The Texans (0-1) host the Jaguars (0-1) on Sunday at noon CT. Houston won both games against Jacksonville last season, and has been victorious in 12 of the last 16 matchups. Here are five things to watch when the two squads square off inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Elite vs. Elite - DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey is always a must-see matchup. The Texans receiver and the Jacksonville corner are two of the best at their respective positions, and each has the utmost respect for the other. Hopkins has averaged 6.5 catches for 77.8 yards over the six times they've faced each other, and said Ramsey is unique.
"He's the only corner in the NFL that actually follows me everywhere I go, so you've got to respect that," Hopkins said.
For Ramsey, the task of defending Hopkins can be frustrating, even when he's been in the correct position against the All-Pro receiver.
"There's been times in the past where I've had him guarded," Ramsey said. "I've been on him like white on rice, and he still made an amazing catch. Or a one-handed catch. Or a spectacular catch. You see those from him all the time."
Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly enjoys the high-level matchup as well.
"It's a fun one to watch," Kelly said. "It's two really good players who have similar strengths that go and battle. Every time they play, it's a battle."
2) The others vs. the others - With Ramsey on Hopkins, the Jaguars still have to defend against receivers Will Fuller, V and Kenny Stills, and perhaps Keke Coutee. The second-year pass-catcher has been a full participant in practice this week, and might be active Sunday against Jacksonville. If that's the case, the Texans will have three other speedy weapons at their disposal, and Jacksonville will have to figure out how to defend them.
Stills, with limited knowledge of the playbook last week, made an instant impact by catching a go-ahead 37-yard touchdown with 37 seconds remaining in the Monday night contest at New Orleans. He's now had another week in the system, and another week to expand his knowledge of and comfort in the Texans offense.
"When you have a great quarterback and great guys in the surrounding cast, it makes it a lot easier for a guy like me to show up and be a pro and just do my job," Stills said. "I look forward to the potential that we have. We just have to continue to work and stay healthy and just build on what we did on Monday night."
How the Jaguars account for all the weapons is a challenge, according to Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone.
"We've got to be able to cover enough and we've got to be able to affect the quarterback," Marrone said. "I think that Houston is much improved from a standpoint of where they are offensively. They put different types of pressure on you."
3) Shield for Deshaun - In the Texans' road win at Jacksonville last year, Watson was sacked just once. In the Week 17 win over the Jaguars at NRG Stadium, he was dropped six times. The Texans are looking for results like the former, more than the latter. On Monday night, he was sacked another six times. Everyone in the organization agrees: pass protection must improve.
"We've got to cut down on that number," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "There's no doubt about it. We can't give up six sacks, but there's a lot that goes into it. There were times where there were some pressures that we have to pick up better. We have to coach it better, our guys need to get their assignments down a little bit better and then there's other times where maybe the ball needs to come out a little bit quicker."
Left tackle Laremy Tunsil knows the Texans will face a defense that can cause problems.
"The d-line is pretty good, for sure," Tunsil said. "Jacksonville's defense as a whole is pretty good."
Jacksonville will be without defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who tallied 29.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles from 2016-2018. He's been ruled out because of a hamstring injury.
4) Rattle that rookie - Speaking of quarterbacks, Jacksonville's Gardner Minshew gets his first NFL start on Sunday. The rookie came on in relief of an injured Nick Foles, and in just over three quarters of play in the loss to the Chiefs, he managed to complete 22-of-25 pass attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He was picked off once and sacked once, but he showed an ability to move the ball. In his time under center last Sunday, he impressed many of the Texans, including defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
"You have to give him a lot of credit for being able to step in and perform the way that he did," Crennel said. "Hopefully he won't be as good on Sunday, but if we can have a good combination of coverage and rush, we might be able to take some of those completions away from him."
Defensive end J.J. Watt, who's registered 16 sacks against the Jags in 13 career games, thought highly of Minshew's debut.
"He handled it well," Watt said. "I thought the situation didn't look too big for him and he handled it well and the coaches did well to put him in positions to help him out. He did a good job."
5) Get Fournette - Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette carried 13 times for 66 yards against Kansas City last Sunday, and also caught four passes for 28 yards. The only time he's played against the Texans was Week 1 of 2017, when he rumbled 26 times for 100 yards and a score. He scored nine touchdowns on the ground that rookie season of 2017, and five last year. He started and played in just eight games for the Jaguars, but Houston is wary of the punishing ball-carrier.
"He's a big guy," O'Brien said. "He gets behind his pads. Like I say, if you let him get going down the railroad tracks, you're going to have a problem because he's going to steamroll you. You have to do a good job of setting the edge and playing good gap-control defense because he's a tough guy. They throw him the ball, too. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. Leonard always presents a big challenge to us."
The Texans have noticed a slimmer Fournette, and think he's added some speed to his imposing frame.
"Big threat," Reid said. "He's a faster guy. More lean. You can see his confidence level is a lot higher, too, in the way that he plays."
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)