MARIOTA: The Titans have allowed Marcus Mariota to be sacked just twice through three games.

The Seattle Seahawks didn’t even manage to record a hit on the quarterback in the passing game, and their only chances of tackling Mariota came when he took off running. The Titans are tied for first in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed.

SLIP AND SLIDE: All of Watson’s scrambling has raised the question of how he learned to slide and what he’s doing to avoid taking big hits when he gets out of the pocket.

The former Clemson standout said he never slid until he got to college. It was there that they brought out a slip-and-slide at a few practices to let them work on their sliding skills, which he acknowledged was a rather fun way to work on the skill.

When he was in lower levels of football, sliding at the end of a play was against his nature, but things have changed now that he’s in the NFL.

“Not now. I’m trying to live another day,” he said. “I’m not trying to get hit at this level.”

FULLER’S RETURN: Receiver Will Fuller is expected to play for the first time this season on Sunday after missing the first three games after breaking his collarbone early in training camp.

The speedy Fuller, who was a first-round pick last season, had 47 receptions for 635 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.

“I feel like I’m ready,” Fuller said. “I’m out there practicing … just practicing hard, just trying to get on the same page as Deshaun. Getting back into the rhythm of things on offense and how we run things.”

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AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

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For more NFL coverage: https://www.pro32.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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