If there’s anything we learned from week one, it’s that the Houston Texans are just as good as people predicted. Specifically, J.J. Watt appears to be every bit as good as he was last season and then some. While one game is not a whole season, it looks like the Texans are (again) for real. For the Jacksonville Jaguars that means they need to find a way to get their best player to be effective against a superb defensive unit with very little help.
This year it won’t be the Jaguars’ passing offense that isn’t providing the help; it will be an offensive line riddled with injuries. Guards Eben Britton, Uche Nwaneri, and tackle Cameron Bradfield all left Sunday’s game against the Vikings with injuries. We still don’t know how this will shape up for the Texans game but it’s always best to prepare for the worst.
Assuming that Britton and Bradfield won’t play (Nwaneri returned to the game after leaving the field against the Vikes) the Jags will have a serious problem on the right side and the left inside of the line. Based on how the Dolphins ran the ball against the Texans, I believe the inside of the line will be the bigger loss.
The Dolphins ran the ball 19 times against the Texans for 79 yards. After falling behind 24-3 at the end of the first half (due to costly turnovers that led to 21 Texans points in two minutes), running was a luxury for the Dolphins. Yet even when behind, when they turned to run it worked – especially up the middle.
Here we need to differentiate between simply running up the middle and taking a delayed handoff or a draw play from the shotgun. The Dolphins did very well when they ran straight up the middle without giving the defense extra time to identify the run after the snap. The Dolphins averaged 5.4 yards per carry when running up the middle (60 yards on 11 attempts) compared to 3.3 yards per carry when going outside (20 yards on 6 attempts) against the Texans defense. Their 4.1 yards per carry would have been higher if they had done less plays to the outside. Unfortunately this was not the case.
Assuming the Jags don’t allow three costly turnovers in three straight drives, they should have the time to run their gameplan – control the clock. The Jags did this very well against the Vikings yet still lost due to an inability to score in the red zone and defensive failure. The Dolphins looked good and controlled the clock in the first half (excluding the 21 point turnover disaster) with their running game. While I value Maurice Jones-Drew more than Reggie Bush, it’s important to keep in mind that Bush is no slouch.
Bush had 4.9 yards per carry and looked exceptional on most his runs against the Texans. In Jones-Drew’s first action he averaged four yards per carry (much better than the team average of 3.3). Bush is an all-around back who can make plays in the passing game from the backfield or out wide. He can also be effective around the corner with very good speed and agility. MJD is more of a downhill runner at this point in his career. While the offense will likely use him in other ways (he’s also a good receiver) they may lean more toward plays up the middle, especially if Rashad Jennings can’t be an effective player against the Texans following his injury.
While the Texans’ defense is still formidable, there is room to be effective when running up the middle. Jones-Drew can be very effective when outmuscling defenders and finding holes to explode through. While he has only had the offense for a couple weeks, Jones-Drew could find success if the play calling is right. Even though the sample size is small, if there’s a weakness teams should try to exploit it. If the Jags find success emulating what the Dolphins did right then they should continue to go with it. This is all assuming the team doesn’t fall behind early.
The Dolphins/Texans game was a tough one to watch, but there were some things to learn from it. If the Dolphins can look competitive against the Texans, then the Jags can too. They need to make sure they find good throwing lanes to avoid J.J. Watt and remember that Jones-Drew could be the game changer for the Jags if the game continues to be close.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims