Sunday will be historic for the Houston Texans. As such, it'll be really cool to be there to witness it, yet, on the other hand, it matters very little with this particular game. The Texans go to London to play on European soil for the first time in their history, one of the last teams in the league to make the trek to London to play a game. The more important aspect of this trip is that they're headed over to play one of the most important games of the season. Why? Because it's gritty AFC South divisional foe Jacksonville on the other sideline.
All that separated these two teams at NRG Stadium just six weeks ago was about three inches. Safety Justin Reid put the finishing touches on Jaguars star running back Leonard Fournette to keep him out of the end zone on a two-point conversion that would've given Jacksonville a 14-13 win. That would have made the Texans 0-2 at that point for the second-consecutive season and who knows what happens from that point. But, Reid and company stopped Fournette just short to preserve a 13-12 win in Week 2. Furthermore, with the Jaguars at 4-4 and the Texans at 5-3, the records and standings would be reversed as we head across the pond. Thankfully, the Texans defense held firm for the key win.
But, a trip to London is a whole different story, especially against the Jaguars, a team that visits once a year. Not only that, but the Jaguars have strung together four wins in the six games following the last Texans-Jaguars matchup and they're riding the back of The Mustache, aka Gardner Minshew II, to do it. Last week against the Jets, he was marvelous: 22-of-34 for 279 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-15 win. Minshew II has given that Jacksonville offense confidence that it can move the ball on any defense it faces, especially one as banged up as the Texans right now.
The defense has returned to Sacksonville status, too. Last week against the Jets, the Jaguars compiled eight sacks, including two each for star edge pass rushers Josh Allen (rookie) and Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue (missed last matchup with the Texans). The Jaguars had nine in a win over Tennessee in Week 3. Yet, they didn't have any against the Chiefs, which is understandable, and none against the Broncos, which defies description. They lost that one to the Chiefs and somehow won the game in Denver. They get those sacks in bunches and it seems to add significant juice to that whole team when it happens, which can be frightening.
So, the recipe is a little different than the last time the Texans faced the Jaguars, but crystal clear this time around - a dash of Leonard Fournette with some Minshew mobility and magic, combined with a high dose of sacks. That is Jacksonville's plan to win games going forward (or at least until Nick Foles returns). Without further ado, let's get to know the Jacksonville Jaguars... again.
2019 Schedule - Record 4-4
L, Kansas City Chiefs 40-26
L, @ Houston Texans 13-12
W, Tennessee Titans 20-7
W, @ Denver Broncos 26-24
L, @ Carolina Panthers 34-27
L, New Orleans Saints 13-6
W, @ Cincinnati Bengals 27-17
W, New York Jets 29-15
Jaguars offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 136.5 ypg (5th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 243.2 ypg (14th)
Total offense per game - 379.8 ypg (10th)
Turnovers lost - 8 (2 INT, 6 fumbles lost)
Projected Jaguars starting offense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
QB - GARDNER MINSHEW II (rookie)
RB - Leonard Fournette
WR - D.J. Chark
WR - Chris Conley
WR - Keelan Cole
TE - SETH DeVALVE
LT - Cam Robinson
LG - Andrew Norwell
C - Brandon Linder
RG - A.J. Cann
RT - JAWAAN TAYLOR (rookie)
Other key offensive pieces:
RB - RYQUELL ARMSTEAD (rookie)
TE - Ben Koyack
TE - JOSH OLIVER (rookie)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Jaguars offense:
1. Minshew must be kept in the well. No ifs, ands or buts about it. When he escapes the pocket, the Jaguars benefit in a big way.
2. Receiver D.J. Chark has turned into a problem for teams as the proverbial light has gone on for him in Year 2. He may need a couple of defenders tracking him throughout the day.
3. I can't stress this enough when facing Fournette... Gap. Discipline. Straight run through holes will turn into 66-yard gains. A wall built with no seams will mean a ton of dancing and short/no gains.
4. Multiply the looks up front with J.J. Watt sidelined and when in the backfield get a hand on the ball. Minshew coughed it up three times in the last matchup and lost another one last week vs. the Jets.
5. Know that every play is over when the whistle blows, not when your eyes convince you it's over. Play to the whistle.
Jaguars defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 108.2 ypg (16th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 234.2 ypg (14th)
Total offense allowed per game - 342.5 ypg (13th)
Turnovers generated - 9 (7 INT, 2 fumble recoveries - Jaguars are +1 in TO margin)
Projected Jaguars starting defense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
DE - Yannick Ngakoue
DT - Abry Jones
DT - Calais Campbell
DE - JOSH ALLEN (rookie)
LB - AUSTIN CALITRO/QUINCY WILLIAMS
LB - Myles Jack
Nickel - D.J. Hayden
CB - Tre Herndon
S - Jarrod Wilson
S - Ronnie Harrison
CB - A.J. Bouye
Other key defensive pieces:
DT - Taven Bryan
DT - DONTAVIUS RUSSELL
DT - Akeem Spence
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Jaguars defense:
1. Hit the bully right in the mouth and don't yield an inch. Against this defense, it's a man's game and last year in Jacksonville was a perfect example of what happens when the bully (Jacksonville front) gets popped repeatedly.
2. Expect penetration up front and exploit seams in the run game when this defense allows.
3. There will be open receivers - negate the pass rush with quick game (2.5 second release or less). Take the profit on first and second down to set up more than manageable third down situations, such that this Jaguars pass rush cannot pin its ears back and eat.
4. The middle of the field is open for the Texans interior passing game - Jets tight end Ryan Griffin was targeted four times and caught all four for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
5. The pass rush can be relentless and the sacks come in bunches. But, stemming the tide early with solid protection and time for Deshaun Watson to throw will frustrate those rushers and have them anxious and undisciplined later in the game...
6. When the front four can't get there, the blitz is coming. Count on it. Be sharp and make sure all blitzers are accounted for with the blocking plan.
Check out the best Week 8 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.