To call the rivalry between the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars close would be putting it lightly. Houston leads the all-time series with an 11-9 record and a point differential of 28 points in 20 games. Eleven of those 20 match-ups have been decided by less than a touchdown. Even last year, the Schaub-led Texans, the ones that were steamrolling through their schedule, had to scratch their way to a 10-point victory at home.
I do not say that to instill doubt or to get anyone up in arms about this game, but games between these two franchises are often close as two completely different styles try to assert their control on the game. I do not expect this Sunday's game to be any different, especially since it will be Jacksonville's home opener.
We are still at a point where there is too small a sample size to use advanced analytics and the like to craft a Blueprint. As we wait for actual trends to develop, let’s take a look at where each team struggled and succeeded last week to get key match-ups for this Week Two showdown in Jaguar Town.
Houston QB ‘Moneybags’ Matt Schaub versus the Jacksonville Pass
In Minnesota, the Jaguars struggled against a second-year quarterback and his less-than-spectacular receiving corps. Truth be told, the Vikings’ primary threat, wide receiver Percy Harvin, may be their only wide receiver, especially with Jerome Simpson not being able to play. Still, Christian Ponder completed 74.1% of his 27 passes for an average of 10 yards per attempt, which led to a 105.5 QB Rating – career highs in completion percentage, yards/attempt, and QB Rating, numbers that would be exceptional for any quarterback.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, Matt Schaub is a better quarterback with better toys. Mr. Schaub is also playing some of the best football that I have seen from him over the past month. The Virginia alumnus seems to have complete mastery of the West Coast Offense, as he operates with the in-sync timing and accuracy to give his receiver a chance on every play. This impressive play is why he earned his contract extension.
Given their struggles against Ponder and his young group of unknown receivers, Schaub has the opportunity to air it out with Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels for chunks of yardage. LeStar Jean and Keshawn Martin both have opportunities to take advantage of some poor depth, too.
Shelley Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, and RG Antoine Caldwell versus Jacksonville DTs ‘Potroast’ Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu
Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks gave the Houston guards the business on Sunday, beating them both for a sack each and routinely dominating them with his power and quick burst. Jacksonville brings two quality tackles to the party in Knighton and Alualu, each of whom notched a sack each against Minnesota. I will throw in Myers here since he will likely be helping one of the guards on pass-protection, should a linebacker not blitz.
The offense goes as the line goes. When they are being pushed around, it is a long, brutal day for Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This match-up is a must-win for the Texans to do anything on offense come Sunday. Alualu and Knighton could do some real damage and keep Houston from finding an offensive rhythm if the guards cannot hold up.
Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew versus the Houston Run Defense
Miami running back Reggie Bush averaged nearly five yards per carry. Had Miami not fallen into a big turnover-induced hole, Bush may have gone well over 100 rushing yards. Enter Pocket Hercules.
You can point to his holdout as a reason why he may not be ready for this, but Jones-Drew is an elite running back. MJD's not put up a bad season in his entire career, despite Jacksonville's passing woes and Jack Del Rio's bungling of the offense. He has averaged over 4.2 yards per carry each season and is a gamer. I do not have a doubt in my mind that Jones-Drew will run hard every time he gets the ball.
The easiest way to play defense against an offense like Houston's is to grind the clock out and give them less snaps. Jones-Drew can be that equalizer if the Texans do not have their run defense figured out and struggle with tackling again. I expect to see a lot of Jones-Drew inside early and Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert would be the biggest beneficiary if the Texans start playing on their heels.
Houston OLB ‘Cosmo’ Connor Barwin versus Jacksonville LT Eugene Monroe
After a quiet Sunday afternoon at the hands of Jake Long, Barwin could be in for another silent day in Florida. Monroe went toe-to-toe with Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, arguably the league’s premiere pass-rusher, for 46 snaps and held him to zero sacks and zero pressures.
The #BullsOnParade are more than one pass rusher, but Barwin’s role as weakside rusher is an important one. He can either take the load off of Antonio Smith/J.J. Watt or he can take advantage of the chaos they are creating. Barwin’s pressure will be imperative to get Gabbert dancing early and test just how far the young quarterback has really come. Otherwise, Gabbert faces less pressure, and Barwin's looking at quiet back-to-back games plus a match-up against two-time All-Pro LT Ryan Clady next week.
While I do believe that, rather easily, the Texans have a lot more talent overall than Jacksonville, I do expect a tough, physical battle as both of these lines seek to assert themselves on the other.
I believe the Jaguars try and grind out the Texans early to prevent Houston from getting into any rhythm offensively and wearing out the defense to slow down the rush on Gabbert. Likewise, I envision the Texans trying to up the tempo to force the young Jacksonville quarterback into keeping the Jags in the game and not give into that game plan. Whichever offense can get into rhythm first could dictate what kind of game it will be, at least how I see it.
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