The time has come to readjust the goals a bit – and Jaguars players said this week they will do just that.
At 1-8, the Jaguars are almost certainly out of the 2012 postseason conversation, but players this week said that won't be the overriding theme for this week and the remainder of the season.
Pride. Improvement. Finding out the strengths and weaknesses of the roster.
All of those will be priorities for the Jaguars, who have lost six consecutive games entering a road game at AFC South rival Houston, a team that enters Sunday's game with the best record in the AFC.
The Jaguars also will enter Sunday's game trying to continue a trend. While the team has struggled at home more than anyone expected, they consistently have been competitive on the road, losing twice in overtime and beating the 6-3 Colts, 22-17, in Week 3. They also played Green Bay tough at Lambeau Field before losing 24-15.
Whatever the venue, Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey this week said the focus will remain on improving. The Jaguars, he said, have played well for stretches most weeks, but have yet to play well for four quarters, particularly on offense. Against a Texans team that many are picking to contend for a Super Bowl appearance, doing so won't be easy, but it will be very necessary.
The Texans (8-1), after years of building and drafting early in the first round, won their first AFC South title last season. This season, they're building on that, and have the look of a Super Bowl favorite. The Texans are a confident team playing at a high level. They also are coming off one of their most impressive victories in franchise history, having beaten the Chicago Bears, 13-6, at Soldier Field in Chicago in what at the time was a matchup of 7-1 teams. And while the Texans long have been known for productive offense under Head Coach Gary Kubiak, it is their emergence as one of the NFL's dominant defenses that has established them as perhaps the best team in the AFC. Defensive end J.J. Watt is a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the Texans rank No. 2 in the NFL in total defense, having won this season by an average 27.8-15.8.
The Jaguars-Texans game at Reliant Stadium Sunday will be broadcast on WETV CBS 47 (Channel 6) with Bill Macatee on play-by-play and Steve Tasker on analysis.
Early matchup to watch
J.J. Watt versus . . . the Jaguars' offensive line. Watt, the Texans' defensive end, is having one of the best seasons for a defensive player in recent memory. He's as good at swatting away passes as he is at rushing the passer, with 10 passes defensed and 10.5 sacks. The problem with blocking the second-year defensive end is just who will do it. While Watt is listed as a defensive end, he lines up all over the defensive line in various situations. In passing situations, he often lines up over the right guard, but also lines up at times over the left. That means the Texans have the option of putting him over rookie left guard Mike Brewster, but it's also likely he goes one on one against veteran Uche Nwaneri much of the game. Nwaneri is the Jaguars' best pass-blocking guard, and has played better in recent weeks as he has put behind him early-season knee and ankle injuries.
Player to watch
Tyson Alualu, defensive tackle. The No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, Alualu played his best game of the season against the Colts Thursday, registering an early sack and playing with more power and quickness than he has this season. Alualu, who underwent knee surgery early in the off-season, said early this week he felt better in that game than he has all season. He has played well throughout much of this season against the run, and the Jaguars' defense would benefit greatly if his improved quickness could provide long-term help in the pass rush.
What to watch
*Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher last season, is expected to miss a fourth consecutive game with a sprained foot. Third-year veteran Rashad Jennings has started the last three games in his place, rushing for 131 yards during that span.
- Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is expected to start against the Texans despite leaving two of the last four games with an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. He originally sustained the injury against Oakland October 21, and played against Green Bay and Detroit the following two weeks. He aggravated the area last week against the Colts, but Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Gabbert should benefit from time off Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday.
- Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin) and safety Dwight Lowery (ankle) each practiced on a limited basis on the side Monday, and they will be monitored this week. Their status for Sunday remains uncertain, Mularkey said. Mathis has missed the last three games and Lowery has missed the last four. Chris Prosinski has started for Lowery, with Aaron Ross starting for Mathis.