JACKSONVILLE – Each Saturday during the 2020 season, nine Jaguars experts – Rick Ballou, Bucky Brooks, Frank Frangie, Jeff Lageman, Brent Martineau, John Oehser, Brian Sexton, J.P. Shadrick and Ashlyn Sullivan – will break down the following day's Jaguars matchup.
Up this week:
The Houston Texans at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
Rick Ballou, Jaguars sideline reporter
The Jaguars will win if: They recover a fumble. They still don't have a fumble recovery this season, so the TIAA Bank Field being torn up from Saturday's Florida-Georgia game on a wet field from expected rain could benefit the Jaguars. The Texans are horrible against the run and Jaguars rookie running back James Robinson is coming off the best game of his career. Jacksonville abandoned the run the first time the teams met. If the Jags are to win Sunday, Robinson must get the ball more than 20 times.
The Texans will win if: They get big plays. Houston has won five consecutive games in this series, primarily because of big plays. Quarterback Deshaun Watson hasn't been his best this season but should be able to take advantage of the Jaguars' lack of pass rush. Jacksonville is also very young in the secondary and Watson should have plenty of success throwing. Even with three defensive Texans out due to COVID-19, they should have a big day against Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton, who is making his first start.
As Ballou sees it: Both teams are coming off a bye and have had disappointing seasons; Houston has dominated this series winning 11 of the last 13. I expect Watson and the Texans' offense to be too much against a Jaguars defense that's ranked 31st in the NFL. It will be interesting to see what Luton can do, but like any rookie he will make some mistakes that will include some turnovers. Unfortunately, the Jaguars will lose their seventh consecutive game.
Bucky Brooks, Jaguars and NFL Network Analyst
The Jaguars will win if: Robinson and wide receivers DJ Chark Jr., and Laviska Shenault have big days on the perimeter. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden must make a concerted effort to get each of them enough touches to make an impact. Gruden must put together a creative script that makes it easy for Luton to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible with minimal thinking. Defensively, the Jaguars must disrupt Watson's rhythm with consistent pressure. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash will need to mix in a few blitzes to create some favorable one-on-one pass-rush opportunities for defensive Josh Allen and linebacker Myles Jack.
The Texans will win if: Watson gets into a groove early and picks apart the Jaguars' defense. The fourth-year pro is quietly having a strong season with a 100.0-plus passer rating in five straight games. If he can get the ball to wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, and Randall Cobb on the perimeter, the Texans' offense will race up and down the field as the game turns into a track meet. On defense, the Texans will chalk up a win if defensive end J.J. Watt is able to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
As Brooks sees it: After giving away a winnable game on the road against the Texans, the Jaguars will get back in the win column with a solid performance. The defense will step up with timely playmaking and the rookie quarterback will makes a handful of plays to push the team over the top. The game will be close but give me the Jags by a field goal.
Frank Frangie, Radio Voice of the Jaguars
The Jaguars will win if: They can run, hit some short passes and keep Luton from having to do too much. They can't get in a shootout in this game. Also, they must affect Watson, who hasn't been great this season. The Jaguars must stop the run and make Watson beat them.
The Texans will win if: They jump out fast and make Luton throw when he doesn't want to throw. A quick start would help Houston immensely. They also could blitz often and harass a quarterback who has never taken a snap in an NFL game – preseason or otherwise.
As Frangie sees it: It always is tough to send a rookie quarterback up against a proven veteran – particularly a young elite one still in his prime. That describes Watson. But both teams have only won one game, so both could have confidence issues if they start poorly. Nobody knows what Luton will bring. The Jaguars' best chance is if he is calm, doesn't get rattled and can keep the Jaguars in it early.
Jeff Lageman, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars defensive end
The Jaguars will win if: They get a turnover-free game from their offense and two takeaways by their defense. Luton must protect the football in his first professional game, and he must have a solid running game to support him.
The Texans will win if: They can run effectively as they did in the teams' last meeting. The Texans are one of the NFL's worst rushing offenses, which can put tremendous pressure on Watson – who is still capable of winning games by himself if he gets rolling.
As Lageman sees it: This is a very intriguing game with the rookie Luton getting the start. He has a live arm and all the measurables you want from of an NFL starting caliber quarterback. But rarely does a young quarterback in his first start have great success. Still … if this Jaguars team rallies around him this could make for an interesting game.
Brent Martineau, Action Sports Jax Sports Director
The Jaguars will win if: Robinson runs for more than 100 yards and the Jaguars are plus two in turnovers. This is the best way to help the rookie quarterback.
The Texans will win if: They pressure Luton. Houston will score and the Jaguars' offensive line has been leaky in recent weeks. I expect Houston to try to rattle Luton; if they hit him enough, they might accomplish their goal.
As Martineau sees it: I don't love the move to Luton other than the unknown is always interesting. I think Luton is a bit over his head and I'm not sure the Jaguars are putting him in a position to succeed. I think this one gets ugly and the Texans win 31-13 in Jacksonville.
John Oehser, jaguars.com senior writer
The Jaguars will win if: Luton minimizes mistakes and pushes the ball downfield. The Jaguars' passing game was bunched up in recent weeks with Gardner Minshew II unable to make throws downfield. That enabled opponents to defend the run easier and limited the Jaguars' offense. If Luton can get defenses off the line of scrimmage, the Jaguars' offense will improve – as will their chances to win.
The Texans will win if: They can force Luton into mistakes – and get Watson free outside the pocket. Rookie quarterbacks make mistakes and the Texans will try to force them from Luton in his first NFL start. Watson has played better in recent weeks than at the beginning of the season, and he historically hurts the Jaguars in many ways – but particularly outside the pocket after the Jaguars have pressured him.
As Oehser sees it: Don't count the Jaguars out of this one. They return of Jack and safety Jarrod Wilson should help the defense. Offensively, Gruden figures to have a slight advantage because the Texans have no NFL tape with which to prepare for Luton. Still, it's difficult to pick a rookie quarterback to win his NFL debut. That's particularly true when the rookie quarterback never has taken an NFL snap in a regular-season or preseason game.
Brian Sexton, jaguars.com senior correspondent
The Jaguars will win if: They can help the rookie quarterback with short fields and extra possessions. Watt is a handful for the most experienced of quarterbacks – let alone a sixth-round pick who has never taken even a preseason professional snap. Luton is a talented kid with real upside; if given some layups, it's easy to see him having some success.
The Texans will win if: Watson has time in the pocket. He isn't having a great season, but he is a big-time player with arm talent that can beat you all over the field. Getting Allen, Jack and Wilson back in the lineup could help the Jaguars slow Watson and keep him from running wild if he gets past the rush. But if Watson has time, there is speed and talent in his receiving corps. That caused problems in October.
As Sexton sees it: There is no reason to expect Luton to beat a Texans team the Jaguars haven't beaten since 2017. The Texans have been underwhelming this season and have the same number of victories as the Jaguars, but they have one of the game's best young quarterbacks and a strong pass rush. Can the Jaguars win? Yes, it's a division game and these teams know each other well – plus they're at home and coming off a bye week. Can I pick them to win? Not with a quarterback who's never taken a live snap in the NFL against Watt.
J.P. Shadrick, jaguars.com reporter/editor
The Jaguars will win if: They force takeaways on defense or make big special-teams plays – and score on one or two of them. I have no idea what this offense will look like with a rookie quarterback. The Jaguars might perform well, but having as many chances as possible with extra possessions wouldn't hurt.
The Texans will win if: They can keep Watson clean. The Jaguars' pass rush is nowhere to be found in 2020. Let's continue to see development from Allen, K'Lavon Chaisson, Dawuane Smoot, DaVon Hamilton, etc. while keeping Watson contained in the pocket so he doesn't run for first downs.
As Shadrick sees it: They're all tough matchups, but they're even tougher when you start rolling out rookie quarterbacks who have never taken a snap in NFL live-game action. Then again, the Texans haven't seen Luton, either. That element of surprise (if any) might not last long though, so the Jaguars must take advantage of early offensive scoring chances.
Ashlyn Sullivan, Digital reporter and host
The Jaguars will win if: They stick to the running game. All eyes will be on Luton and how he will handle the pressure, but the emphasis still needs to be on Robinson. The Texans have the 31st-ranked run defense in the league; the Jaguars must use that to their advantage. Robinson is coming off a game with over 100 rushing yards; the same must happen Sunday for the Jags to win.
The Texans will win if: They pressure Luton to make more than a few rookie mistakes. The good news for the Jags is Whitney Mercilus will not play due to COVID-19 contact tracing. The bad news is Watt will still be on the field and one can only imagine what will be going through Luton's head when he sees Watt on the other side of the line. It's on the offensive line and Luton to limit mistakes and give the rookie time to make the throws we saw in training camp.
As Sullivan sees it: The Jaguars could have a very lucky break with the Texans linebacker corps all on the reserve/COVID-19 list. That break might be enough for the Jaguars' offense to get rolling this week and end the six-game losing streak. The Jaguars will win this one and we will be talking about building off Luton's performance Monday morning.