I guess everybody has now moved past the heart breaking overtime loss in Minnesota. I’m always having to invent new terms for the Jaguars. Last year they ran an “incomplete pass heavy offense”. Now they scored with a “too early Hail Mary TD”. Anyway the good news is, it looks like Blaine Gabbert will have a sophomore jump instead of a slump, which can boost the team’s chances no matter who the opponent is. The bad news is: the Jaguars have serious O-line (or to be specific RT) issues, and the defense looked like it’s 2010 all over again… Now enter the Houston Texans, by far best team in the division. What could go wrong?
Well I’m not going to lie, this could be ugly for the Jaguars. When I looked at the match-ups I saw big advantages in many key areas for the Texans, and only a few small edges toward the Jaguars. The only promising advantage for the Jaguars defense is the Texans also have some offensive line issues on the right side. The Texans let G Mike Briesel go and cut OT Eric Winston because of salary cap issues. Their replacements RG Antoine Caldwell and especially RT Derek Newton were weak links last week against the Dolphins. Surprisingly the pass protection was not the bigger issue, but the run support. Arian Foster and Ben Tate carried the ball combined for 31 times for 85 yards resulting in a whopping 2.75 yard per carry which is almost Deji Karim territory (and we know how “well” Deji ran with the ball last year). It seems Houston is missing not just Briesel and Winston, but TE Joel Dressen (who was good in run blocking).If Terrance Knighton and Jeremy Mincey (who’ll face Caldwell and Newton) can as effective as Randy Starks and company last week, that could slow down Gary Kubiak’s offense a bit. Still Arian Foster will face Kyle Bosworth instead of Daryl Smith a couple of times, which can still ruin whole thing…
Speaking of Mincey, he was pretty much a non factor in the second half in Minnesota, so against a much more favorable opponent (Derek Newton) he must create some heavy pass rush and find a way to Matt Schaub. He (and maybe Knighton) need to be effective, because I expect almost nothing on the other side from Andre Branch and Aaron Morgan. Branch was a non factor against Matt Kalil and now he’ll face Duane Brown, who is clearly a Top 10 (maybe Top) 5 LT. Also Tyson Alualu needs to play better. Yes, he had a sack, although I was really surprised after the game when I found that out and that speaks for itself… He seemed almost invisible last game. Maybe the knee surgery he had in the offseason is holding him back.
This team desperately needs some pass rush because even with the running game struggling, the passing offense had a pretty good day last week. Which bad news for the Jaguars, because they helped create pretty impressive numbers for Christian Ponder, who had only 2 real targets – WR Percy Harvin and TE Kyle Rudolph. Both had big games. And I think Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels (as well as Schaub) are much better players than those who were at the Metrodome last Sunday. Not to mention that Arian Foster is a pretty effective pass catcher, Houston had a decent 2nd WR in Kevin Walter, and now they have some young talent in DeVier Posey, Keshown Martin and Lester Jean. Derek Cox will be a game time decision and I hope he can play because last week the Jaguars got very little help from their starting corners. If Cox cannot play, I hope the Jaguars will at least start Rashean Mathis instead of William Middleton. I also hope Aaron Ross will be much, much better than last week. Let’s hope the presence of his wife, Sanya Richards-Ross (who’ll be honored by the Jaguars – that turned into a really great story by the way) will give him a boost.
But the real boost is needed from the offense, who’ll face a much, much tougher challenge than last week. There were some nice moments: the development of Blaine Gabbert, Eugene Monroe shutting down Jared Allen, the rise of Cecil Shorts, and the re-appearance of the ’10 version of Marcedes Lewis. They’ll be all needed, plus Maurice Jones Drew (as the 1 man show in the run game – sadly I do not expect much of Montell Owens and especially from Jalen Parmele) to even have a shot at making this game a close one. Also I hope we will see at least some of flashes from Justin Blackmon and/or Mike Thomas.
The bad news: except in 2 or 3 spots this Texans defense is loaded with playmakers. Even the secondary is starting to look scary now. Johnathan Joseph & Danieal Manning are in my opinion the best corner and safety of this division, Joseph can easily be the AFC South version of Darelle Revis. Looks like former 1st round pick CB Kareem Jackson finally took a step or two forward, but he is still the best option to beat. I’d sacrifice Laurent Robinson matching him with Joseph, which would allow either Shorts or Blackmon to deal with Jackson. Glover Quin became a very decent FS, but I’d still match him with Mike Thomas just for fun (another hail mary perhaps?). Either way, the Jaguars will face a more difficult challenge throwing the football this time compared to last week.
The really bad news,however, is that the secondary will be the smaller problem. The real deal is the Texans front seven which is as good as the Steelers or Ravens defense. They let Mario Williams leave and traded away DeMeco Ryans and aren’t missing them at all. They have so many good pass rushers that even for a full healthy O-line the Jags would have their hands full with them. Enter the Jaguars patchwork offensive line. Even if Eugene Monroe shuts down Connor Barwin and/orAntonio Smith, Texans DC Wade Philips will still have a lot of other options. Brooks Reed against Guy Whimper is a scary matcup alone, but if Philips wanted to wreck the havoc, he should put JJ Watt against the Jaguars right side. Watt had 1.5 sacks and 3 passes defended, 2 of them were intercepted against the Dolphins. And this guy missed the entire preseason with an injury. Now he is looking like a home run 1st round pick right now. If he’ll face Guy Whimper, then I’m really glad Watt and Gabbert are friends (they were roommates training and preparing for the draft last year), otherwise I’d worry about Gabbert’s health a little bit… I hope if Whimper struggles that the Jaguars will rotate him with their 2 new players, Troy Kropog and Herb Taylor. But the very best option would be the return of Eben Britton, who like Cox is a game time decision. But since he didn’t practice at all this week, don’t expect it.
The Jaguars might have one advantage against the Texans defense – running at the middle. The only weak link right now is ILB Bradie James, who is better against the pass than the run. The Jaguars should target him with the ground attack. His backup Tim Dobbins is a better run defender, but a weak point in the pass. No matter if James or Dobbins will be playing the Jaguars must also handle the new leader of the Texans LB unit, Brian Cushing. It is clear this is one of the best defenses the Jaguars will face all season. We will know much, much more about how effective the new offense under Mike Mularkey and Bob Bratkowski is after this game. I hope Gabbert and company will have more success than Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense who scored only 3 points last week.
The Dolphins however found the Texans endzone thanks to a 72 yard punt return TD and gave up a lot of yards in the kick return as well, which means that unit is vulnerable. Sadly the Jaguars retuners continue being almost complete non factors in games, so I cannot tell how much this could help them. The Jaguars must also take care of Trindon Holliday who is capable of bringing the ball back for big gain or even a TD as a kick or punt returner.
Every expert is picking the Texans to win this game, even the Jaguars fan base is preparing itself for a loss. But if that happens and the Jaguars lose their home opener, it will matter how they do that. As Paul Posluszny said after the overtime loss in Minnesota, there are no moral victories in this game. But fighting until the very end and losing within a TD (or more better FG) range would be almost equal to a victory compared to pulling a stinker which would turn off the early excitement with the fan base. No to mention how important this game will be for new Jaguars owner Shadid Khan, not just because this his first real home game since he took over the team, but because “60 Minutes” will be at Everbank Field to film scenes for their portrait about the first minority owner of the NFL. So perception will be almost as important as the final score. I’m not going rogue, even I pick the Texans to win. I just hope the Jaguars can keep it close with all their health and performance issues.
Jaguars 24 Texans 28
– Zoltan Paksa