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Texans talk: John McClain, Houston Chronicle

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs past Houston Texans inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney (55) and strong safety Justin Reid (20) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs past Houston Texans inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney (55) and strong safety Justin Reid (20) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle on the Texans' matchup with the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London, England, Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

Question: The Texans are the defending AFC South Champions and have reached the midway point at 5-3 after a victory over the Oakland Raiders Sunday. Is that good enough for this team to feel good about itself headed to London?

Answer: Right now, the Texans have so many injuries in the secondary that it's amazing they were able to beat Oakland. Everybody has had a field day against their secondary. The only healthy starter they have is Justin Reid, their safety. They've lost four corners and they don't know if they're getting [cornerback] Johnathan Joseph back. [Cornerback] Bradley Roby was playing well; he has been out for a while. They lost [cornerback] Phillip Gaines for the season. [Cornerback] Lonnie Johnson, their second-round pick, was playing well; he got a concussion Sunday and left early, and they don't know if he will play [Sunday]. [Former Jaguars] Safety Tashaun Gipson is playing really well; he has three different injuries and came out early in the Indianapolis game [in Week 7] and didn't play at all in the last game. They've been hurting in the secondary. Everybody is feasting on them, so I'm guessing the Mustache (Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II], since he's so much better than he was in that second game, is going to have a field day against them too. The run defense is great. The Jaguars ran for 103 yards against the Texans in Week 2, but they've allowed 66 a game in the next five games and [this past Sunday] shut down [Raiders running back] Josh Jacobs, who had rushed for at least 120 two games in a row. So, their run defense is great, and their pass defense is horrible.

Q:The Texans lost perennial Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt for the season this past Sunday to a torn pectoral. Is the impact of that loss the same as it would have been, say, three or four seasons ago?

A: It's a tremendous loss. People, I guess, go by sacks. He knocked down [Indianapolis Colts quarterback] Jacoby Brissett six times [in Week 7] but didn't get a sack. He was playing the run great. [Defensive coordinator] Romeo Crennel says he's playing the run better than he's ever played it. And he got double-teamed all the time. Now, [linebacker] Whitney Mercilus is going to get the double teams. I don't know how they're going to generate a pass rush if they're getting torn up with Watt and with Mercilus because the secondary just can't cover. I'm telling you: I know the Jaguars would like to run [running back Leonard] Fournette and try to keep [Texans quarterback Deshaun] Watson on the bench, but they'll figure it out. You have to throw the ball against the Texans.

Q:Watson is a Most Valuable Player candidate and many consider him one of the league's elite quarterbacks. What's your assessment so far this season?

A: He had one bad game against Carolina; his worst game this season. He's 19-11 as a starter and none of the losses has been more than a one-score game. In the Carolina game, they got beat 16-10. Three hours after the game, there are about five of us left in the press box and we look down on the field and there he is throwing to his quarterback guru, Quincy Avery. They had gone to dinner and they came back. Watson was so disillusioned with the way he played, and he has played great ever since. He's on a pace for 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. They've had two tackles start the last two weeks who had signed the last two weeks. I'll guarantee you right now – and I don't care if [left tackle] Laremy Tunsil is back or not – the Jaguars' pass rush is going to get to him. The key is can he get rid of the ball quick enough? Can he evade it? He's running well, running smarter and he's throwing the ball really well.

Q: Former Jaguars running back Carlos Hyde appears to have flourished with Houston this season with 544 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. How has he played?

A: They had no intention of getting another back. [Texans running back] Lamar Miller went down in the third preseason game and Kansas City called and offered Hyde. They (the Chiefs) were going to cut Hyde, I believe, and the Texans were going to cut guard Martinas Rankin, so they swapped them. Hyde has been a revelation. That worked out better than anybody thought. They're running the ball great. They have played the run great. They've thrown it well, but the protection is a little iffy.

Q:How does the rest of the schedule play out for this team?

A:After the Jaguars, they have their bye week. Then they have their toughest three-game stretch. They go to Baltimore [Week 11], host Indy on Thursday night [in Week 12] and host the [New England] Patriots on Sunday night [in Week 13]. If they get through that tied with the Colts [in the AFC South], their last four are Denver, at Tennessee, at Tampa [Bay] and at Tennessee. If they can get to those last four, I think they'll be in pretty good shape. I'm going to pick them to lose this game [against the Jaguars Sunday]. The Jaguars are so familiar over there [in London] and they should have won the first game [against the Texans, a 13-12 Houston victory in Week 2]. And Minshew looks a lot better.

Q: Can the Texans be a playoff team this season?

A: They should be able to win the division. Every team [in the South] won on Sunday, and none of them have losing records. I think it will come down to the end. As long as Watson is healthy, the Texans are capable of beating anybody anywhere – and the game's never over as long as he's healthy and they have the ball. But until they get their secondary issues solved and find a way to get to the quarterback without blitzing, they're going to give up a lot of yards and a lot of points and a lot of touchdowns. The Jaguars will come out [Sunday] and run Fournette and the Texans will do a good job stopping him, then it will be on Minshew and Watson.

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