The Texans (2-12-1) host the Jaguars (7-8) on Sunday at noon inside NRG Stadium. It's their second matchup of 2022, as Houston took the first one in Week 5 at Jacksonville, 13-6. In 41 meetings all-time, the Texans lead the series, 28-13. Since dropping a Week 10 contest on the road in 2010, Houston's won 20 of the last 24, including the last nine in a row.
1) Different Defense – These two teams have gone in opposite directions since their last meeting. The loss to Houston dropped the Jaguars to 2-3, while the Texans improved to 1-3-1. Jacksonville's gone 5-5 since, while the Texans lost nine straight before toppling the Titans on Christmas Eve.
But the Texans defense of two months ago will be a bit different than the one taking the field on New Year's Day. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris didn't play in Week 5, and neither did defensive lineman Jonathan Greenard. Rookie Jalen Pitre was deployed more as a strong safety, and he's flourished since getting switched to the free safety spot over the last month or so.
Head coach Lovie Smith likes what he's seen from his squad over the last three games. They beat the then-division leaders in Tennessee, and lost close games to the Chiefs and Cowboys before that.
"We're not the same team that we started off as back there," Smith said. "Played a lot of young players, they've gotten better. Just figuring out exactly everybody's role right now. As you look, it's just not this game carrying over. It's been a few weeks now where we've been playing pretty good football. I think everybody is noticing that."
Greenard recovered a fumble, logged a tackle for loss and finished with three total tackles in the win at the Titans on Saturday. He's enjoyed being in the mix with Pitre, Harris and the rest of the defensive crew.
"Those guys are huge and crucial," Greenard said. "Jalen played, but we obviously missed Christian the past time, and myself, I didn't play. But we still got the job done. I love to see rookies continue to find their way and just have fun with it."
2) Speaking of the D… - In each of the last three games, the Texans have won the turnover differential battle. They're plus-4 in that span, and the defense has registered eight takeaways in that trio of contests. Defensive back Desmond King accounted for one of those with a fumble recovery versus the Chiefs. King explained how not much has changed in the defense's approach to getting the ball back.
"Lovie talks to us each and every day about it," King said. "When we come in at halftime, that's one of our adjustments. 'Get the ball'. We gotta get the ball more and turn those takeaways into points."
As he said in his first meeting with the team nearly two years ago, Smith always stresses the need to get the ball back for the offense.
"We put an emphasis on it," Smith said. "Practicing it. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, but that's what it is. There's an emphasis on it."
The Texans are now minus-2 on the season, which puts them in a tie for 21st overall in turnover differential in the league.
3) Test in Trevor – Jacksonville's won five of the last seven games this season, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been especially impressive in that stretch. He's tossed 14 touchdown passes and been picked off just once in those seven contests, and he's completed 69.7 percent of his passes.
"Trevor Lawrence has been a good football player for a long period of time," Smith said. "As far as what he's done differently, he's probably protected the football a little bit better. But he's mobile. He'll take off with the ball and get a first down when things break down. He can make all of the throws."
Defensive lineman Ogbo Okoronkwo also spoke highly of the second-year signal-caller.
"Trevor Lawrence is playing at a high level," Okoronkwo said. "He's getting the ball out fast. He's going through his reads really quickly. He's playing really good ball."
In 15 games this year, Lawrence has been dropped for a sack 25 times.
4) Plus protection – Over the last four games, the Texans have allowed a combined two sacks. That level of protection is certainly a factor in the improved team play during that span.
"We're getting better and trusting in the process," offensive lineman A.J. Cann said. "We're knowing who we are, and how we approach things. Watching that film and seeing how guys like to rush. We put an emphasis on that."
Rookie Kenyon Green has missed the last few starts with injury, and will likely start at the left guard spot on Sunday. That will probably push Tytus Howard back to his customary right tackle position.
Offensive line coach George Warhop described his unit's play over the last month or so as "solid" and was quick to spread credit around to other parts of the offense in explaining how they've allowed just a pair of sacks in the last four games.
"It's not always just about us," Warhop said. "It's in the run game and in sacks. That's a community effort. I think our guys have done a really nice job in protection. I think the quarterbacks have done a nice job of getting the ball out. I think the backs and tight ends, when they've been involved in protection, have done a nice job. We have done a good job, but we as an offense have done a great job in that regard as well."
5) QB tandem – The Jaguars will be prepared to face both Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel at quarterback on Sunday. That duo has split reps throughout the last trio of games, and Jacksonville's expecting more of that this weekend.
"We have to have a good week of preparation, understanding what they're trying to get done," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "We've got to be aware of it. Prepared for it, and handle it the right way."
There have been times where it's been just Mills, or just Driskel on the field. At other moments, both quarterbacks have been out there at the same time. Texans Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton likes the stress a 2-quarterback system puts on defenses.
"Teams have to prepare for all of what they see on tape," Hamilton said. "But I think when you have two quarterbacks that can do whatever we ask them to do, both running and passing the football, it creates a different conflict."