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The Grit of Titans Coach Mike Vrabel: Familiar Foe For Texans

Coach Mike Vrabel's tough nature personifies the Tennessee Titans

HOUSTON -- Nothing about the Tennessee Titans remaining the top team in the AFC makes sense on paper. Without star running back Derrick Henry, regression should have set in. 

Instead, Tennessee has used the huge loss as fuel to flame its path to an 8-2 record and the No. 1 mark in the conference. That's in large part due to the coaching of Mike Vrabel. 

Houston Texans fans likely know Vrabel's name far too well over the past decade. 

"They are a reflection of who (Vrabel) is," Texans coach David Culley said Wednesday. "I happened to be coaching with the Pittsburgh Steelers when he was a young player there and he was a very selfless kind of player that you want on your football team."

A 14-year veteran and three-time Super Bowl champion, Vrabel transitioned to coaching with ease following his retirement in 2010. After a brief stint at his alma mater Ohio State, Vrabel was offered the linebacker coaching position former Texans coach Bill O'Brien's staff. 

Vrabel would transition to defensive coordinator in 2017. A year later, the Music City franchise that once called Houston home plucked him away. 

The results have been positive. Should Vrabel win Sunday or win one more game this season, he will have tallied four consecutive seasons of at last nine wins since 2018. 

Tennessee is coming off a close 23-21 win over the Trevor Siemian-led New Orleans Saints. The tight matchup against a quarterback who recently served on a practice squad might suggest that the Titans aren't a top team.  

But that's far from the truth. This is just the way the Titans win football games. The week prior, they were in complete control in a 28-16 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, an early betting favorite to win the NFC. 

"His football team is a reflection of him," Culley said. "He was tough. It was always about the team." 

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Vrabel's hard-nosed defensive approach is embodied by his team. Even with limited play from starters, such as linebacker Rashaan Evans (knee), pass rusher Bud Dupree (abdominal) and rookie cornerback Caleb Farley (knee), Tennessee remains competitive. 

Last season, the Titans were one of three teams to finish with fewer than 20 sacks. This year through 10 games, they rank fourth in the league with 27. Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons has 7.5 quarterback takedowns. 

Outside linebacker Harold Landry III ranks third among all active defensive players with 10.5. Safety Kevin Byard is second in the league with five interceptions. 

“They're very aggressive," Culley said of the Titans' front seven. "This team, you talk about Landry and Simmons, I think Simmons, as a defensive lineman, he’s leading the league in sacks at his position. Landry’s also up there in sacks. That’s a pretty good crew.

"That overall defense is very consistent and very good." 

Vrabel is described around the league by coaches and front office personnel as "tough" and "rugged." His team is the same way. They play with grit, drive and, most of all, they win. 

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was nearly forgotten before arriving in Nashville after his stint with the Miami Dolphins. He's 26-10 as the Titans' starter over the past two-and-half seasons. The combination of veteran Adrian Peterson and former Texans' third-round selection D'Onta Foreman have picked up the production with the loss of Henry. 

On paper, there's not an overwhelming number of reasons for the Titans to be leading the AFC in wins. Somehow they do. That's a testament to Vrabel's coaching style and culture he's established. 

And it could be a culture wake-up call for Tyrod Taylor and the Texans' offense come Sunday afternoon. After all, Vrabel leads the series against his former club 4-2 all-time.