Jones, celebrating a preseason punt return touchdown in style, brings a home-run threat back to the Texans' special teams.
Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans hit the road to take on the 3-1 Jacksonville Jaguars at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
1. No love lost: The Texans are gearing up for a physical battle in this heated rivalry game. The smash-mouth Jaguars will be looking to avenge a sweep at the hands of the Texans last season, and both teams are jockeying for position in the AFC South standings.
"There is always a lot of extra pushing and shoving whenever we play against each other," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "I wouldn't say bad blood, just say competitive juices coming out of both sides. Both sides want to win really bad. When you have two teams that want to win, there aren't any friends on the field."
Running back Samkon Gado, pressed to talk about the rivalry, guarded his words carefully but hinted at tense emotions brewing beneath the surface.
"I guess their brand of football is just very tough and aggressive, and I think they'll do anything to get the 'W,'" he said. "I don't know. That goes well with some people. It doesn't go well with others."
The Texans have a 6-4 all-time record against the Jaguars and a 3-2 mark in Jacksonville. Adding another win will take the kind of intensity that this rivalry demands.
"When you play them, you know what you're up against," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "They play in a lot of low-scoring football games. They haven't been turning the ball over this year. We know that's the type of game it's going to be - a very, very physical contest."
2, 3. Big returns: The Texans expect key playmakers Ahman Green and Jacoby Jones to be back at full strength on Sunday. Both have been practicing well all week, and their returns couldn't be any more timely as the Texans face one of the toughest defenses in the league. Jacksonville hasn't allowed more than 14 points in a game this season and held the Chiefs' Larry Johnson to 10 yards rushing on 12 carries last week.
Green's return should give life to a sputtering Texans' rushing attack, and his savvy as a pass blocker will be counted on against the attacking Jags' defense. Jones, meanwhile, gives the Texans a player who can stretch the field both on offense and special teams. As a punt returner, he could give the Texans an edge in the field position battle in what is expected to be a defensive slugfest.
Kubiak announced Friday that Jones may also return kickoffs, depending on whether the staff keeps Dexter Wynn active with the 45th roster spot or brings up another player. Jones is eager to do anything he can to help the team.
"Punts, kicks, whatever," he said. "I just want to have some fun. Whenever they sneak me in, I'm going to try to sneak in and make something happen."
4. Quarterback matchup: In a duel of promising first-time starters, quarterback Matt Schaub faces off against the Jags' David Garrard. Both signal-callers have led their teams with excellent poise in the early goings of the season. Garrard ranks fourth in the NFL in passer rating at 105.4, while Schaub is 12th at 95.5. But Schaub has thrown for more touchdowns and almost 500 more yards.
After Schaub rallied from two early turnovers to engineer last week's game-winning drive against the Dolphins, tight end Owen Daniels isn't the least bit worried about the Jaguars being able to rattle his quarterback.
"It just goes to show the kind of leader he is," Daniels said. "As a quarterback, you need to have that short-term memory. If you make a mistake, you need to come back the next play and just make the next play. If you make a great play, you can't hang on that because you have another play to make out there. He does a great job of doing that."
Garrard threw four interceptions in a 13-10 loss to the Texans last season, but he feels that three were the fault of timing or bad luck and is unshaken heading into this rematch.
"A quarterback knows when he's just blatantly throwing interceptions, and so that game interception-wise didn't really hurt my confidence or anything because I felt like I was going to the right places and putting the ball in decent spots," he said in a conference call with Houston reporters on Wednesday.
The Texans are 3-0 when they force a turnover and 0-2 when they don't. You can bet they'll be intent on forcing Garrard into a giveaway on Sunday, no matter whose fault it is.
5. Grade 'A' D-lines:Gargantuan Pro Bowl tackles Marcus Stroud (6-6, 310 pounds) and John Henderson (6-7, 335) give the Jags one of the most fearsome defensive lines in the league. But Kubiak has full confidence in guards Chester Pitts and Fred Weary to get the job done against them.
"They face good inside players all the time, but these two guys are just as big of players as they'll face all year," Kubiak said. "They know that. We've got our work cut out for us, but those two guys are ready to play."
The Texans are establishing a menacing front four of their own around reigning AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month Amobi Okoye and vastly improved Mario Williams, who last week had a jaw-dropping sack of Dolphins quarterback Cleo Lemon in which he slammed Lemon to the turf with one hand. Okoye and Williams have seven combined sacks, making them the top sack tandem in the AFC, and the pair has helped the Texans rank ninth against the run this season.
With the Jaguars' physical, run-oriented philosophy and Kubiak intent on establishing the ground game this week, the battle at the line of scrimmage will be a key factor in determining whether the Texans fall to .500 or move to 4-2 for the first time in franchise history.
Injury Report:For the Texans' official injury report, please **click here**.