JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Kainani Stevens offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer…
- Defense the key. The Jaguars' offense is a major storyline entering Sunday's matchup for the AFC South lead, and understandably so. But while the life shown by the offense in a victory over the Tennessee Titans is encouraging, the thought here is the Jaguars' defense will be critical against Houston Sunday. The defense has been the Jaguars' most reliable strength this season – particularly its run defense, but also its ability to force turnovers. The Texans have gained momentum in recent weeks partly because of an improved running game. If the Jaguars can do what they have done defensively in most games this season – i.e., keep the opponents' running game ineffective enough to force difficult down-and-distance situations – they have a better opportunity to control the game. If the defense controls the game, the offense should have time to get into a rhythm. That was the Jaguars' formula against Tennessee. While the Texans are a far trickier task, the thought here is that same formula can help the Jaguars navigate their way into firm control of the division Sunday.
- Going mobile. Much was made following Sunday's victory over the Titans about Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence's mobility – again, understandably so. The thought here is what we saw from Lawrence out of the pocket in that game – not only creating time behind the line of scrimmage but producing yards/touchdowns beyond it – could be the key to the Jaguars' finding the explosive offense they have sought all season. Lawrence in retrospect clearly was not as mobile – or as effective – following a Week 6 knee injury as he was before. His confidence overall just as clearly improved after he made a few plays running against Tennessee. This is a relatively familiar pattern for Lawrence the past two seasons. He is a player capable of winning from the pocket – and he must continue to improve on that ability as his career continues. But for now, you wonder if the Jaguars will design some runs to get Lawrence moving early in games. It seems to unlock his "superpower," and it could be a key to unlocking the Jaguars' offense.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent …
- I can't put my head around the Texans' mastery of the Jaguars through the years. It started the first time the teams met in October 2002 when the then-expansion Texans won in Jacksonville. Two years later, the Texans shut out the Jaguars 21-0 on the day after Christmas with the Jaguars in the thick of the playoff chase. The Texans at times have been the better team with better players, but as we've seen twice since the start of last season, it hasn't necessarily mattered all that much. They weren't the better team in Week 5 last season or Week 3 this season, but Houston won both games – and won convincingly in September in Jacksonville. The Texans have won 12 of the last 14, 17 of the last 20 and 29 of the 43 games the two teams have played. I know it's easy for Jaguars fans to dislike the Titans, but the Titans-Jaguars series is much closer than Jaguars-Texans. The Texans are the team Jaguars fans should love to hate and if Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud is as good as he looks, they're going to have plenty of opportunity in the years to come.
- Stop the run and you have a much greater chance of stopping Stroud. Stroud is already the Offensive Rookie of the Year; that isn't going to change. He has been tremendous and for the most part he has taken care of the football. But not in the last two games, in which he's thrown four interceptions and lost two fumbles. The Texans won both of those games – in Cincinnati and against Arizona – because the running game carried the day. Texans running back Devin Singletary is coming off a 112-yard game against Arizona in which he averaged 5.1 yards per carry to help the Texans convert nine of 13 third downs to overcome three interceptions by Stroud. We know firsthand in Jacksonville that turnovers can plague a young quarterback. If the Jaguars can shut down the run, and their results this season say they can, then the defense should be in position to take the ball away – something they didn't do in the Week 3 loss.
Kainani Stevens, Jaguars Team Reporter/Producer ...
- Plenty to be thankful for at 7-3. Thanksgiving centers around family and food – but more importantly, appreciating the positives that you have in your life. For many seasons, the Jaguars playoff chances were long gone before the holidays. This year, Jaguars fans should be thankful for the team's best start since 1999. The team has the chance to all but lock up the AFC South with a win on Sunday in Houston. While there is still much to improve upon, specifically on offense, it's a good time to take a moment to be thankful for a winning team.
- Quarterback battle in the making. I grew up watching the quarterback battles between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and that helped me fall in love with football. While Brady and Manning weren't in the same division, their respective teams played each other seemingly every season. Those were games you circled on your calendar. With Stroud having a historic rookie campaign, the Texans games should be the ones that fans look forward to every season. The Jags' main rival in the division is shifting from the Titans to the Texans, with Stroud and Lawrence leading the charge. I don't know if we will see a full-blown shootout Sunday, but the stage is set for the start of another elite quarterback rivalry in the NFL.