Four Down Territory: How the Jaguars beat the Texans

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: The football helmet of Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars is seen in the team area during their game against the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: The football helmet of Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars is seen in the team area during their game against the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

This might be the most important game of the Doug Marrone Era. As the Jacksonville Jaguars get set to face the Houston Texans in an AFC South showdown, there is more on the line than just first place in the AFC South.

I don’t remember a week while head coach Doug Marrone has been the head coach of the Jaguars that there has been this much criticism. Some of it is warranted. Some of it is because the fanbase knows this team is better than the product that has been on the field. Like it or not, injuries have decimated this offense and yes, have had an effect on the way Blake Bortles has played this season.

I’m not giving No. 5 a pass. I am not saying he is playing his best. A banged-up offensive line, issues with the running game. The tight end position is dwindling. It makes for a tough day at the office. To counter that notion, when things get tough, our quarterback must play better.

Bortles talked about that on Wednesday when he met with the media.

"“The quarterback, in general, has to be the guy that brings everyone together whether everyone is healthy and 100 percent and you are facilitating the ball and getting [the offense] in the right runs or guys are hurt and down and you have to start making plays,” he said."

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This is one of those games where the Jaguars have to win. It has been that kind of feeling since the 30-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The sand in the hourglass is slipping away. Fans want better effort. The coaching staff wants more consistency. Players want to prove they are better than the 70 points the team has surrendered the previous two weeks.

The only way to do that is to go out and play Jaguars football. Bortles agrees.

"“As a quarterback, you have to be able to balance your role as far as completions and run checks and making plays, but as far as the risk meter of is this a good opportunity to take a shot or is this one where you are checking down and making sure we don’t turn the ball over,” he explained. “I think that is the biggest thing – playing within the offense, playing within the scheme and taking shots when we get the opportunity and making sure above everything that I am taking care of the football.”"

The talk is over. While fans have called for changes to the coaching staff and the quarterback position this week, the Jaguars still have a chance to win the AFC South, make the playoffs and roll the dice on reaching Super Bowl 53. It won’t be easy. But this team is 3-3 and in the same spot they were at this time last season.

There is still plenty of football to play with 10 weeks left. The AFC South does not appear to be a juggernaut of a division, which is to this team’s advantage. But the losing must stop today. Here are four ways to beat the Houston Texans.

First Down – Run the football

The biggest message the Jaguars sent to the rest of the NFL with the trade for Carlos Hyde is this team is not abandoning the run.

Hyde gives them a dependable back to run between the tackles and provides insurance while Leonard Fournette rests his hamstring. When No. 27 gets back on the field is anyone’s guess – possibly including the coaching staff.

The Jaguars must run effectively on first and second down. T.J. Yeldon has been a solid replacement, but he is not a runner who teams fear. And when the defense gives up points, Jacksonville has had to think pass first. A healthy dose of both backs could mean more ball control.

It also means Houston has fewer opportunities on offense to score.

Second Down – Challenge the secondary

Bortles could have a huge day today. I know fans would love to see him rebound from two subpar performances. But playing at home, knowing this is a must-win game could mean we see “Good Blake” once again.

Jacksonville must get Dede Westbrook in one-on-one situations. His top-end speed is something the Jaguars have not been able to take advantage of much the past two weeks. He did have a touchdown against Dallas to open the second half last week, but that was it.

Since the tight ends will be nonexistent in the passing game, target No. 12 at least 10 times. This will also open passing lanes for both Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief. Westbrook could have another 100-yard game.

Third Down – Let the defense play

The lasting image I have of last week against Dallas is Cole Beasley torching the Jaguars over the middle. Beasley isn’t the game breaker who should get that kind of space to work. It also showed a vulnerability this defense has when playing from behind.

The Jaguars face another mobile quarterback in Deshaun Watson. Watson is a better runner than Dak Prescott was and has a better arm. He also has better wide receivers to work with.

Jacksonville does not do well against signal callers who constantly use RPO to their advantage. Challenge Watson to beat you with his arm, not his legs. Limit the Texans to few third down opportunities.

Jacksonville gave up 206 yards rushing to Dallas. That cannot happen on Sunday. There must be better communication on the field with the starting 11.

Fourth Down – Raise above the criticism

The worst thing the Jaguars can do is play like they are a desperate football team. The run defense must be better, which means Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus must apply pressure up the middle.

Just like the offensive line must show a massive improvement over last week, the front four on defense must apply pressure, and most of all not let the run game of Houston eat up the clock. The Jaguars were a tired football team last week and it showed.

Telvin Smith had 10 tackles against the Cowboys, but it did help the cause. This is a game of two great defenses. The Jaguars must stick their chests out a bit and show they are still a top-five unit. Jacksonville is ninth in the NFL, giving up 21 points a game. That is uncharacteristic of this franchise.

Next. Jaguars host the Texans: Three players to watch. dark

Something has to improve this week. The Jalen RamseyDeAndre Hopkins matchup should once again be a highlight, but it means nothing if the defense cannot stop the other weapons in the Texans arsenal.