Jacksonville at Houston: 5 Things to Know
This is it. The final game of the 2014 season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The final chance to win and match last season’s four wins. A chance to take a two-game winning streak into next season and an opportunity to give the fans something to savor as the long losing year comes to an end.
Jacksonville travels to Houston to face their nemesis the Texans, who have more riding on the game than bragging rights of sweeping the Jaguars.
The playoffs may be on the line.
Should the Texans win and things fall into place, the Texans could be the sixth team in the playoffs. Then, anything is anyone’s guess.
Do the Jaguars play spoiler, or do they allow the Texans monster, JJ Watt, dominate them again this season? Here are five things to look for in this matchup, according to jaguars.com.
AND ONE TO GROW ON
A victory would give the Jaguars a 4-12 record in their second season under Head Coach Gus Bradley and in the second season of General Manager David Caldwell’s tenure with the team.
The Jaguars have won two of their last four games after a 1-10 start, and have been competitive in most of their games since a Week 11 bye week.
A reason for that has been a defense that has been strong much of the season – registering 42 sacks, fifth-most in the NFL – continuing to play at a winning level. The offense has been sporadic, allowing a franchise-record and league-high 66 sacks, but the young unit scored three touchdowns last week and enters the regular season with more confidence than it has had all season.
Despite playing with essentially a fourth-team quarterback, the Texans can make the postseason as a wild-card team if they beat the Jaguars on Sunday – and if they get some significant help.
The Texans (8-7) are out of the AFC South race, but can make the postseason as a wildcard with a victory over Jacksonville, if the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Diego Chargers in Kansas City and the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore.
The Texans, after a 2-14 season last season, have scraped and clawed their way into late-season playoff contention, doing so despite staggering injuries at the quarterback position. They not only are without starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, but also without Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage.
Case Keenum, who started eight games without a victory for Houston last season, was signed by Houston off the St. Louis Rams’ practice squad last week. He started and earned his first NFL victory in the Texans’ 25-13 victory over playoff-contending Baltimore Sunday.
THE LINE VERSUS WATT
The edge here by definition goes to Watt. He’s perhaps the NFL’s most-disruptive player and one of the best at his position in recent decades. But while he registered three sacks against the Jaguars earlier this month, Sam Young and left tackle Luke Joeckel did a respectable job with Watt getting one sack while unblocked and another when he touched quarterback Blake Bortles down when the rookie slipped. Repeat that effort on Sunday and the Jaguars will have succeeded.
STOPPING ARIAN FOSTER
This matchup goes deeper than the front; the entire Jaguars’ defense will be under pressure to stop Foster. Slowing him isn’t easy, but if the Jaguars do it they should have a chance to pressure Keenum. If they can do that, they can force turnovers and stay in the game. Foster rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in Jacksonville on December 7. He has 1,223 yards and eight touchdowns on 255 carries this season, his fourth career 1,000-yard season.
SPEED ON THE OUTSIDE
The best way for the Jaguars to win this matchup is for the line to pressure Keenum before he throws. But while the rush has been a strength this season, the secondary – particularly the corners – have improved as the season has continued. Aaron Colvin is still playing the nickel, though he figures to compete for a starting role next season, and Demetrius McCray has the look of a long-term starter. Andre Johnson long has been one of the most reliable, productive receivers in the NFL and DeAndre Hopkins this season has emerged as a big-play threat with 1,205 yards, a 16.5-yards-per-reception average and six touchdowns.