Coming off a somehow optimism-inducing 30-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, the Texans roll back home in a get-right spot against a wounded Jaguars squad that has already seen starting quarterback Nick Foles sent to IR.
The line has been bet up to around -8.5 to -9.5 for the Texans, depending on the sports book you look at. Houston has not lost to the Jaguars in the Doug Marrone era outside of 2017. If you use the Men In Black mind-eraser on those 2017 memories, they have not lost to the Jaguars since 2013 — the year that got Gary Kubiak fired.
When the Texans have the ball
The heavyweight matchup of any Jaguars-Texans game is DeAndre Hopkins versus Jalen Ramsey.
Last season, the Texans threw at Hopkins with Ramsey in coverage 16 times, and Watson was 8-of-16 for 131 yards, a touchdown, and five other first downs. (All numbers from Sports Info Solutions charting.) It was close to a stalemate, and I expect that to be the case again. The Jaguars do have Ramsey follow wideouts they perceive to be a big threat, and that appears to be the case with Hopkins.
The good news for the Texans is that they simply have a much deeper slate of options than they did last year. Will Fuller is healthy, Kenny Stills is another week into the playbook, Keke Coutee may be available. Jordan Akins and Duke Johnson are both solid pass catchers who can break a tackle underneath. The Jaguars spent Week 1 completely out of sorts over the interior of their defense, giving up a 77.7% VOA on passes over the short middle. (VOA doesn’t become defense-adjusted until Week 4.) Myles Jack was ejected from his first game as the main middle linebacker without Telvin Smith. Ronnie Harrison had a poor day in coverage. New starting safety Jarrod Wilson was adequate in the deep third. Jacksonville’s talent is better than they played, but this is a spot where the Texans could exploit things.
Houston runs into this game with the best rushing VOA in the NFL, and kicked around the Saints last week in a stunner to yours truly. Carlos Hyde led the charge with an 80 percent Success Rate on his carries, and the Texans were able to run on Jacksonville in both of their matchups last season.
Jacksonville’s best chance of dictating the defense is through forcing third-and-longs and winning one-on-one matchups against a Houston offensive line that should not be trusted at this point. We’re currently unsure if Senio Kelemete or Tytus Howard will start at left guard. The good news for the Texans is that, though they are expected to play, both Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue have missed some practice this week with injuries. Ngakoue was ruled out after Friday’s practice. Doug Marrone also declared it unlikely that A.J. Bouye will play — even if he did play, he looked hurt in Week 1.
This is, in my opinion, a good spot for the Texans to catch the Jaguars defense. They’re a little bit banged up, they haven’t really sorted out the linebacker position in a satisfactory way yet. Of course, it’s the NFL, and that can all change on a dime, but I expect the Texans to be able to pound the rock.
As usual, this will come down to just how up to the task Houston’s offensive line is. If they give Watson the time they gave him on Monday night, points should flow. If they become more of a liability, then the game will get interesting.
When the Jaguars have the ball
When the Jaguars turned from Nick Foles to Gardner Minshew on Sunday afternoon, a funny thing happened: Minshew was actually fairly competent.
The Jaguars gave him easy throws, ran the ball a lot, and contained him from making poor decisions. A lot of the credit for that should go to OC John DeFilippo, who was scapegoated in Minnesota despite making a 70% passer out of Kirk Cousins. DeFilippo versus Romeo Crennel is schematically interesting. Most of the concepts that DeFilippo likes are quick-hitters, most of the concepts that Crennel likes are passive. In theory, this should add up to a high-completion percentage game for Minshew if he can execute like he did last week. If the Texans tackle like they did last week — when they left 12 broken tackles on the tape per SIS — the Jaguars could get a little feisty. DeFilippo hasn’t coached a game against the Texans yet, but the Eagles system where he was weaned dropped 519 total yards on the Texans with Nick Foles in a down season.
The Texans should have more success baiting Minshew into turnovers on dropped rushers than they did against Drew Brees, since this is Minshew’s first NFL start. I have to say I expected much worse from Minshew, so he has already surpassed my expectations in accuracy, decision-making, and making plays on the run.
Something that got lost in how easy the Saints moved the ball against the Texans is how easily they ran on Houston. Last year’s No. 1 ranked DVOA run defense got shredded for 140 yards on 19 carries against non-Taysom Hill runs. The Jaguars, in theory, are well set up to control the clock in this game with a running game that can get push up front and a healthy Leonard Fournette. That is, assuming that Week 1 wasn’t a fluke. Houston bottled up T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde last season, and you have to go back to 2017 to find Jacksonville running successfully on the Texans.
Quick strike offenses make for successful attacks against Houston (see last year’s New York Giants game for an example), but Cam Robinson being ruled out will hurt the Jacksonville run game. Will Richardson is not the same kind of player Robinson is in that aspect and that hurts their ceiling in this game. They don’t have to worry about Jadeveon Clowney blowing up plays and Houston will have to rely on another big game from Benardrick McKinney
When the Texans get it to third-and-long, they should have a big advantage. Minshew locked on to his first reads hard in Week 1, and the Texans should be able to get off the field without too much trouble if they can react to that. The best Texans teams have always been able to tee off against Jacksonville’s pass protectors. If J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus don’t leave this game with a few sacks, it will be concerning. I expect a lot of help on Watt as he projects to mostly line up over rookie right tackle Jawaan Taylor.
One last bit: Look out for second-year wideout DJ Chark, who had a big game against the Chiefs and got separation often on their undermanned cornerback corps. I could see a similar blowup spot here, against a group of cornerbacks that can’t match his physical talent, unless Lonnie Johnson comes off the bench and is excellent from his very first start.
Nothing of note happened to either of these teams last week in special teams unless you note Fairbairn’s missed extra point being called back.
I expect the Jaguars to implement the same basic game plan the Titans did in their Week 2 upset of the Texans last year. Lots of motion, lots of play-action bootlegs to get Minshew clean pockets, and lots of quick throws. Note that this was a highly successful game plan for Tennessee, and that Blaine Gabbert is arguably worse than Minshew.
When you get down into the weeds of underdog tactics, a lot of the NFL is about establishing a game script advantage and riding it. If the Jaguars are able to do that, I can see them picking up an upset win. If they aren’t, the Vegas lines seem pretty fair to me.
I expect this game to be a little more offensive than most Jaguars-Texans games get. In the light of all of Jacksonville’s injuries, I don’t think I can rely on my initial take that Jacksonville will keep this close. Jaguars 20, Texans 30 is about where I settle in on. If my prediction looks dumb in the direction of a Texans blowout on Monday morning, I expect it to be based heavily on turnovers from the rookie quarterback.