The Texans (10-5) host the Jaguars (5-10) on Sunday at noon CT. Houston won the first go-round in Week 7, as they triumphed 20-7 at Jacksonville. Here are five things to watch when the two squads kickoff inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Hopkins vs. Ramsey – For the past few seasons, the matchup of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins versus Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been entertaining theater. They’re each All-Pros, and at the top of their position in the NFL. They each have a mutual respect for each other. While Ramsey “limited” Hopkins to three catches for 50 yards in the first game this season, one of those catches was a touchdown, and the other was a magnificent one-hander that Hopkins brought in for 31 yards.
Ramsey said Hopkins is the “number one” receiver in the League earlier this week, and believes the matchup will go back-and-forth.
“When it’s a good battle, when it’s good coverage on a good route, then sometimes you’re going to make a spectacular catch and he’s capable of making plenty of them," Ramsey said.
Hopkins has caught a touchdown against the Jaguars in each of the last three games the Texans have faced Jacksonville.
2) Re-ignite the Run – The past three games have seen the Texans struggle to run the football. Houston running backs have gained a total of 81 rushing yards combined in those games, and against the Jets and Eagles, the backs carried a combined 23 times for 27 yards.
Starter Lamar Miller injured his ankle early in the game at New York, and missed the bulk of that game and all of the Eagles game. He was a full participant in practice on Thursday. Whether he’s back or not, head coach Bill O’Brien has stressed that the ground attack needs to improve. The struggles, according to O’Brien, can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including good defenses they’ve faced as well as blocking.
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” O’Brien said. “Obviously, the schemes have been good at times. Give those coaches credit of those teams. Then, it’s everything. Maybe design a little bit better play, execute better. Everybody’s involved, but I would say it’s a little bit of everything.”
Before Miller was hurt in Week 15, he gained 100 yards or more in four of the seven previous games. That string of success started in the win at Jacksonville, when ran 22 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. On the year, he’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and has 917 yards in 13 games.
3) Badger Bortles – After starting the first 11 games of 2018 for the Jaguars, Blake Bortles was replaced by Cody Kessler before Week 13. Bortles, though, will start on Sunday against the Texans. In the Week 7 loss in Jacksonville, he completed just 6-of-12 passes for 61 yards, and fumbled twice. Kessler came on in the second half to relieve him, and the Texans won by 13.
Despite his struggles earlier, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said Bortles can be a challenge because of his legs.
“His running skill and his size and his running ability adds another dimension to his game,” Crennel said. “So we have to be cognizant of the fact that he can run. They run a read option offensive scheme with him at times. He will pull it down and run when he sees an opening in the rush.”
In nine career games against the Texans, Bortles has been on the winning side just twice, with both victories coming in 2017. In those nine games, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, been sacked 25 times, and fumbled eight times as well.
J.J. Watt’s accounted for nine of those 25 Texans sacks against Bortles, but is mindful of the Jaguars quarterback and what he can do on the ground. The focus is very simple for the Texans defense.
“You’ve got to do your job,” Watt said. “That’s what it always comes down to with a guy like that who can throw it or run it, and obviously with zone reads and things like that it comes down to guys doing their jobs, knowing your keys, knowing where your eyes are supposed to be and then making plays.”
4) Stay Magical – Deshaun Watson and the Texans were down by 13 points with less than a quarter to go, on the road, facing the defending Super Bowl champs last Sunday. He put on a show on the final two offensive possessions for Houston, guiding his squad down the field for a pair of touchdowns. Ultimately, the Eagles came back and won the game, but Watson’s heroics late were a sight to behold.
“The moments are never too big for him,” Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said. “I think he thrives on it. He’s kind of been doing that since he started playing football in those big moments, just stepping up and making plays. I think he’s got a knack for it.”
The Jaguars saw Watson up close earlier this year when he and the Texans won in Jacksonville. But Pro Bowl defensive Calais Campbell said he saw the promise in the second-year signal caller in Week 1 of 2017.
“He’s an incredible player,” Campbell said. “You knew that when he first got on the field the first time last year when we played them. He has something special. He caught fire, he’s building confidence, and he’s the kind of guy that can take over games. We have our hands full trying to stop him."
Starting with the win at Jacksonville, Watson’s thrown 17 touchdowns and been picked off just two times over the last nine contests.
“I’ve gotten a lot better, just the situation of the game,” Watson said. “If you cut the season in half, from the first half of the season to the second half of the season after the bye week, my completion percentage is higher, my turnovers are lower. It puts the team and this offense in a better situation to win games, especially toward the end, and being able to manage those games and situations and taking what the defense is giving me.”
5) Individual milestones – With a special tip of the cap to the Texans media relations staff, several Texans can eclipse some personal marks on Sunday. Jadeveon Clowney just needs one sack to reach 10 for the season. That would be a single-season high for him, and he’d join Watt, Khalil Mack and Von Miller as the only players to have 10 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and three fumble recoveries in a season since 2014.
Meanwhile, with one more field goal, Ka’imi Fairbairn will pass Nick Novak’s 2016 team record of 35 made in a season. Fairbairn became the franchise’s single season scoring leader last Sunday.
If Hopkins records 75 receiving yards, he’ll join Marin Harrison, Brandon Marshall and Jerry Rice as the only receivers to ever catch 100 passes, for 1,500 or more yards and 11 touchdown catches in a season.
Miller’s just 82 yards shy of getting to the 1,000 yard mark on the ground this year.
If Watt picks up half a sack, it would be his fourth season with 15 or more. Only Reggie White had more, as he logged 15 sacks or more five times in a season.
Check out the best Week 16 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.