JACKSONVILLE – If this feels different, there's good reason.
Sunday is different from any Jaguars game in recent memory. They're tied for the AFC South lead and favored to win, statuses earned in the first month of the 2022 season.
That's a stark change from recent seasons – and when the Jaguars (2-2) play host to the Houston Texans (0-3-1) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday, they can accomplish some important things:
- They can improve to 2-0 at home in '22.
- They can move to 2-0 in the AFC South.
- They can beat the Texans for the first time since 2017 and snap the Texans' eight-game winning streak in the series. Perhaps most important is the part about staying unbeaten in the South, with a victory Sunday also assuring they will remain in at least a first-place tie through five games.
"It's a chance to go 2-0 in the division and that's big," Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. said this week. "It's always a great point of emphasis to let everybody know, and to let us know, who we are and who we can be. It's there for us.
"We just have to play our brand of football, which I think we will, and come out with a victory."
But while the Jaguars have been dominant at times this season, both history and the present-day Sunday won't be easy.
The Jaguars last beat the Texans in 2017, the Jaguars' AFC South-title-winning season – and the Texans won both games in convincing fashion last season. And despite being the only NFL team without a victory this season, the Texans have tied or held the lead in the fourth quarter in three of four games – and were within three points in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers this past Sunday.
"It's a tough group," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson said of the Texans. "They've got themselves behind in games, they've worked themselves back to compete in the fourth quarter. I'd say it's a 60-minute football game."
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Texans Sunday:
- Bounce back I. The Jaguars responded to a Week 1 loss in Washington by reducing errors in a 24-0 victory over Indianapolis the following week. A similar response and similar resiliency are needed after a five-turnover loss to unbeaten Philadelphia this past Sunday.
- Bounce back II. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence struggled mightily in the Philly rain, losing four fumbles and throwing an interception. That hasn't been his norm this season. He must return to the norm.
- Be sure-handed. The Jaguars' offensive struggles against the Eagles weren't all Lawrence. Receivers struggled to make receptions at key times. That hasn't been this group's norm, either.
- Stop Dameon Pierce. The rookie running back has been the Texans' best offensive player. The Jaguars were the NFL's No. 1 run defense through three games. They believe that's their standard and that 210 yards allowed rushing to the Eagles was an outlier. They must prove themselves right Sunday.
- Pressure Davis Mills. The Texans' second-year veteran was perhaps the NFL's best rookie quarterback last season. He has been inconsistent with four interceptions in four games this season. The Jaguars can add to their nine takeaways if they harass Mills.
- Protect the ball. The Jaguars are 2-0 when they don't commit a turnover and 0-2 when they do. Without five turnovers, they may well have beaten the unbeaten Eagles last week. There may be no more important statistic for this team than this.
- Protect Lawrence. The Jaguars are 2-0 when Lawrence isn't sacked. They have allowed four sacks in two losses. This is an important statistic, too.
- Stop Brandin Cooks. The Texans veteran wide receiver has 28 receptions for 601 yards and five touchdowns in five regular-season games against the Jaguars. It felt at times last season as if Cooks was beating the Jaguars single-handedly. The Jaguars must pressure Mills and cover Cooks well enough to not let him dominate the game.
- Get a lead early. The Jaguars believe they're good, but eight consecutive victories should give the Texans plenty of belief of their own Sunday. The worst thing for a favored team to do is to let an underdog gain early confidence.
- Feed off the crowd. The Jaguars have won two consecutive games at TIAA Bank Field, and fans are beginning to believe in this team. The crowd will be ready. The Jaguars must take advantage.
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