Despite a disappointing record, the Jaguars are a competitive squad with a collection of hard-working players that play with outstanding effort from snap to whistle. The effort and energy enable them to stay in games against more talented teams. Against the Texans, the Jaguars weren't overmatched from a talent standpoint, but they need a few more playmakers to emerge on both sides of the ball. Weak-side linebacker Myles Jack and defensive end Josh Allen consistently set the table for the defense, but the dynamic duo needs another blue-chip player to pitch in as a key contributor. Whether it is middle linebacker Joe Schobert or cornerback CJ Henderson or cornerback Sidney Jones IV, the Jaguars need some of their role players to play like difference-makers on game day. Offensively, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. and running back James Robinson reestablished themselves as blue-chip talents with their individual and collective efforts. Each playmaker posted impressive production (Chark finished with seven catches for 146 yards and a score; Robinson amassed 99 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries) while making a handful of plays that kept the Jaguars in the game. With rookie quarterback Jake Luton adding a dimension to the offense as a long-ball specialist, the Jaguars' offense challenged the Texans' defense with explosive plays.
KEYS TO VICTORY
The Texans earned a hard-fought victory on the strength of an efficient performance from quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Texans' QB1 picked apart the Jaguars' defense with an assortment of short and intermediate throws while taking an occasional deep shot. His 77-yard touchdown to wide receiver Will Fuller (on what should have been a delay of game) on a pinpoint bomb down the sideline exploited Henderson's inexperience on the island. Watson put the ball in a perfect spot for his receiver to make a slight adjustment to snag the pass while creating separation from the defender. The young quarterback also made a handful of plays with his feet to sustain drives and put the Texans in scoring position. His nifty scrambles not only put pressure on the Jaguars' defense to remain disciplined in coverage but exploited the Jaguars' lack of gap integrity on pass rushes. Until the Jaguars can collapse the pocket consistently with an organized approach, they will continue to struggle on defense.
The Jaguars' sophomore sensation sat out against the Texans, but fans were treated to the Jake Luton Experience. The rookie from Oregon State teased fans with his big arm and sneaky athleticism. He connected with Chark on a 73-yard deep ball on a go route on third-and-long. The bomb stretched the Texans' defense and created more room for the Jaguars' receivers to roam underneath. In addition, the vertical passing game enabled Robinson to run against a light box as the Texans were forced to respect Chark and the deep ball with looser coverage. As a passer, Luton showed surprising poise, accuracy, timing and anticipation as a thrower from the pocket. He played with better poise than expected from a rookie and his composure helped the Jaguars make a late-game run. Luton's execution of a two-minute drill with the game on the line showcased his confidence, maturity and playmaking ability. Although he failed to pull off the dramatic comeback, the rookie certainly earned high marks from a coaching staff looking for a young quarterback to develop for the future.
UNDER THE RADAR
Jones is quietly becoming a solid CB2 for the Jaguars. The former second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles has found a home in Jacksonville as a starting boundary cornerback. Jones is feisty and competitive on the island while also displaying a solid set of skills that enable him to utilize multiple techniques to shadow receivers. He also flashes the toughness and tenacity to be a consistent tackler on the edge. Considering his overall consistency as a cover corner since stepping into the starting lineup, the Jaguars should feel good about their young defensive backs on the perimeter.
Hats off to coordinator Jay Gruden for putting together a game plan that protected a rookie quarterback while showcasing the Jaguars' top playmakers (Chark and Robinson). The offense finally looked like the explosive unit that teased fans at the beginning of the season. Chark posted a 100-yard game as he re-emerged as the Jaguars' No. 1 option in the passing game. He torched the Texans with his slippery route-running skills and explosive acceleration on the perimeter. Gruden kept him engaged by periodically featuring him on "get the ball to" plays that were designed to put the ball in his hands. Robinson continued to show promise as a hard-nosed runner with size strength and power. He rumbled between the tackles with reckless abandon and enabled the Jaguars to stick with a ball-control game plan despite playing from behind. As he continues to settle in as the Jaguars' RB1, the Jaguars' offense can threaten opponents with a balanced attack that's explosive and gritty.
Coordinator Todd Wash is making most of the talent at his disposal. The embattled defensive coordinator has attempted to ratchet up the Jaguars' pressure package by utilizing more five-man pressures in recent weeks. He is adding linebackers and defensive backs to the pass rush to create one-on-one opportunities along the line to disrupt the timing and rhythm of the passing game. In addition, he is employing a more diverse approach to his defense with surprise blitzes and pressures that are drastic departures from his traditional approach. With the Jaguars' tallying a pair of sacks and four quarterback hits with the more aggressive plan, Wash should continue to think outside of the box when crafting his future game plans.