JACKSONVILLE – Here are 10 things the Jacksonville Jaguars must do to beat the Houston Texans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Thursday…
1. Keep getting better.Tired of this? Fine, but it's going to stay a theme under Gus Bradley – and for this season certainly, it keeps making sense. His emphasis on the positive and on improving helped the team through a difficult start, and it has helped the team win three of four games since the bye. And right now, the Jaguars do have to get better to keep winning. They're not good enough yet to not play well and win. Particularly not against Houston, which is still a dangerous team despite a 10-game losing streak.
2. Pressure Case Keenum.The Texans' first-year quarterback has played well, but he's 0-6 in six starts. The Jaguars have used a team approach to pressure quarterbacks this season, and they got significant pressure on Brandon Weeden last week. Do that Thursday. Pressure the kid.
3. Get good quarterback play.Chad Henne has had his best two games of the season the last two weeks. No coincidence the Jaguars won those two games. Against Houston two weeks ago he stood in tall against a huge rush and made clutch throws late. Against Cleveland last week, he led an 80-yard, game-winning drive in the final minutes. He's doing veteran quarterback things and that's helping the Jaguars look a lot better than they did two months ago.
4. Run and . . .The Jaguars didn't do this much for the first 10 games, not rushing for more than 100 yards in any of those games. They have done it much better the last two games, rushing for more than 100 yards in both of those games. No coincidence that they have started to look more efficient on offense during that span.
5. . . . stop the run.The Jaguars simplified defensively coming out of the bye. Since then, they have held their four opponents under 100 yards rushing. Partly as a result, their best four games of the season have come during that span. The Texans' offense is still built around running downhill behind zone blocking. Hold them under 100 yards and you're probably in the game at the end.
6. Get up early.This Texans have lost 10 consecutive games and lost an emotional game to New England last week. Get ahead of them early. Take away their will to fight.
7. Force turnovers.The Jaguars probably don't win in Cleveland without three takeaways. They almost certainly don't win coming out of the bye at Tennessee without four takeaways. Bradley preaches "the ball" on defense, and that means taking the ball away. Do it and you have a real chance in every game. Don't do it and the margin for error is much smaller.
8. Stop Andre Johnson.The Jaguars did this two weeks ago in Houston, holding the Texans' best wide receiver to two receptions for 36 yards. Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon burned the secondary for 261 yards receiving last week, but that number aside, the Jaguars' young secondary remains a strength. Cornerback Dwayne Gratz and safety Johnathan Cyprien get better by the week, and cornerback Alan Ball remains one of the team's best off-season signings. They'll be tested again, and holding Johnson down two times in one season isn't easy.
9. Block J.J. Watt.Good luck winning if you can't do it. While it's difficult to keep Watt from being a factor, you must keep him from dominating. That's on the whole offensive line, because the Texans move Watt around. A lot. But the Jaguars didn't let Watt control the game in Houston. They can't let him do it Thursday, either.
10. Maintain momentum – and get the home crowd involved.The Jaguars have a real, honest-to-goodness winning streak going and with three victories in four games, there's some real momentum around the franchise. The Jaguars haven't had that in a while and they haven't had a home victory in a while either. That's key Thursday. Play well. Get the crowd involved. Show the home fans what you've been doing on the road. It's time for the home crowd to get to feel good about this team.