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Jaguars face difficult task in Houston


The task at first glance is daunting.

Statistically and within the context of this season, when the Jaguars travel to play their AFC South rivals, the Houston Texans, this weekend it is by any measure a difficult matchup.

The Jaguars are struggling; the Texans are not.

The Jaguars are 1-8; the Texans are 8-1.

The Jaguars are ranked 32nd in the NFL in offense and 27th in defense; the Texans are 17th in offense and second in defense.

The Jaguars know these numbers. They have heard about them all week, but as they prepared this week to play the Texans, they mattered not a bit.

"We approach it the same every week," Jaguars wide receiver Laurent Robinson said as the Jaguars prepared to play the Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.

"We have to go out and there and do everything we can to go execute our game plan and be on the same page. We have to make plays and put ourselves in position to win the game."

To do so, the Jaguars will have to play better than they have in recent weeks, and do it against a team that has played as consistently well as any team in the NFL this season.

The Texans have one of the NFL's best running backs, Arian Foster, and an offense that emphasizes running first, then beating defenses deep with play action. Their defense, coordinated by long-time NFL assistant and head coach Wade Phillips, has improved dramatically in his two seasons – to the point where a franchise that was known for offense two seasons ago now wins largely due to a dominant defense.

The focal point of that defense? Defensive end J.J. Watt, a second-year veteran who has 10.5 sacks and 10 passes defensed in nine games this season.

"They are extremely talented and it's shown," said Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who has completed 160 of 276 passes for 1,638 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions this season. "They have a great record and their defense has been playing at a high level all year. They've been extremely consistent week in and week out."

The Texans in Week 2 beat the Jaguars, 27-7, dominating the first half, then withstanding a brief early third-quarter surge to pull away easily.

The Texans since that game have lost just once, to the Green Bay Packers on national television, while the Jaguars won the following week at Indianapolis before beginning the six-game losing streak that essentially has eliminated them from the playoffs.

"We don't care about the records," Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "In a situation like this, the record doesn't matter."

Instead, Jaguars players this week talked about playing for pride, and of framing the rest of year as a seven-game season.

"We play for each other," Gabbert said. "Everybody in the NFL and this locker room has a great sense of pride. You want to go out there and not be the guy that lets the other 10 guys down on offense and that's how we are on defense and special teams. We want eleven guys playing for one reason and that's pride.

"The season hasn't gone the way we wanted it right now, but at the end of the day you still have to go out and prove yourself every day."

The focus? Improvement, developing an identity on offense and defense and – in a situation such as Sunday's – figuring out some small way to leave a mark on the 2012 NFL season.

"It's all about being a man, standing up as a man and trying to ruin everybody's season we can," Mincey said. "We want to take a chunk out of it, be remembered."

Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said the way to do that is to continue focusing on the things that have been a priority since training camp – i.e., doing things the right way, making plays and taking advantage of opportunities.

"I think we don't want to look back," Mularkey said. "If we do, it's just to learn from some of the things we did, but I think we need to look forward and see how we can progress. I've said it before – as players, as our schemes, and as a team (we want to) finish stronger than obviously we've started, but come out on a positive side these last seven games.

"That's all we have left, and that's all we're going to focus on."

If the first nine games of the season can't be controlled, or changed, seven games remain enough time to improve as an offense, as a defense, and to become a competitive team that wins more than it loses.

Robinson said that process has begun on offense in recent weeks, even if the on-field results don't always show it.

"We're progressing every week," Robinson said, "especially in the passing game. We're starting to get comfortable with each other. There are plays out there to be made. We're capable of making them. We just have to execute as an offense and make plays when they're there.

"We can see it, especially when we watch film. We can tell how much we're moving the ball."

And if that's the detail of what the Jaguars want to do Sunday, guard Uche Nwaneri said the big picture is this is a team that still believes it can win, and still believes it should play well – no matter how daunting the task.

"This is your job," Nwaneri said. "We're all ultra-competitive men. It's one thing to have a bad season, but we aren't going to allow ourselves individually to splinter away from what we've been doing as a team. It's really a pride thing and we take pride in the sport we play and nobody wants to go out there and look like they're not putting their best foot forward.

"On Sunday we're going to go out there and do what we do every week, and that's try to win. "We are going to bring that attitude to the game. Things are going to turn our way; sooner or later things are going to turn our way, it has to. We're going to keep working."

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