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Opponent focus: John McClain, Houston Chronicle


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle on the Houston Texans' matchup with the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.

Question: The Texans are 2-11 and tied for last place in the AFC South with the Jaguars, who they beat 37-21 in Week 1. What is the state of the Texans entering Sunday?

Answer: They can't run and they can't stop the run. It has been a problem since they beat the Jaguars and rushed for 160 yards. They have reached 100 one other time, and that was in mop-up duty against the Indianapolis Colts [on October 17]. Their running game is just pathetic. [Rookie quarterback] Davis Mills looked good for part of the game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, but if you're a quarterback and have no running game? Rex Burkhead is their best back, and he has a groin injury. They're going to get [running back] David Johnson back from COVID-19. He has 176 yards [rushing] for the season. They have the fewest points in the league and the biggest point differential. They haven't scored in the second half of three games in a row, and they have been outscored in the second half, 194-62. And nobody can figure out why. They have one running back on the team with a rushing touchdown and they can't protect the quarterback. They're the worst running team I ever have seen. Ever.

Q: What do they want to be offensively? Ideally?

A: [Head Coach] David Culley came here from the Baltimore Ravens and he had been with [Head Coach Sean] McDermott in Buffalo. At those stops, they ran the ball. He was with [Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach] Andy Reid for 16 years. He came here; they had to run the ball better. They were 31st [in rushing in the NFL]. They're even worse now. They can't run block and they can't run. I wrote this week that they need to lose to the Jaguars because if they beat Jacksonville, they're not going to get one of the first two picks [in the 2022 NFL Draft]. There's no way they're taking a quarterback high in the first round. They'll go into next year with Davis Mills and a veteran and build around him. They're hoping to trade [quarterback Deshaun] Watson and get multiple picks. So many teams now need quarterbacks that didn't need them before.

Q: Defensively?

A: They can't stop the run. They have one legitimate pass-rusher: Jonathan Greenard from Florida, who has eight sacks in 10 games played [this season]. He's the only one. Their defensive line is pretty good, but they just lost their best defensive player – [linebacker] Kamu Grugier-Hill (knee, COVID-19). Their defensive backs have gone four games without giving up long plays. They rush four guys here; seldom do they rush five. [Defensive coordinator] Lovie Smith wants to play two-deep coverage a lot; he wants to keep everything in front of him. He said, 'You can get the ball better when you're looking at it instead of looking at the receiver.' That's fine. But when you're rushing four, you have to have some studs and they don't.

Q: When they play well, what do they look like?

A: You saw the Jaguars game. When they beat Tennessee [on November 25], they forced five turnovers and Tennessee didn't have [wide receiver A.J] Brown, [running back Derrick] Henry and [wide receiver] Julio Jones. That was one of the biggest shocks of the NFL. Mills' best game was a 25-22 loss to New England [on October 10]; he threw three touchdown passes with a 141.7 [passer] rating but he hasn't come close to that [since]. When [Week 1 starting quarterback] Tyrod Taylor came back from injured reserve from a hamstring injury, he was not good. He was not the quarterback he was for the first six quarters [of the season]. When he came back five weeks ago, he was just off target. I'm pretty sure the Jaguars will be able to put some pressure on Mills. This team is clueless on how to deal with a blitz.

Q: What's the Texans' goal for the last four games? Trying to win out, I assume?

A: They're trying to win. I keep saying, 'Lose out and get the top pick if you can.' [Texans wide receiver and former Jaguars wide receiver] Chris Conley had a great quote Monday about when somebody said you don't have anything to play for. He said, 'Wait a minute. You are what you put on tape.' After the Jaguars, they host the [Los Angeles] Chargers, at the [San Francisco] 49ers and host the Titans. So, they have three tough games. They've lost only three one-score games. Last year they lost nine and they haven't scored more than 22 points since Week 1 against the Jaguars.

Q: Final question: How many years is this away?

A: [General Manager] Nick Caserio knows what he's doing, and their rookie class has been impressive. That bodes well for the future. But either Mills has got to develop next year and prove to be the quarterback – or they finish with the worst record and get [Alabama quarterback] Bryce Young. I don't think will be the case – that they'll be the worst team next year. I think they might win four or five games. If they make all the right moves, it will be 2023 before they even approach .500 – and that's if everything goes right. Is Culley the coach? David Culley is one of the nicest, most-honest, good people I've ever been around. Everybody pulls for him. Does he make mistakes during games? Sure. Has it cost them a game? No. He makes some in-game decisions that are bad. People roast him. He couldn't handle it better. Everybody's pulling for him. I hope he's not a one and done. I don't think Lombardi could win with what they've stuck him with.

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