JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville
1.Regroup, refocus.This is as much about off the field as on it. As the Jaguars have continued to win in recent weeks, they increasingly have found themselves in a once-unfamiliar role – that of the favorite. They will be favored by double digits for the second time this season Sunday. Though they handled the role capably two weeks ago in a 30-10 victory over Indianapolis, the mental challenge Sunday will have added elements. The Jaguars will be coming off an emotional victory over Seattle this past Sunday. They also have a chance to clinch their first postseason appearance in a decade. At no point this season has this team given an impression of letting down, losing focus or looking ahead. It would be a shock if it started to do any of those things now. Still, it's critical to keep those elements out of the equation Sunday.
2.Pressure T.J. Yates.The Jaguars have multiple matchup advantages on the Texans. That was true in a regular-season-opening 29-7 victory in Houston and it's more true in Week 15 with injuries having ravaged the Texans' lineup. Still, there's no matchup Sunday as one-sided on paper as the Jaguars' defensive line versus the Texans' offensive line, the latter of which will this week be protecting reserve-turned-starter T.J. Yates. The Jaguars dominated the teams' Week 1 matchup with a franchise-record with 10 sacks, a performance that set the tone for their entire season. The best way to beat struggling teams late in the season is to take away their hope early. The best way for the Jaguars to do that Sunday is to pressure, hit and force mistakes by Yates.
3.Keep pushing offensively.The safe approach here would be to say the Jaguars should be smart and protect the ball offensively. And if they do that, they probably will beat the Texans. But the Jaguars have momentum offensively – and that side of the ball is taking on a new, confident feel in the last two games. That's particularly true of quarterback Blake Bortles, who through two games is the NFL's top-rated passer in December. The Texans have been good against the run this season; their secondary has struggled. The Jaguars must take advantage of that; let Bortles throw and let him continue to develop the chemistry he has been developing in recent weeks with rookie wide receivers Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole.
1.Protect the football.The Texans are minus-8 in takeaway-giveaway on the season, so it's not as if they're a takeaway machine. The Jags have won five of six games since the bye week; in those six games, they're plus-8 in the turnover ratio. In their five victories, they're either neutral or positive in every game and plus-9 overall; in the lone loss they were minus-1. Here's the critical number: seven, which is how many times the Jags have turned the ball over in the last six weeks. The good news is the defense has taken it away from the opponent 15 times. Don't make the defense take it away and don't rely on them to come through with a fourth-quarter takeaway. Protect the football and the rest should take care of itself.
2.Run the football. It's who the Jaguars are and it's what they do best: Run the ball and play great defense – and the concepts fit hand in glove. When the Jaguars are running the ball, they're resting their defense – and that makes the defense even more dangerous. It doesn't hurt that the Texans' front seven is a shell of what it was supposed to be thanks to injuries to end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus and a few other big bodies inside. Play to your strength and run the football until a 4-9 team's will to compete is broken.
3.Go get 11.The Jaguars set a franchise record with ten sacks in the regular-season opener. Since then, the Texans' already-beleaguered offensive line has lost one starting left tackle (Chris Clark), traded another (Duane Brown) and now has guard Jeff Allen playing left tackle in place of injured backup Kendall Lamm. As they say in the Lone Star State, the Texans' offensive line is held together with baling wire and chewing gum – and that makes it completely vulnerable to a pass rush that would love to become the first team to register 10-plus in three different games in a season. Did I mention the Texans are on their third quarterback and third tight end?