The Texans (3-3) travel east to face the Jaguars (3-3) in an AFC South clash. Both teams are atop the division in a tie with Tennessee. Houston's riding a 3-game win streak, while the Jaguars have dropped their last two contests. Here are five things to watch when the squads get going at noon CT inside TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Watson, wheels, and wonder- The Jaguars have played against Deshaun Watson once. Jacksonville sacked him four times, picked off a pass, and allowed him to complete just over 50 percent of his passes. But that all came in the first 48 snaps of Watson's career, when he entered as a rookie in Week 1 of 2017, with his team trailing by a 19-0 margin.
It's a much different Watson, and a much different Texans offense for that matter this week. The Jaguars know that, and they know his ability to run, and mobility in the pocket are a challenge.
"Mobile quarterbacks this year have caused problems for us, but nothing that we can't adjust to," Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson said. "He definitely poses some problems, and obviously we've got to bring our 'A' game."
The Jacksonville defense has surrendered 70 combined points the last two weeks, as they've run up against mobile quarterbacks in Kansas City's Pat Mahomes and Dak Prescott of the Cowboys.
"He's a weapon," Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said. "There's no mistake about it. He's a guy that can run, he's a guy that can extend plays, he can make throws. He's someone that, for a long period of time, at least as long as I'm here, is going to be very difficult for us and a challenge for us."
2) Wall for Watson- The Jaguars defense sacked Texans' quarterbacks a combined 14 times in two games last year. He was sacked seven times against Buffalo, and suffered a chest injury the week before versus Dallas. In 2018, he's been dropped a League-worst 25 times. But he said he's ready to go for Jacksonville.
"For sure," Watson said. "I wouldn't be out there if it would've caused any more problems. I talked it over with my family, doctors and everything, and everything was fine."
Head coach Bill O'Brien said the Texans must do a better job protecting Watson. But that doesn't fall solely on the offensive line.
"If you look at the line, there were times where they certainly could do a better job, but sometimes the ball has to come out quicker, the route needs to be run better," O'Brien said. "We've got to do a better job of coaching. We've got to get these guys to be more consistent in how they play."
Despite some of the sack numbers by the Texans o-line, Marrone said he's seen improvement in watching the game tape.
"Those guys are starting to play better together as a group," Marrone said. "They're playing better as an offense and it creates challenges."
3) Hopkins vs. Ramsey- Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey are two of the very best at their respective position. It's always an entertaining battle when they face each other. Ramsey categorized it this week as a "good matchup", and Hopkins agreed.
"I love it," Hopkins said. "He's competitive. He matches up against me well, better than a lot of other corners. We don't talk trash to each other. We've got a mutual respect. We know when we go out there, it's time to work."
Hopkins didn't practice Thursday because of a foot injury, a day after he was listed as a limited participant.
Quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan explained that in addition to having all the physical traits that are ideal for a cornerback, Ramsey has the gift of a short memory.
"He's got the skill of being able to go from one play to the next," Ryan said. "He doesn't remember what he did well and if he gets beat, he just comes back at you every play. I think that's what makes him a pretty good player on the outside."
The Jaguars have a great deal of respect for Hopkins as well, as he's already racked up 657 receiving yards this season.
"When you look at what he does – tight coverage, he catches it, he runs the routes, run after the catch," Marrone said. "Everybody in the stadium knows the ball's going to him at certain times and he's still making those plays. The guy is just relentless, maniacal in how he plays."
4) Badger Bortles- The last two weeks have been tough for Blake Bortles: he's been picked off six times and lost a fumble. He's also been sacked a combined eight times in those two games. On the season, he's thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, completed 61 percent of his passes, and also run for 188 yards on 26 carries.
"You've got to be cognizant of him and what he does and how he does it and his abilities and try to take away some of the plays that he makes, both with his arm and with his feet," defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. "If you can kind of take some of those plays away, then I think you improve your chances."
O'Brien agreed, and pointed out the stress his mobility can put on a defense.
"Very hard to defend that when a guy gets outside the pocket," O'Brien said. "Your coverage is affected. It's really difficult to defend an athletic quarterback from running or throwing."
For defensive end J.J. Watt, who's sacked Bortles nine times in his career, the goal is a very clear one.
"We need to do a good job of trying to make it difficult," Watt said. "That's what you try to do for any quarterback. You want to try to make it difficult. He's very athletic. He can run very well so you want to try to keep him in the pocket. You want to try to put him in as many tough situations as you can."
5) Stay special- The Texans special teams units are putting together a fine season. A blocked punt, as well as a fumble recovery on a punt, were the two main highlights in the win over Buffalo. But all around, they've excelled in 2018.
New coordinator Brad Seely and his assistant Tracy Smith have helped guide a unit that's allowed the Texans as a whole, to improve in a key area: starting field position.
On offense, because of solid kickoff and punt returns, the Texans have started on average at their own 31.8 yard line. That's second-best in the NFL. Last year, Houston was the worst in the League.
Meanwhile, the defense is seeing opponents beginning on average at their own 25.8 yard line. That's the fourth-best mark in the League, after being 26th-best in 2017.
"They've been an issue up until this year," O'Brien said of special teams. "I think Brad's doing a great job, Tracy, they're doing a great job and these guys are really buying in. We work hard on special teams, we meet a lot on it, we practice it on the field and it's really good to see when it all comes together on a game."
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)