*EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published on Thursday, but was changed after the team announced Saturday that cornerback Bradley Roby wouldn't travel to Jacksonville for the game.
The Texans (1-6) travel to Jacksonville (1-6) for a Week 9 matchup on Sunday. Houston beat the Jaguars in Week 5, 30-14, and has won the last five contests between the two franchises. Here are five things to watch when the Texans kick off at Noon CT against their AFC South rival at TIAA Bank Field. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Playing shorthanded – The Texans were dealt a blow on Thursday, courtesy of COVID-19. Outside linebacker Jacob Martin tested positive for the virus, and began a self-quarantine. After contact-tracing, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and inside linebacker Dylan Cole were determined to be close contacts. That trio was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, and they won't play on Sunday.
On top of that, the facilities were closed Thursday, and the Texans lost a day of practice.
Then on Saturday, the club announced cornerback Bradley Roby wouldn't make the trip to Jacksonville.
Roby is the team's best cornerback, while Mercilus is tied with defensive end J.J. Watt for the 2020 team lead in sacks with three. Martin is right behind them with two on the season. Cole is a team captain for his importance on special teams, and is second on that unit with four tackles. They're all key members of the squad, and their absence is significant. But interim head coach Romeo Crennel still has high expectations for whoever suits up in their absence.
"It's never easy when you lose your top guys and these are some top guys on defense for us, but one of the things I always talk to the players about in their roles and how important their roles are that they have to be ready to step up and play when called on," Crennel said. "I always tell them that if you're in the game when the ball is snapped, you are a starter and you are expected to react and respond as a starter."
The other outside linebackers available are Brennan Scarlett and rookie Jonathan Greenard, along with some practice squad members who will be available for a call-up before Sunday's game.
2) Speaking of Greenard… - Greenard has played a combined 11 snaps defensively over the last four games. He's averaged just under 15 snaps per game on special teams in that span. His numbers, defensively, are now very likely to rise against the Jaguars.
"I think Jon feels like he's ready to play," Crennel said. "Only time will tell. When we put him out there and how he plays, we'll find out if he's ready or not because we're probably going to have to put him out there."
Greenard, who led the SEC in sacks last season as a Florida Gator, is someone who excites outside linebackers coach Chris Rumph.
"He has all the ability, he has all the things, the traits, that we look for in an outside linebacker," Rumph said. "He's big. He's 265 pounds. Got long arms. He can set the edge. He has pass-rushing ability. He has strength. He's able to play the run. He's athletic. Then he has the ability also to drop into coverage. I'm excited. When it all comes together, wish it would have came together a little earlier, that's not due to anything that he's done, just circumstances, the situation. So hopefully we'll get him going here the second half of the season."
Blacklock, meanwhile, has been in on roughly a third of the defensive snaps the last two games for Houston. The second round pick from TCU, according to defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver, is also likely to get a bump in playing time.
"Ross has earned more reps, and he's out there getting that game experience, which is obviously priceless for him, in the growth and maturation that has to occur in his career," Weaver said. "There's definitely things we're still working through now."
3) Rattle the rookie – For the first time in 2020, the Texans face a rookie quarterback in Jacksonville's Jake Luton. A sixth-round choice out of Oregon State, the 6-6, 224-pound signal-caller will make his NFL debut on Sunday. There was no preseason, therefore, there's no professional game tape to break down and help to prepare the Texans defense. But safety Justin Reid explained what Houston can rely on in getting ready for a rookie's first start.
"You know on their side they're going to be coaching him to stick to the fundamentals," Reid said. "We're going to play the first quarter straight, see if we can catch on any tendencies, see if he's doing what typically first-game quarterbacks do, like stare down their targets or anything like that, see if we can get a better beat on him. But in a game like this when you don't really have the film to watch, you've just got to focus on yourselves more. Focus on what we're going to do and then make the adjustments in the game as they come."
Crennel also said Luton is going to see some schemes and coverages he didn't a year ago with the Beavers.
"I know that rookie hasn't seen a lot," Crennel said. "Probably, I might try to show him more things than just the straight three-deep zone or two-deep zone because he probably knows what to do against those."
In 2019 at Oregon State, Luton completed 62 percent of his passes, with 28 touchdowns and just three interceptions. The Beavers finished with a record of 5-7.
4) Return to action – Before the bye week, tight end Jordan Akins missed three games due to a concussion and an ankle injury.
He's expected back, and should bring a boost to the offense. Akins had a combined 14 catches for 168 yards through the first four games, with one touchdown. Fellow tight end Darren Fells is happy about the return of Akins, whom he labeled as a "weapon" for the Texans offense.
"He's a guy that everybody knows can make plays when he's out there," Fells said. "He's feeling great, looking great, and he's one of those guys that we're definitely happy to have out there."
The Texans were limited to Fells and Pharaoh Brown at the tight end position in contest against Green Bay.
5) Watson and company – Deshaun Watson lit up the Jaguars in the Texans' Week 5 win, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns. He tossed six completions of 20 yards or more, five of which went to Brandin Cooks. The pass-catcher roasted Jacksonville for 161 yards on eight receptions, one of which was a touchdown.
In four of the last five games, Watson's completed better than 70 percent of his passes, and has 13 touchdowns to just a trio of interceptions. He's beaten the Jaguars all five times he's started against them, and Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone broke down many of the components that make Watson great.
"He can extend the play," Marrone said. "He's shown that he's strong enough to kind of shrug guys off, too. Spin out of guys, and do that. He has the ability from the quarterback position to not only deliver the ball from the pocket, to extend plays and get on the perimeter and run. He's a threat as a runner. You're looking at someone who has a high level of confidence, has a really good arm, can throw it deep, short, has good accuracy. There's a lot of things that you have to be able to defend to try to stop him."
Watson, meanwhile, is disappointed his hot hand of late hasn't resulted in wins for the Texans. But he described his play over the last month or so.
"As far as just being the quarterback and being efficient, I think this is the best I've felt as far as just getting the ball out, staying ahead of the chains, being able to distribute the ball and just kind of getting around and just the feel," Watson said. "Honestly, these are the best numbers I've had over my career. Who knows what my rookie year would have been like if I wouldn't have gotten hurt. But yes, I've felt this is the best football I've been playing for a while."