The Texans look to show even more progress in Week 10 after an impressive, albeit disappointing game in Week 9 against the New York Giants. The 14-10 loss may have dropped the Texans record to 2-6, but Gary Kubiak's team continues to fight in every game and give signs that the future success many pundits predicted may be sooner than we all think. As young players like defensive end Mario Williams and middle linebacker Demeco Ryans continue to improve and veterans like quarterback David Carr and wide receiver Andre Johnson continue to lead the way, the Texans will be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.
In Week 10, the Texans travel to
and crushing the Titans at home last week 37-7. There's no question the Jaguars are poised to make a playoff run, but who will quarterback them down the stretch is the question.
Quarterback Byron Leftwich, a former first round pick and current face of the franchise, had his detractors to begin the year, but following a few mediocre performances and a continuing bout with an ankle injury, the calls for backup David Garrard have gotten louder. Last week, head coach Jack Del Rio started Garrard due to Leftwich's problems and the fifth year quarterback responded by throwing three touchdowns. Last season, the Jaguars suffered in the playoffs when Leftwich started their playoff game against
despite the fact Garrard had lead the team down the stretch. This team is definitely built for a similar run to the postseason, but some stability at quarterback will be required to avoid an early exit.
**The Jaguars like to make more noise on the defensive side of the ball, but with the recent promotion of quarterback David Garrard, more attention has been placed on the offense. Many believe Garrard gives the Jaguars a better chance to win because he possesses the mobility many wish Leftwich had. He likes to use his legs, but Garrard's arm strength is nothing to ignore. He can make all of the throws necessary in offensive coordinator Carl Smith's passing attack.
With Garrard behind center, expect the running backs to get more work as the new starter continues to adjust to his new role. Good for Garrard that he gets to lean on the sixth best rushing attack in the league (135 yards per game). Starter Fred Taylor has managed to stay healthy through the first half of the season thanks to a limit placed on his carries. This has enabled
has accounted for 633 yards, good for fourth in the AFC, three touchdowns, and an impressive 4.7 yards per carry.
Oddly enough, rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, a second round pick out of UCLA who was brought in to mainly be a return man, has become the prefect compliment for Taylor in the backfield. After an outstanding college career that saw him named a first-team All-American his junior season in 2005, Jones-Drew was viewed by many as being too small (5-7, 212) to make an impact anywhere but on special teams in the NFL. But size has proved to be irrelevant so far as Jones-Drew has been a bigger threat statistically then Saints running back Reggie Bush. Whether it be on the ground, through the air or in the return game, Jones-Drew has worked his way to 320 yards rushing, 198 yards receiving and 328 in kickoff returns. His tremendous speed and ability to go the distance from anywhere on the field have made Jones-Drew one of the steals of the 2006 NFL Draft.
A large amount of pressure coming into the season was on the young corps of receivers for the Jaguars: Ernest Wilford, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. While their production won't make people forget the memory of Jimmy Smith, the trio has stepped up and allowed Jaguars quarterbacks to spread the ball around the field, keeping opposing defenses on their toes. No member of the group is shorter than 6-4' and all have their unique abilities. Wilford is a terror in the red zone. Using his size to beat defenders, he led the team last year with seven receiving touchdowns and had been lost in the offense this season, until Garrard found him for two scores last week against
. Jones, the converted quarterback, has a knack for finding holes in the defense and using his 4.3 speed to get downfield. Williams, the most physically gifted and highly drafted of the three, has finally started to blossom in his third season leading the team with 26 catches and four touchdowns this year.
They may lack star power, but the Jaguars have another good threesome at tight end.Veteran Kyle Brady is not the receiver he once was, but is still a sound blocker that is a big contributor in the success of the running game. 2006 first-round pick Mercedes Lewis, Drew's teammate at UCLA, has size (6-6, 255) and will eventually be looked at to be a solid performer through the air. And the least known of the bunch, fourth-year man George Wrighster, has already recorded 21 catches this season.
Questions surrounded the offensive line before this season, but they have responded by paving the way for the sixth best rushing team in the league and allowing Jaguars quarterbacks to only be sacked twelve times. Left tackle Khalif Barnes has emerged as one of the best in the game in only his second season. Veteran center Brad Meester is a solid leader and is flanked by two guards, Vince Manuwai and Chris Naeole, who have stepped up their game. Other contributors on the successful line this season have been tackles Maurice Williams and Stockar McDougle.
In scheming defensively for the Jaguars, this game will be much different than their last meeting on October 22 nd due to Garrard's improvisational and running ability. Whereas Leftwich stood in the pocket almost waiting to get hit, the fifth year
and Jones-Drew from getting loose on the ground and making sure outside containment is kept to avoid the young quarterback from getting outside the pocket to make plays will be essential to the Texans success against the Jaguars.
**As they were in the first match-up of the season, the Jaguars continue to be overrun with injuries. Although it hasn't yet affected their performance on the field as they rank fifth in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed, if the bumps and bruises continue to add up, the hallmark of the Jaguars team may soon become a weakness. With middle linebacker Mike Peterson and defensive Reggie Hayward already out for the season, the injuries facing them this week could hinder their ability to stop the run and get pressure on quarterback David Carr.
The two foundations of the Jaguars defense, defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, are both hampered by nagging injuries that will keep Stroud out and
in limited duty. When healthy, they comprise the most dominant tackle duo in the league and essentially form an impenetrable wall for opposing running attacks. This week, Wali Lundy and the rest of the Texans backs may take advantage of the injuries and see more carries than usual against the Jaguars.
With Meier moving to tackle, there will be less rotation among the defensive ends as Paul Spicer, a well-rounded hustler like Meier, and Bobby McCray, a pass-rush specialist, will see the brunt of the playing time. Spicer has an outstanding motor that allows him to play the pass and run equally well. McCray, though undersized and blessed as a pass-rusher, is improving on run defense and should continue to hone his skills as his role becomes more prominent this week and should develop during his still young career. McCray's value still lies in his ability to get after the quarterback, which has helped him notch five sacks this season.
The key to the game will be at linebacker to see how Daryl Smith, in only his third year in the league, has looked good filling in for the injured Peterson. Smith (6-2, 244) came into the league being billed as a player who can play all three spots, so the transition has come easy for him. Smith has registered 44 tackles this season and five and a half tackles for loss. Surrounding Smith are two players in their first year as starters, Nick Griesen and Clint Ingram. Griesen always plays hard and seems to be around the ball at all times because of his superb instincts. Although he doesn't have much experience after playing the role of backup for the Giants, he has filled in admirably as a starter this year. The surprise of the defense has been the rookie Ingram, who in the six games he's played, has picked up 23 tackles and a sack.
Free-agent acquisition Brian Williams starts opposite Mathis and although people criticized the Jaguars for signing him to a large contract (six years, $32 million) its hard to find many 27 year-old cornerbacks with decent size (5-11, 198), the versatility to play safety, and thirteen interceptions in just over four years. Williams may only have one pick this season, but he has contributed to the defense with 30 tackles, a relatively high number for a cornerback. Veteran Terry Cousin gives the Jags a solid nickel back to defend the slot in three-wide receiver sets.
Behind the cornerbacks is one of the finest safety duos in the league: free safety Deon Grant and strong safety Donovan Darius. While not spectacular, Grant is solid and gets the job done every game. He has big game experience from his time in college at
Coming off a knee injury that saw him miss all but two games in 2005, Darius is second on the team with 41 tackles. His hard-hitting style and on-field recognition skills make him one of the best all-around safeties in the game.
Attacking the defense of the Jaguars can get tricky. It's almost impossible to run up the middle when
and Stroud are clogging the gaps and throwing deep means having to deal with Darius and Grant. But with Stroud out this week, running up the middle may prove to be a viable option, despite still having to deal with
**Like they are in all facets of the game, the Jaguars are solid in special teams thanks to the addition of Jones-Drew, the continued improvement of kicker Josh Scobee, the steady leg of Chris Hanson, and the addition of many young, athletic players to the coverage units that open holes in the return game and clog the lanes against the opposition.
Jones-Drew is a threat to score anytime he has the ball in his hands. Last season at UCLA, he led the NCAA with a 28.5 yards per punt return average. Although he is letting the young duo of wide receiver Chad Owens and running back Alvin Pearman handle the punts, he is making an impact returning kickoffs at a 25.2 yard per return average. Pearman has separated himself as the top punt returner averaging 11.1 yards per returner. Teammates with Wali Lundy at Virginia, Pearman may not have breakaway speed, but he is able to get by on short-area quickness and elusiveness.
Scobee, who is 14 of 17 on field goals thus far, has shown marked improvement. His three field goals against the defending champion Steelers in Week 2 served as the only scoring and propelled the Jaguars to victory. At only 24 years of age, Scobee should continue to build upon his success and become one of the best kickers in the NFL. Hanson has had a steady six-year career as the