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 buzz around the Jaguars this week is there's not as much buzz as would be ideal.
The Jaguars enter Sunday's game on a three-game losing streak, slipping to 2-6 during a season in which more was expected. They lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 19-14, Sunday after committing four turnovers and forcing none.
A positive for the Jaguars as they enter the second half of the season? They turned in one of their best games offensively and defensively in Kansas City.
After struggling offensively much of the season, the Jaguars produced a season-high 449 yards Sunday in Nathaniel Hackett's first game as offensive coordinator. That included a season-high 205 yards rushing on 32 carries, with running back Chris Ivory rushing for a season-high 107 yards on 18 carries.
The Jaguars held the Chiefs to 231 total yards and a first-quarter touchdown.
The Texans are in control of the AFC South despite the loss of their best player.
Despite the absence of defensive end J.J. Watt for much of the season, the Texans (5-3) lead the division by two-and-a-half games. They have victories over division rivals Indianapolis and Tennessee.
Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is out for the season after back surgery in late September. Still, the Texans rank No. 5 in the NFL in total defense and are fifth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has 4.5 sacks this season, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney both have three sacks.
The Texans are 30th in the NFL in total offense, with quarterback Brock Osweiler – who signed as an unrestricted free agent from Denver in the offseason – throwing nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Running back Lamar Miller, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from Miami in the offseason, is seventh in the NFL with 637 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars OTs Kelvin Beachum and Jermey Parnell versus Clowney and Mercilus. Beachum has pass-protected well this season, and while Parnell struggled at times with Kansas City defensive end Dee Ford, he overall has been solid in protection. Clowney will face both Beachum and Parnell because he lines up on either side. Mercilus more often rushes from the right side, meaning he likely will face Beachum more often than not.
*Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey versus Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins.Ramsey has shadowed elite receivers Amari Cooper of Oakland and Alshon Jeffery of Chicago in the last month and could draw Hopkins Sunday. While Hopkins emerged as an elite receiver last season with 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns, he has 40 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns this season.
*Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Miller.Posluszny isn't the only Jaguars defender responsible for stopping the run, but this figures to be a key matchup. With Osweiler struggling, Miller has been a key to the Texans' offense. When the Jaguars have been good defensively this season, they have been strong against the run – and they held the Chiefs to 62 yards on 22 carries Sunday.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback.Bortles' up-and-down season continued Sunday. He threw two touchdown passes with an interception, and while he improved in Hackett's first game as coordinator, he also had multiple near-miss interceptions and missed opportunities for big plays. How he continues to adapt to Hackett's system remains the Jaguars' No. 1 storyline.
*Marqise Lee, wide receiver.If there was a first-half Jaguars offensive Most Valuable Player, Lee would get consideration. Lee caught four passes for 84 yards in Kansas City and is showing flashes of playmaking at all levels of the defense. It's hard to imagine Lee not continuing to get a larger role in the offense.
*Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr., defensive ends. The Jaguars have three sacks in the last four games after 12 in the first four. Part of that has been opportunity; the Jaguars have led for just two minutes, 49 seconds in the last four games. It's difficult to rush the passer when the opponent is ahead, but the pass rush still needs to be more effective.
The Texans are entering a critical phase of their season, with four of their next five games on the road; they are 5-0 at home this season and are 0-3 on the road, having been outscored away from home 85-22. The Jaguars have yet to win at EverBank Field this season, with their lone home victory coming over Indianapolis in London in Week 4.
Key to victory
The Jaguars must continue to effectively incorporate the run in the offense. It was no coincidence that the best offensive game of the season came in the game in which the Jaguars rushed for their most yards of the season. It's hard to imagine the Jaguars winning a lot the rest of the season if the running game reverts to pre-Kansas City form.
Keep an eye on …
- Wide receiver Bryan Walters and wide receiver Allen Hurns are in the NFL's concussion protocol. …
*Linebacker Myles Jack sustained a hip flexor strain Sunday. His status will be updated this week. …
*Defensive end Jared Odrick missed Sunday's game with a foot/ankle issue. His status also will be updated this week. …