JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Houston Texans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday …
The Jaguars are coming home. As they do, things have an urgent feel.
The Jaguars last played at home in Week 2, gritting and fighting their way to .500 with an emotional 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins at EverBank Field. Optimism and enthusiasm reigned.
The Jaguars then lost three consecutive, mood-altering road games – 51-17 at New England before two frustrating heartbreakers at Indianapolis (16-13 in overtime) and Tampa Bay (38-31).
The Indianapolis loss cost the Jaguars a chance at sole possession of first place in the AFC South, while the loss to Tampa Bay featured an uncharacteristic performance by a run defense that entered the game fifth in the NFL before allowing 183 yards rushing.
The last two losses also featured slew of mistakes, with the Jaguars penalized 13 times against Indianapolis before a pair of late missed field goals by Jason Myers. Two key turnovers and 23 missed tackles hurt against the Buccaneers.
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley called the Buccaneers loss "unacceptable," citing the need to clean things up and for a greater attention to detail/accountability.
The Texans, like the Jaguars, have struggled to a 1-4 record.
The pressing issue is quarterback, with Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett alternately playing through the first five games of the season.
Hoyer started the season and was replaced by Mallett in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss to Kansas City. Mallett started the next four games before Hoyer replaced him in the second quarter of a 27-20 loss to the Colts last Thursday. Hoyer helped the Texans rally from a 13-0 deficit, playing well enough to be named the starter entering Sunday.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars right tackle Jermey Parnell and left tackle Luke Joeckel versus Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.Watt remains one of the NFL's elite players, and while Clowney has yet to record a sack this season, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft has 12 pressures. He sustained an ankle injury against the Colts, but is expected to play Sunday. Look for Watt to line up mostly over Parnell with Clowney on Joeckel's side. The Jaguars' offense allowed six sacks Sunday after allowing eight in the first four games of the season.
*Jaguars defensive front versus Texans running back Arian Foster.The dynamics of this matchup could depend on Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. The Jaguars were strong against the run through four games, then struggled Sunday with Posluszny out with a high-ankle sprain. He was a game-time decision Sunday, so he could have a chance to play against Houston. Foster left a loss to the Colts last Thursday with a concussion, but returned. In two games since returning from a groin injury, Foster has rushed for 51 yards on 27 carries.
*Jaguars cornerback Davon House versus Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has taken over for Andre Johnson as the Texans' premier receiver, and he has 572 yards and three touchdowns on 42 receptions this season. House last week shadowed Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans much of the game, playing well in multiple one-on-one situations. That's an approach the Jaguars haven't often taken, but the team likes House's ability in press coverage and trust is growing in him against top receivers.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback. The second-year quarterback has been under constant scrutiny this season as he continues his development; he has played well for the most part, improving from his rookie season. Bortles through five games has completed 108 of 189 passes for 1,299 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions. He had his first four-touchdown-passing game against Tampa Bay.
*Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, wide receivers.Just as Bortles has improved, the Jaguars' second-year receivers have, too. Hurns against the Buccaneers registered a second consecutive 100-yard game and Robinson caught two of Bortles' four touchdown passes. The two have been consistently productive throughout the season, and the trio of Bortles/Hurns/Robinson has emerged in the first five games of the season as the core of an improving offense.
*Julius Thomas, tight end.The Jaguars' top offseason free-agent acquisition caught just two passes for 20 yards in his season debut Sunday, playing 32 plays in a limited role. Much of that was because of week-long uncertainty over whether he would return from a hand injury that kept him out of the first four regular-season games. Look for his role to increase moving forward.
Keep an eye on …
*Bortles sustained a Grade 1 AC joint sprain early against Tampa Bay, but played through the injury. He may miss practice Wednesday, but Bradley said Monday he expects Bortles to be OK.
*Running back Bernard Pierce, who missed the second half against Tampa Bay with a hamstring injury, is in the NFL's concussion program after reporting symptoms following Sunday's game.
*Running back T.J. Yeldon sustained a groin injury Sunday. His status is expected to be updated later in the week.
*Other injuries to be updated this week: House (hip), Posluszny, wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring), defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee), running back Denard Robinson (knee), safety James Sample (shoulder).