Defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and the Jaguars have shut down opposing rushing attacks this season.
Thanks to the leg of Kris Brown, the Texans sit at 3-2 for the first time in team history and now prepare to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in a tough division matchup on the road. The Texans hold a 6-4 record against the Jaguars, including a 3-2 mark in Jacksonville. The Jaguars enter the game 3-1, coming off a stout defensive effort against Kansas City in which they allowed only 10 rushing yards in a 17-7 victory over the Chiefs.
Head coach Jack Del Rio's team is playing the style of football that took them to the playoffs in the past: controlling the clock by running the ball and playing tough, physical defense. Jacksonville looks like an early playoff contender and may challenge the Colts for the division lead.
With Byron Leftwich now in Atlanta, David Garrard has excelled as the Jaguars' number one quarterback. Garrard has thrown for 848 yards with four touchdowns, and his 105.4 passer rating is fourth-highest in the league. Most importantly, Garrard has yet to throw an interception, a problem that plagued Leftwich during his Jaguars career. Garrard's only backup is four-year veteran Quinn Gray, who has thrown just 36 career passes.
In the backfield, the Jaguars feature the running back tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. A 10-year veteran, Taylor is the starter but has yet to find the end zone in 2007. He also is averaging only 3.8 yards per rush, well below his career average of 4.6. Jones-Drew broke out of his early-season slump last week by rushing for 82 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown, and is a great receiving back who currently ranks third on the team in receptions. Paving the way for both backs is fullback Greg Jones, fully healthy after missing last season with a knee injury.
At wide receiver, former Cleveland Brown Dennis Northcutt leads the team with 242 yards and a touchdown. No other Jaguars receiver has more than 10 catches or 100 yards on the season. The other starter is four-year veteran Ernest Wilford, but receivers Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and John Broussard have seen action this season.
Second-year tight end Marcedes Lewis is off to a good start with 12 receptions for 131 yards, good for second on the team. The former UCLA Bruin is a difficult matchup for defenses, with the speed to get by linebackers and the size to take on bruising safeties. Lewis' backup, George Wrighster, has four receptions on the season.
Along the offensive line, Jaguars starting center Brad Meester has yet to play this season with an ankle injury. In his place is six-year veteran Dennis Norman, who before this season only had a handful of starts in his career. Both guards remain unchanged from last season, with Vince Manuwai on the left side and Chris Naeole on the right. Free agent acquisition Tony Pashos comes over from Baltimore to play right tackle, while third-year veteran Khalif Barnes returns as the starter on the left side. Former starting right tackle Maurice Williams is the top lineman reserve and can step in at left or right tackle if necessary.
The success of the Jaguars' defense starts up front with their talented defensive line. Mammoth tackles John Henderson (6-7, 325) and Marcus Stroud (6-6, 306) excel in stopping the run. Stroud, the better pass rusher of the two, has 2.5 sacks on the season. Bobby McCray and Reggie Hayward are the starting defensive ends. Hayward is playing well after missing the majority of last season due to injury. Eight-year veteran Paul Spicer and second-year pass rushing specialist Brent Hawkins will also figure into the rotation.
Middle linebacker Mike Peterson was sorely missed last season when he went down with a pectoral injury. Now fully healthy, Peterson has the unit back on track and his 22 tackles are second on the team. Starting on the strong side next to Peterson is the reliable Daryl Smith, who has 19 tackles this season. On the weak side is hard-hitting former Oklahoma Sooner Clint Ingram, who ranked fourth among rookies in tackles last season with 117. Second-year man Justin Durant is the top reserve in the unit and appears to be Peterson's heir-apparent at middle linebacker. For now he will spend most of his time on special teams.
With the departure of longtime Jaguar safety Donovan Darius, cornerback Rashean Mathis takes the reigns as the leader of the secondary. Mathis, who made his first Pro Bowl last season, has 15 tackles and an interception this year. Starting opposite Mathis is Brian Williams, who sometimes struggles in coverage but is a very hard hitter, leading the team with 2.5 tackles for loss. Eleven-year veteran Terry Cousin and third-year veteran Scott Starks will play mostly in passing situations. Starks has not missed a game in his young career, playing on special teams and as a reserve cornerback.
Starting at free safety is rookie first-round pick Reggie Nelson. The ballhawking former Florida Gator already has made an impact with a forced fumble and an interception to add to his 11 tackles this season. At strong safety is 11-year veteran Sammy Knight, who came over from Kansas City in the offseason. Knight leads the team with 24 tackles and also has an interception. Like Nelson, Knight is known to force turnovers, producing 50 takeaways in his career coming into the season. The Jags are high on seventh-round draft pick Chad Nking, a converted linebacker, who plays mostly on special teams.
With starting kicker Josh Scobee nursing a quadriceps injury, 18-year veteran John Carney was signed to replace him. Carney has kicked well thus far, missing only one of seven field goal attempts, but struggles with kicks of over 40 yards these days.
Rookie Adam Podlesh handles the punting duties. The former Maryland Terrapin is off to a rough start, ranking last in the league in punting average with 40.3 yards per punt. Podlesh does excel in directional punting, though, having only five of his 15 punts returned so far this season.
Maurice Jones-Drew is the top kick returner and ranks fifth in the league with a 31.5 return average. The shiftiness and great acceleration that make Jones-Drew such a talented running back make him a dangerous return weapon as well.
Returning punts is Dennis Northcutt. He has not yet enjoyed the success he did with Cleveland, averaging only 6.8 yards per return, but is capable of breaking a big play at any time.
What to Watch For
- Quarterback David Garrard has distributed passes to 11 difference receivers this season. His ability to avoid locking in on one receiver is a major factor why he is yet to be intercepted. He looks to avoid last year's awful performance against the Texans when he threw four interceptions in the Jaguars' 13-10 loss in Jacksonville.
- By holding the Chiefs to only 10 yards rushing last week, the second lowest total in Chiefs' history, Jacksonville is now ranked seventh in total defense, giving up only 283.5 yards per game. The Texans' struggling ground game may continue to do so against the run-stopping abilities of the Jaguars' defensive line.