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Five things to watch for - Texans vs. Jags


Mario Williams is looking to become the NFL sack leader after Sunday's game against the Jaguars.

Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans (7-8) look to finish with the best record in franchise history when they host AFC South rival Jacksonville (11-4) on Sunday.

1. The rivalry: The Texans have enjoyed more success versus Jacksonville than against its other division rivals, going 6-5 and sweeping the Jaguars last year.

"The Texans are a team it seems as if they almost built their team just to beat us, at least when they were beating us the past few years," running back Fred Taylor said. "They definitely come and they play as hard as they possibly can versus us."

That's why Jacksonville was out for revenge in their Oct. 14 meeting, scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half to defeat Houston 37-17. Taylor and back Maurice Jones-Drew combined for 215 yards rushing.

Houston refuses to be run over the second time around. They have too much at stake. Winning on Sunday would give the Texans their best record in franchise history at 8-8, and it would mean they do no got winless in the AFC South.

"It's a very important game for us as coaches and as players," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "The big thing, like I said two weeks ago, if we're going to win our eighth game, we're going to have to beat a real good football team. This one, boy, they're playing well. So we're going to have to play extremely well."

The Jaguars come to Houston locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC and owning the fifth-best record in the NFL. There has been talk that head coach Jack Del Rio will rest his starters, namely Taylor and quarterback David Garrard. But the coach said he will make that decision on game day.

"That will be something we take right up to the game," Del Rio said. "The bottom line is he (Gary Kubiak) is right about one thing, we only have so many guys. We have 53 guys and we take 45 into the game. We'll do the best job we can putting together a plan to go down there and compete on Sunday."

The Texans aren't taking any chances. They are preparing for the Jaguars to come out swinging.

"Jacksonville's a playoff team, and like you said they're going to come in here and their mentality is to run the ball, run the ball, just smash-mouth football," cornerback Fred Bennet said. "We've got to come to play. We've got to bring our big boy pads."

2. The running duo: The Jaguars rank second in the NFL in rushing, averaging 153 yards a game. Taylor has recorded 1,202 yards rushing this season, averaging 5.4 yards a carry. He's coming off a game in which he ran for 111 yards and one touchdown.

The 10-year veteran is backed up by a young Jones-Drew, who has proven to be more of a breakaway threat. Jones-Drew has returned a kickoff 100 yards this season and has amassed 768 yards rushing this season.

"I think we have the best 1-2 punch in the league," Taylor said.

That much may be true, but both backs are going to have to get past a physical Texans' defense.

Houston's defensive line has been pulling out new blitz packages and moving around end Mario Williams, who is second in the league in sacks with 14.

Williams has 55 tackles this season and can drop back to the linebacker spot. He will be harassing the passer and rushing from any defensive position.

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and Morlon Greenwood are the team leaders in tackles with 122 and 110, respectively. Ryans has been nursing a sore right knee, but he's too competitive to miss the last game of the season. Greenwood has led the team in tackles the last three games, averaging more than 11 in that stretch.

3. 'The' Mario Williams: The defensive end has recorded 14 sacks this season. He accounts for 48 percent of his team's sacks. No defensive end accounts for a higher percentage of his team's sacks. Most of his 55 tackles have been behind the line of scrimmage.

Williams is making a case for himself as the best defensive end in the league and he is playing with a chip on his shoulder after being left out of the Pro Bowl.

This is a warning to Jaguars quarterback David Garrard: Williams is coming after you.

And he wouldn't mind becoming the league leader in sacks.

"I mean, anybody would like to lead anything," Williams said. "Whatever position they're playing, they would like to lead something."

Garrard has been rock solid this season, throwing 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. In five consecutive games, the quarterback has helped the team produce at least 400 yards on offense.

"One thing they know for sure, is that this kid isn't going hurt them," Kubiak said. "I mean, he's protected the ball as well as anyone in football."

Still, Kubiak likes his guy.

"Our purpose was to build a defensive football team," Kubiak said. "To go get a player of his stature and athletic ability that you know is going to play for you in 12 to 13 years and do that at a high level, you can't find guys like that.

"Boy, we feel good about this kid. He's going to be doing it for a long, long time."
4. The Texans' offense: The Texans began the season running a vertical offense, stretching the field with long bombs from quarterback Matt Schaub to wideout Andre Johnson.

That changed when Schaub went down with a shoulder injury in Week 13. Sage Rosenfels has taken over behind center and led the Texans to three wins in his four starts this season. Rosenfels has thrown 14 touchdowns in his limited playing time and needs two more to tie the team record of 16 in a season set by David Carr in 2004.

The two quarterbacks have combined for 23 touchdowns and 3797 passing yards.

"I really think that we're capable of putting up some big numbers down the road," Kubiak said. "I think we are a few hundred yards short of 4,000 passing yards. That's a big step. That's learning how to throw the ball."

Rosenfels suffered an off game against the Colts, throwing three interceptions. Look for the seven-year veteran to play for vindication on Sunday.

The quarterback will be helped by the running game that has been ignited by the strong play of rusher Darius Walker. The rookie has started the last two games and recorded 66 yards on the ground in both contests. Against Indianapolis, he also grabbed 44 receiving yards and played the entire game for an injured Ron Dayne.

Walker was moved up from the practice squad earlier this season and wants show the league that he belongs with the big boys.

5. The number 8: The Texans have never finished with at least eight wins. They were painfully close in 2004 before losing to Cleveland at home and dropping to 7-9.

This season, the Texans have won three in a row at home, and if they beat Jacksonville they will finish the season 6-2 at Reliant Stadium, losing only to Indianapolis by six and Tennessee by two.

"Even though it's the last game of the year, we've got a lot at stake," tight end Owen Daniels said. "We have eight wins, the most wins in franchise history, at stake. We've got a chance to beat a playoff team. We've got a chance to get our first win in division. Unfortunately it's taken this long to do that, but (there are) a lot of things we still are able to do with this game."

Winning an eighth game also would put the team on the playoff track and give them momentum going into next season.

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