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Texans-Jaguars Preview: Five Things to Watch

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Texans. Jaguars. Here's your viewing guide for the greatest rivalry in football since 2002.

It's his homecoming this week.
It's his homecoming this week.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars are 1-4. One team is surviving on the fumes of past playoff teams like a downtrodden soul huffing fossil fuels. The other is a team that  has spent the past four years rebuilding and is trying to turn into the newest, coolest, hippest upstart team. Each team is very different, but still share one thing in common. They both are 1-4. They both are terrible.

If you are watching this thrilling spectacle of three and outs, four yard runs, and incomplete passes, you should be on the lookout for:

1.) Blake Bortles

Of all the quarterbacks who played below replacement level in their first two seasons since 1989, only three ever became above-average NFL quarterbacks: Troy Aikman, Alex Smith and Jeff George. After posting a DYAR of -955, the fourth worst of all time, Blake Bortles entered the season attempting to prove he wasn't the next Blaine Gabbert.  Bortles is looking to prevent himself from joining an illustrious list of those who stayed below average after horrific  seasons that includes stalwarts like John Beck, Brandon Weeden, Tim Couch, and other vacant cars rusted on the side of the highway. This season he has played well enough to keep himself outside the alleyway of despair.

Blake Bortles DYAR DVOA QBR Att Yards Tds Ints Cmp%
102 (16th) -3.4% (19th) 63.7 (14th) 202 1,216 10 4 57.8%

The third pick of the 2014 NFL Draft has improved tremendously since last season. Yet he's still a player I would describe as merely "alright." Despite the size, arm strength, and athleticism, I still don't think Bortles pans out into a second-tier quarterback. Like Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, E.J. Manuel, and many others, accuracy issues rarely turn around. It seems more of an innate trait than something you can simply work on. I believe this and poor decision making will hold him back in his career, preventing him from becoming anything more than maybe average.

But who cares about my crystal ball gazing? Bortles has played better this season, and this week he's going up against the Texans' 27th ranked pass defense. Let's see if he continues his maturation against a really bad Texans defense.

2.) Can the Texans Rush the Passer?

No one on this team can rush the passer except for J.J. Watt. Jadeveon Clowney gets close, but close doesn't count for anything. He still has yet to turn his almosts into production. And he's still the Texans' second best pass rusher. He will be out on Sunday though, and as a result, get ready for more John Simon, YAAAAAAAAY, and Whitney Mercilus, who gets to do what most outside linebackers are paid to do--rush the passer.

The Texans have the 29th best pass rush in the NFL, according to adjusted sack rate. The Jaguars have the 23rd best pass protection according to this same metric. Texans' fans, coaches, players, and management have all waited for the defense to turn in a masterful performance. But it looks like they are going to have to wait another week. Despite the Texans playing against one of the crappier offensive lines in the league, this doesn't seem like their week without Clowney.

3.) J.J. Watt Hates the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Texans are 1-4. This season is already over. The only thing we really get to savor and enjoy is J.J. Watt playing football. To our dismay, the most valuable non-quarterback in the league and the best player in the NFL has been mitigated somewhat this year. Opponents have chipped him, cut him, doubled him, and tripled him into submission.

Last week, we saw the worst game of Watt's career. He had two tackles and one quarterback hit. Indianapolis did a nice job scheming against him and used seven man protections to keep Matt Hasslebeck upright all game. The Colts took away the only thing we have to love last week, and the Jaguars will look to do the same.

Watt does have two things going his way this week. He's going up against a worse offensive line, and if performance has a correlation to hatred, then he hates the Jaguars. In his career against Jacksonville, Watt has made 53 plays, 12 sacks, 16 tackles of zero yards or less, 6 passes defended, 1 fumble recovered, and 1 fumble forced.

Hopefully Luke Joeckel, Zane Beadles, Jeremy Parnell, and company aren't able to take away the only thing we have, and Watt swims over everyone in another classic Jaguar hunt.

4.) Julius Thomas is Playing

The Peyton Manning touchdown catcher was made the highest paid tight end in the NFL after signing a 5 year, $46.6 million contract to head on down to Jacksonville to catch touchdown passes from Blake Bortles. What's the point of having all that cap room if you don't make players the highest paid at that position? In Denver, Thomas caught 71.5% of his targets from Manning and 24 touchdowns.

Thomas missed all of the preseason and the first four games this season after a hand injury. He and Bortles are making up for lost time and are trying to gel together quickly. Thomas played his first game of the season last week. He caught both(!) passes from Bortles for...20 yards.

This week, the Jaguars are playing against a Texans defense with no one who can cover tight ends. Every one of the linebackers--Brian Cushing, Justin Tuggle, Whitney Mercilus, John Simon, Akeem Dent, and Benardrick McKinney--all can't cover. Eddie Pleasant, the nickel linebacker, is too small to do anything against Thomas. Quintin Demps, the Texans' strong safety who's taken over tight end babysitting duty for the linebackers, is out. Together this defense has a DVOA of 9.5%, 21st in the NFL.

Thomas has been one of the premier tight ends in the league. Now he gets to play against a team that can't cover the center of the field with a better Bortles instead of the "Is this Blaine Gabbert all over again?" Bortles of last year.

5.) Cecil Shorts the Fourteenth is Coming Home

Ohhhhhhhhh, you thought Andre Johnson going to Houston was a big deal.  You just wait. Tomorrow is going to be a cataclysmic apocalypse unknown to anyone in the history of this little blue and green marble. Since the Big Bang, nothing of this magnitude has ever occurred.

Cecil Shorts III is heading back to Jacksonville.

He was drafted by the Jaguars in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft. After he was selected, Shorts vowed to prove the Atlanta Falcons wrong for trading up to take Julio Jones instead of him. All Shorts did since then was back his mouth with 2,343 yards on 178 catches and 12 touchdowns in Jacksonville.  He was the best receiver on the team in 2012 and 2013.  He was looking to be a reliable force at the receiver position not seen in Jacksonville since Jimmy Smith himself, a player who everyone saw was a 96 overall in Madden and wondered, "Who the hell is that?".

But like the newest video game system, Shorts was thrown away. The Jaguars decided not to re-sign him after his rookie contract. Like an XBOX 360, he was replaced with the NEWEST and COOLEST. To go along with Bortles in 2014, the Jaguars drafted Allen Robinson (39th overall), and Marqise Lee (61st overall), and then signed Allen Hurns after the draft. With Julius Thomas and a new batch of games to plug into the BortlesONE, Shorts was tossed out.

This offseason, Shorts signed a two year deal with the Texans. And unlike Andre Johnson, playing against his former team played every part of his decision. He is listed as questionable heading into Sunday's game, but I guarantee you he will play. He will make the Jaguars pay just like the Falcons did for passing over him.

That is, until he realizes Brian Hoyer is starting at quarterback.

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