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Texans-Jaguars Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

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Matt Weston gives you SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the Jaguars.

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Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

At 0-3 I didn’t feel anything yet I was hopeful one day I would. At 0-3 the playoffs became a Jim Mora meme, and no longer, could the slasher killer hide behind the curtain of his win loss record. It seemed like Houston would finally flay its skin and remove head coach Bill O’Brien from the team. No longer would his reign of mediocre underperforming football continue. A team this talented shouldn’t have been stuck with bargain bin quarterbacks wasting everyone’s lives for that long. A team this talented and this relatively healthy shouldn’t be 0-3. Then the devil pulled the same tricks. Houston beat two terrible teams and a mediocre one by one possession after some questionable overtime decisions and an existential crisis causing Nathan Peterman pick six. Now, at 3-3, O’Brien is once again able to hide behind his win loss record. He isn’t going anywhere. Stop kissing your Dabo Swinney Google Image printed photographs good night. Quit trying to learn how to spell Lazor. Death has sat back up.

As despondent as I am, tomorrow has made it all worth it. Meaningful AFC South football is my favorite type of football. Stupid, stupid, stupid, hilarious football. I want it all. I want sideline shots of Blake Bortles erasing head of hair, I want Jadeveon Clowney to rip A.J. Cann’s dreads from his scalp, I want Will Fuller V to race A.J. Bouye down the sideline, I want Calais Campbell-J.J. Watt dueling homerun celebrations, October, I want 85 degrees, I want to cut the legs off my jeans and stand in TIAA Bank Field slop water. I want it all. And I want this game to be a switchback towards the summit. The continuing uphill to a a week 17 AFC South Title Game. Houston. Jacksonville. Week 17. An imaginary championship game that Tennessee can’t screw up and prevent from happening. I wish I was more than a sponge in the year 2000.

HIT IT

1.) Must Watch DVD

The NFL is all about matchups, says the professional football man on the television. The NFL is all about matchups, says the smart football man on the internet. If you agree, then this game is for you. DeAndre Hopkins v. Jalen Ramsey is the NFL’s best wide receiver cornerback sword fight, and like the solstice, it comes twice a year.

Since Ramsey was drafted in 2016 Hopkins has 24 catches on 59 targets against the Jaguars. All these catches have added up to 270 yards, 2 touchdowns and 14 first downs. Overall, Ramsey has had the upper hand in the matchup. Hopkins’s longest reception and touchdown against Ramsey turned a 31-0 game 31-6. As terrible as T.J. Yates was, at least he followed his only principle, throw the ball to Hopkins a lot.

But even then, these two meaningless catches in a listless game that only end of November football can bring were spectacular. It was Hopkins v. Ramsey. Isolated together on the left sideline. Two fade routes. The first Hopkins pushed Ramsey into the mud with a double move and climbed back to make the catch.

The second Hopkins won off the line of scrimmage and made a square button jamming diving catch. Man, I love how much it disgusts Ramsey to give up this catch.

The difference now is Hopkins has an actual quarterback to throw him passes in this cataclysmic clash. In the past it was Yates, it was Tom Savage, it was [NAME REDACTED], it was the second half of a ruined game that Watson subbed in for. In this one Watson is the only and actual quarterback for Houston. With an actual quarterback, Hopkins has 44 (8th) catches on 63 targets (8th) for 657 yards (3rd), 3 touchdowns, and has accrued 186 DYAR (1st). Hopkins is no longer sewed up and force fed until BLAH, the spectacular happens. He’s efficient and effective and has made some game saving catches this season.

Ramsey is good, not great, according to Football Outsiders’ charting. He has a success rate of 56% (21st) and is giving up 7.2 yards a pass (32nd). It’s nothing compared to the 61% (7th) and 5.3 (1st) he had last year. Also Jacksonville is 23rd in DVOA against wide receiver #1.

As FUN as Hopkins-Ramsey has been before, it will be nothing compared to what we can see on Sunday. The physical puppy dog yapping Ramsey against the Operation route running claw snapping Hopkins with a real life quarterback is occurring in a game where the end result could mean first place in the AFC South.

There’s one thing in the way however. The Jaguars have been too cute on defense this year, as they can be sometimes. I’ll never forget last year’s AFC Championship game. Jacksonville played cautious. They played off-man and cover 3. They let Brandin Cooks comeback for first downs and never gave A.J. Bouye a chance to make plays on the ball. Afraid to get beat deep. Then when New England went deep, some questionable calls that still hurt my feeling were made, and the ball automatically moved downfield.

Although both players haven’t charted to their usual standards, the Jaguars still have the best cornerback combination in football with “The Texans Should Have Franchise Tagged” A.J. Bouye and Ramsey. With this advantage you can lock down any teams two best receivers, and force the tertiary options to beat you. Too often this year the Jags are playing cover 4. Having four defenders backpedaling to the deeper part of the field, a coverage that’s fairly easy to beat with route scheming manipulation. They even employed it constantly last week against Dallas, a team with zero good receivers. Cole Beasley had more than 100 yards. This should never happen.

Hopefully they cut it out. Cover four and cover three are things that should be used here and there depending on the formation and the situation. They shouldn’t be the staple coverage with the amount of cornerback talent Jacksonville has. Give me Hopkins v. Ramsey. Give me Fuller V v. Bouye. Put cucumber slices over my eyes and project this directly into this hard and broiled thing I call a brain.

As excited as you loyal reader and I maybe for these matchups, the biggest mismatch Houston has is in the slot. The Texans have an actual slot receiver for the first time ever in Keke Coutee. He can actually beat man coverage. He can stampede in between both levels of defenders in zone coverage. He’s little and diabolical. A jungle pygmy. If Jacksonville plays the man coverage that they should, they’ll be stuck with Tyler Patmon on Coutee. The Jags have severely missed DJ Hayden. Patmon has been a hairball this year. He’s giving up 9.8 yards a pass and 3.2 yards after the catch. That’s about as bad as it gets. This is about as bad as it gets.

As so often happens, what is hyped up and looked forward to may not mean anything in this one. It could instead be the middle of the field that’s the key for Houston’s passing attack.

2.) Sacksonville

Let’s get this out of the way. Neither team is going to be able to run the ball. Houston’s run offense is putrid. Houston is averaging 3.9 yards an attempt (26th) and has a rush offense DVOA of -21% (29th). Jacksonville’s is whatever. Jacksonville is averaging 4.4 yards an attempt (11th) and has a rush offense DVOA of -13.2% (22nd). And each team is going up against one of the best run defenses in football.

Instead, it’s going to be all about the pass offenses. In addition to Bouye and Ramsey, the Texans also have to deal with a nasty rush. The Jags have 14 sacks this season, are 17th in adjusted sack rate, and are 9th in pressure rate at 31.4%. Pass me the Accutane, Yannick Ngakoue is proving that last year was more than oily overload breakout, but a cystic problem here to say. This season he has 4 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 17 pressures, leading the Jags in every pass rush measure. Calais Campbell is dealing with an ankle injury, but he should still play in this game. This Alaskan mountain of a man also has 4 sacks, but has a lesser number of quarterback hits and pressures. Malik Jackson is a steady interior rush presence. Dante Fowler has been underwhelming and disappointing, but still has a killer inside out move, and can yank a rabbit out of his head every once in a while and have some monster games. Telvin Smith is their best blitzer.

Although they aren’t bombarding offenses with cannonballs and pestilent bodies heaved over walls, the Jags pass rush is still talented and rude. If you invite them over they won’t take their shoes off. Even if you ask nicely. But even if they weren’t your boyfriend grabbing a beer and coming back upstairs mute and transformed into a ghost by a sheet unsettling, it probably wouldn’t matter. The Texans’ offensive line is once again the worst pass blocking offensive line in football. They have settled down on a tackle combination of Juli’en Davenport, who couldn’t handle Jerry Hughes and gave up three sacks and nine pressures last week, and Kendall Lamm, who was once again slow and weak and horrendous. Together these two made life impossible for Deshaun Watson last week.

Whew, that’s exhausting. The Texans also aren’t helping their players at all. Jerry Hughes is what, a top ten edge rusher, and one of the quickest defensive linemen off the ball. Davenport didn’t stand a chance against him. Rather than be smart and chip and dig knives into the ribs of Hughes with running backs, tight ends, and slot receivers, the Texans instead continued to leave Davenport one on one in isolation, and continued to soak Watson in buttermilk and roll him in cornmeal. O’Brien needs to put on some 2015 15-1 Carolina game tape and see how they covered up for Michael Oher and Mike Remmers.

This offensive line also isn’t like last year’s offensive line. There’s actual talent here. It’s not a bare cupboard where Breno Giacomini is a can of corn bought in 1997 that expired in 2007. They have midround draft selections, and free agents they paid good money for. Yet, it hasn’t made a difference. Davenport was forced into the wrong position at right and is once again playing left. Martinas Rankin has the foot speed to play right tackle, not left. Senio Kelemete’s hand problems still exist. Nick Martin hasn’t developed past being a good help pass blocker, and struggles to reach the outside shoulder in the run game. Zach Fulton has been fine, but hasn’t been the same player he was in Kansas City.

Make me the whip leader of Fire Mike Devlin. Brandon Brooks, and Ben Jones are better in Philadelphia and Tennessee than they were in Houston. Greg Mancz is the only young lineman Houston has developed, and even then, he’s a third interior blocker. They couldn’t correct Xavier Su’a-Filo’s hand issues. Jeff Allen was wretched in Houston. And now, even with all the upgrades and changes on the offensive line, Houston still has the worst pass protecting offensive line in football.

Houston may also be without Fulton this week. The starting guard has an ankle injury. In his spot would be Greg Mancz. The Texans third interior blocker has been a fine pass blocker although undersized, and is a nice outside zone blocker. Him against Campbell and Jackson is a mismatch. It’s also another new offensive line combination for Houston. If it holds this would be the fifth different combination Houston will have employed. This is especially unsettling when you consider the issues the Texans already have picking up blitzes. Lamar Miller hasn’t been good in pass protection. The Texans give up too many free rushers.

The Jags are also a creative blitzing team. They looooooove to overload one side of the line of scrimmage, and are constantly turning the pocket into a post concert parking lot.

If the Jags bring four or six it doesn’t matter. They’ll be able to create pressure. Just please no more Malik Jackson dropping back into zone coverage. Stop making things harder than they need to be. Watson isn’t a wocket in the pocket though. He can actually run and evade tacklers. Both Telvin Smith and Myles Jack will need to be able to clean things up when he does spill out of aisle three.

3.) My Lungs, My Ribs, Oh My Heart

In week five Deshaun Watson stuck spurs to his heels, buckled up, and tried to go through that mountain pass in the snow and be the Cowboy. Three redzone runs turned into red rover at the goal line. He was unable to break through crossed arms. He ended up on the sideline with a stethoscope stuck to his back. He was hurt. Yet, nobody knew exactly what his injury was. Then Jay Glazer and his My Cat From Hell facial hair reported that Watson had a partially collapsed lung and cracked rib in that game, and that lung is now bruised.

We’re at the point now where the hits are becoming overwhelming. Before it was kind of a nuisance the acrobatic Watson had to deal with. But after being sacked 25 times, and hit millions of other times, things are concerning. I’m actually worried for Watson’s health. I’ll bleed from the stomach if I have to see Brandon Weeden out on the field.

All these hits have ruined the offense. Third downs turn into a bumped bee hive. 2nd and 7 becomes 3rd and 13. The Texans are now forced to limit how they use Wastson as a runner. If he’s taking fifteen hits a game on pass plays, there’s no way they can allow him to be hit an additional seven times in the run game. As a result, the super cool offense has been duct taped and thrown into the back of the trunk. Zone reads, options, quarterback draws and powers, are once again obsolete. You don’t want what’s collapsed to detonate.

In this bland offense Watson had the worst game of his career. He completed only 15 passes on 25 attempts, was sacked 7 times, and had just 5.8 net yards an attempt. What was a nice afternoon stroll soundtracked by an opera of birds became a callus of vultures. The worst part of his game were the turnovers though. Watson threw two interceptions, fumbled three other times, and was lucky to only lose one of those footballs. He’s thrown seven interceptions this year. In a game where both offenses will struggle turnovers could be the deciding after.

So now, once again, the offense is inside run plays. Third down shotgun pass attempts. Things are bad, bleak, and boring. That isn’t even the biggest concern either. No, it’s that Watson is low on hit points and running out of potions.

4.) Bah! Bortles

I’m proud of Blake Bortles. No longer does everyone stand and point and laugh at him. He just blends in with the crowd. Steady and somewhat competent. Yet, the decent he has worked hard to obtain still has its flaws. This year Jacksonville has scored 20, 31, and 31 points. But they’ve also scored 9, 14, and 7 points. When the game starts you know right away which Bortles you’re going to get. He’s either going to be competent and be able to throw the ball accurately, or he’s going to throw a mismatched potato head of passes behind, above, or at the receiver’s feet.

This short throwing accuracy is critical to the Jags’ passing attack. Last year the Jaguars’ offense morphed from an inside run heavy barbaric attack complemented by vertical downfield throws, to an inside run heavy barbaric attack complemented by short crossing routes. Rather than make Bortles throw to the sideline where so many things can go wrong, they turned down the difficulty level. They spread things out to more four and five wide receiver sets and threw slants and drags, and when things weren’t open, Bortles took off for first downs. This is Jacksonville’s pass offense, a play in one act.

It worked. Bortles became a little capable. According to PFF Bortles threw 104 crossing routes last year. This year he’s thrown 53 and has completed 36 of them for 517 yards. The trouble arises when he’s inaccurate. Those games where Bortles doesn’t have it is when the Jags especially miss Leonard Fournette. The early selected running back can consistently chew up bones and collect four to five yards a carry between the tackles and run through arms and collide and fall forward. When Jacksonville had an early lead, an aggressive defense, and Fournette running, they became unstoppable.

The Jags don’t have Fournette once again. T.J. Yeldon has been great this year, but he’s not the same type of runner. He’s an every down back who can run the outside zone and is great at turning dumpoffs and swing passes into first downs. He can’t carry an offense on his own. When Bortles is bad, the Jags just have to stomach it and wash it down with gulps of milk.

Things have also gotten harder for Bortles too. This year Bortles has fallen from 16th to his career norm of 26th in passing DVOA. Those crossing routes aren’t as wide open as they once were. Defenses have adjusted. No longer are they playing man and trying to run with the zippy Dede Westbrook, who has taken Marqise Lee’s place in this offense, and Keelan Cole. They’re playing short zones, and coming down and tackling.

With this change of events the Jags have to throw the ball downfield more often, and complete more of these passes to create some breathing room. Safeties shouldn’t be able to wallow this shallow. The talent is an issue to solve this problem though. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns aren’t here anymore. His downfield receiving options are Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark. Moncrief is slow, flails when he tries to beat man coverage, and has caught just 18 of his 40 attempts. Chark has actual talent. He’s picked up 21.8 yards a reception even though he’s only caught 4 of his 11 targets. These attempts need to be thrown more often. These catches need to be made more often.

Houston can’t be afraid of the unusual to happen. Johnathan Joseph has been a rockstar playing a ten year front to back album anniversary show the past two weeks. Playing closer to the line of scrimmage against bad receivers has turned him back into being a good cornerback. Romeo Crennel needs to play short zone coverage, and keep his defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage. The key here is to not allow third down conversions and yards after the catch. They can’t be afraid of the occasional downfield completions that are rarer than an albino squirrel. One day, Matthew. One day.

5.) Gruesome Twosome

Have you waited four years for anything? You probably haven’t unless you are an Olympian. Times change. It’s best to go and out and get instead of wait for something to cross this road. But for people who are happy when the Texans are fun and play well, the answer is yes. Because the dreams we had four years ago when Jadeveon Clowney was selected first overall in the 2014 NFL draft have become the immediate reality. Watt and Clowney are abominations.

This season Watt has seven sacks, 16.5 quarterback pressures, 11 quarterback hits—I’ll keep going—4 forced fumbles, 8 tackles for a loss, and 25 tackles. The edge rush is back. The long arm is back. The sublime bust through three blockers sacks are back. Watt is doing the things he did from 2012 to 2015.

Sure, the injury concerns are still here. I hold my breath through every tunnel and through every sideline shot of Watt winded and grabbing his wrist. Not cool CBS. Stop these closeups every time Watt comes out of the game. I already have enough a genetic propensity to heart attacks as it is.

This season Clowney has 2.5 sacks, 11 pressures, 6 quarterback hits, 7 tackles for a loss, and 13 tackles. He claimed he wasn’t rusty to start the season, but he was. After shedding his skin he’s back to being that septum pierced witch doctor we know him to be. He’s winning by athleticism alone.

In addition to getting used to playing football, Romeo Crennel has also helped navigate his recent explosion. Clowney is playing less outside linebacker, and is playing more defensive end. Once again he’s closer to the ball and can have a greater impact on the run game. Crennel also got the memo and has his stilettos on and is back to doing what worked in 2016 when Watt was tragically lost for the season. He’s using Clowney has a stand up interior blitzer to wreck run plays and create an interior rush that doesn’t exist thanks to the lack of talent he has at his disposal.

These inside blitzes have also permeated to other players. Benardrick McKinney is back to looping in the interior to bring down the quarterback. He has picked up sacks in back to back games thanks to this move. It works! Keep doing this.

This season everyone was expecting more injuries to the Jags’ defense and for them to regress. Yes, their pass defense has regressed from first to sixth, but their only real injury has been to Hayden. The injuries have instead been to their offense. Fournette doesn’t exist. Lee tore his knee in the preseason. Cam Robinson tore his ACL and is gone. His backup Josh Wells, who played admirably, is on injured reserve with a groin injury. They’re on their third left tackle. Whatever a Josh Walker is is the starting left tackle. Jeremy Parnell has been lost at times and had his taters tossed into the microwave by Dee Ford against Kansas City. And the Jags are just an unexpected play away from picking Ereck Flowers. This is all happening to an offensive line that already ranks 24th in pressure rate.

The Texans will probably keep Watt and Clowney out wide at the defensive end positions. They have been putting Watt on the easiest matchup on the line of scrimmage. Although Clowney primarily rushes against the left tackle, they’ll probably line up Watt v. Walker and Clowney v. Parnell. This is a huge advantage for Houston. Sure, on the inside it’s Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, and A.J. Cann, but the Texans have the resources to get to Bortles on the outside as long as Houston doesn't keep their corners seven yards off the line of scrimmage.

6.) I’m A One Armed Rum Runner

I was your partner and your little black flower. Slop. Love is a just another dirty lie. Love is ergoapiol pills to make me come around because youwere afraid to have a baby. Love is quinine and quinine and quinine until I’m deaf with it. Love is that dirty aborting horror that you took me to. Love is my insides all messed up. It’s half catheters and half whirling douches. I know about love. Love always hangs up behind the bathrrom door. It smells like Lysol. To hell with love.

Enjoy the game everyone.