JACKSONVILLE – Here's this week's Setting the Table: Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9) prepare to play the Houston Texans (2-10) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Thursday
The Jaguars' next task: win at home.
The Jaguars (3-9), winners of three of four games since a Week Eight bye, have improved dramatically in the second half of the 2013 season. Not only have they won three games, but the four games since the bye have been their best four games of the season.
They are a growing team, one gaining confidence.
What they haven't been for a while is good home team, and Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said he knows that must change.
The Jaguars, who beat Tennessee, Houston and Cleveland in November for their first three-game road winning streak since 2007, have lost all five home games this season. That includes four games at EverBank Field and one at Wembley Stadium in London.
They are the only team in the NFL without a home victory this season.
The Jaguars, who went 1-7 at EverBank Field last season, started the season struggling everywhere, and those struggles were pronounced at home, where they lost 28-2 to the Kansas City Chiefs, 37-3 to the Indianapolis Colts and 24-6 to the San Diego Chargers.
The Jaguars have improved in most areas since the bye, and that was the case with their lone home game of November. The Jaguars lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 27-14, but were tied with Arizona at halftime and scored their first two home touchdowns of the season early in that game.
Chad Henne remains the starting quarterback for the Jaguars, and he has had two of his best games as the Jaguars' quarterback in recent weeks.
Henne, who has started the last seven games since taking over for Blaine Gabbert, completed 23 of 32 passes for 239 yards in a 13-6 victory over Houston, playing effectively much of the game despite a heavy rush.
Henne on Sunday completed 22 of 40 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He completed five of seven passes for 66 yards on a nine-play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cecil Shorts III with 40 seconds remaining.
The Texans (2-10), 13-6 losers to the Jaguars two weeks ago, continue to be one of the NFL's surprise stories of the 2013 season. Picked by many as the favorites in the AFC South and possibly to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, the Texans have lost a franchise record 10 consecutive games. They also have gone through a midseason quarterback change, with Case Keenum now starting in place of former starter Matt Schaub. Keenum, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012, has completed 103 of 190 passes for 1,433 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions, but the Texans are 0-6 since he made his debut in an October 20 loss to Kansas City. Despite the losing streak, Houston has remained competitive, losing to the New England Patriots this past Sunday on a late field goal. They are the 10th-ranked offense in the NFL and the third-ranked defense, and their last six losses have come by a combined 22 points. Head Coach Gary Kubiak missed the team's game against Arizona November 10 after collapsing on the sideline after suffering a transient ischemic attack the previous week in a loss to Indianapolis. He coached from the booth November 17 and November 24, but coached from the sidelines against New England.
The game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Thursday at 8:25 p.m. will be televised nationally on the NFL Network and locally on WJXT-TV 4. Brad Nessler will handle play-by-play duties with Mike Mayock on analysis and Alex Flanagan reporting from the sideline.
Early matchup to watch
Jaguars cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball versus Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. This was a key matchup two weeks ago, and figures to be so again. A huge reason the Jaguars held the Texans to a season-low 218 total yards in Houston was the job the Jaguars' secondary did on Johnson, limiting him to 36 yards receiving on two receptions. Johnson, who has 82 receptions for 1,123 yards and five touchdowns this season, was targeted five times that day, with one reception against Gratz and another against safety Josh Evans. The Jaguars allowed Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon 261 yards receiving this past Sunday, with Gordon catching four passes for 79 yards against Gratz and one for 14 against Ball. For the game, though, Gratz and Ball graded positively according to Pro Football Focus, and the young secondary remains an improving area.
Player to watch
Sen'Derrick Marks.The Jaguars' defense has improved dramatically since the bye, but Marks has been a disruptive force in the middle of the defense all season. Marks, who signed as an unrestricted free agent before the season, has been credited with three sacks and 19 quarterback hurries – significant pressure from a three-technique defensive tackle. He has yet to have a game this season in which has registered a significantly negative grade by PFF, and he is the highest-graded Jaguars player on the team this season. He registered a sack, a hurry, a batted pass, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Cleveland last week.
What to watch
*Defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey could be active Thursday, according to Bradley. Mincey did not travel with the team to Houston after oversleeping and missing a meeting and was on the sideline for the Cleveland game. Bradley said it's his hope that Mincey has a good week this week and can be active.…
*Evans likely will be very questionable this week as the Jaguars prepare to play the Texans, Bradley said Monday. The rookie sustained a shoulder injury against Cleveland Sunday. If Evans can't play, Winston Guy will start….
*Aside from Evans, running back Justin Forsett (foot) and wide receiver Stephen Burton (concussion) were the only players listed as not practicing on Monday. Burton has missed the last three games and Forsett likely will miss the rest of the regular season….
*The following Jaguars players were listed as limited Monday: wide receiver Mike Brown (shoulder), defensive end Andre Branch (knee), linebacker Geno Hayes (knee), defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder), linebacker Nate Stupar (chest), wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (groin), guard Will Rackley (elbow), cornerback Mike Harris (hip), tight end Marcedes Lewis (knee) and offensive tackle Austin Pasztor (shoulder)….