Here are five things to watch when the Texans face the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Thursday night.
1. The closer you get- Seven of the 11 matchups between these two squads at EverBank have been decided by seven points or less. Just two weeks ago, the Texans defense held the Jaguars to 13 points, but lost 13-6. Last season's Week 11 matchup at Reliant Stadium was an overtime thriller the Texans won with an Andre Johnson 48-yard touchdown catch.
Furthermore, quarterback Case Keenum and the Texans have lost their last six games in 2013 by a combined 22 points.
Jacksonville is 3-1 in their last four games, and Texans head coach Gary Kubiak gives a lot of that credit to his head coaching counterpart in Gus Bradley.
"He's got their mindset the way he wants it," Kubiak said Tuesday. "You see a team that's playing hard and doing a good job. They're reaping the benefits of that here in late in the season. Very impressed."
2. Tight turnaround- The Texans face Jacksonville for the second time in 11 days, and will have just four days to recuperate from their loss to New England. It's a taxing turnaround, physically, but every NFL team played a game on Thursday this season.
"We need it because you can get back out there on Thursday and try and get this taste out of your mouth," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "It's a chance to go play a football game and obviously hopefully get a win and get on the right track. I'm looking forward to just getting back out on the field."
Last year, the Texans won their Thursday game, which was the Thanksgiving overtime thriller at Detroit. The Sunday before was the aforementioned overtime victory against the Jags. Quarterback Case Keenum had an interesting comparison for the Sunday-Thursday schedule.
"I guess it's kind of like a basketball schedule," Keenum said. "You just have your shoot arounds and then you go play. So I kind of enjoy it, besides the fact of being a little more sore."
3. Keenum progression- Speaking of the second-year signal-caller, Keenum played better against
New England than he did in the losses to Oakland and Jacksonville. Kubiak wants to see Keenum get his completion percentage closer to 60 or 65 percent, as opposed to where it is now, which is 54.2 percent. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has been encouraged by what he's seen from Keenum.
"He keeps making strides," Dennison said on Tuesday. "Sometimes it's one forward and one back, but last week he made some plays. He missed a couple, but that's the good thing about him, when he misses a play, he understands why or looks at the film and understands why and progresses from there."
Keenum is atop the AFC in interception percentage (1.6%), as he's thrown just three picks in 190 attempts. He's been excellent, also, at the explosive plays. 19 of his 103 completions (18.4%) have been for 25 yards or more. Amongst quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 attempts, his percentage is the best. While he's been able to go deep, he said he needs to focus on sometimes finding the secondary and tertiary options.
"Every time you're dropping back to pass, you're looking for completions, whether that's down the field or a lot of little short passes," Keenum said. "That makes them tackle somebody every play. So not necessarily just looking at a percentage, but just every time, just hey, 'Completions, completions, completions.'"
4. Not-so-gentle Ben- Running back Ben Tate rumbled for three touchdowns and 102 yards on 22
carries. It was his finest performance of the season. The fact that he did it with four broken ribs that are still healing a month after the fact, is all the more impressive.
"He's busting his tail, doing good things, had a great game last week," Kubiak said. "Seems to be getting better as he gets healthier. Proud of Ben and what he's done for the team, going through a tough situation. If not, we'd be down to a rookie free agent back."
Two Sundays ago against the Jaguars, he was held to one yard on seven carries. But in three other games against Jacksonville, he's gained 142 yards on 22 carries, and scored a pair of touchdowns.
5. J.J. and the Jags-Watt has been a menace to the Jaguars. In five career games, he's terrorized
Jacksonville for 5.5 sacks, 34 total tackles, four swatted passes a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal. The Texans are 4-1 in those games. Despite the current 2-10 record, Watt's efforts have been superlative in 2013.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Wednesday that Watt is the "top defensive lineman" in the NFL. He also explained that even though the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year's numbers are down, his impact on the game has caused opposing offensive lines to significantly alter their blocking schemes.
"Last week, the Patriots, every time, they brought the center to his side no matter where he was," Phillips said. "We moved him around a lot and we've been doing that. Every time, they did a good job of turning towards him every play."
Watt appreciates the respect he's been afforded, but is always looking to defeat the double and triple-teams.
"You have to find a way to break through it, find a way to make a play, find a way to get a hit on the quarterback and do whatever you can," Watt said. "But I see it as a sign of respect and as a challenge. And I enjoy it."
Watt's 38 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for loss are the best in the League, and his 51 total tackles are the best in the NFL for all defensive linemen.