The Texans (0-2) head to Jacksonville (1-1) for an AFC South showdown. Houston lost its home opener on Sunday to the Colts, 31-20. The Jaguars, meanwhile, fell at home to the Chiefs, 17-9. Here are five things to watch when they kick off this Sunday at noon CT inside EverBank Stadium.
*EDITOR'S NOTE*: A version of this published on Friday had the return of Laremy Tunsil from injury as one of the things to watch. On Saturday afternoon, the Texans announced Tunsil won't travel to the game in Jacksonville.
1) Stroud's Next Step – C.J. Stroud and the offense were more explosive last Sunday than they were in Week 1 at Baltimore. With seven completions of 20 yards or longer, Stroud and company piled up 384 passing yards, and three different pass-catchers had 70 receiving yards or more.
Getting a win remains goal number one for the rookie quarterback and the Texans, but Head Coach DeMeco Ryans remains encouraged by what he continues to see from Stroud, growth-wise.
"He's able to progress, he's able to grow within games," Ryans said. "Like you see in our past game where he got pressured and held onto the ball a little too long and he comes back, and he makes the right decision with the football. This kid is made of all the right stuff."
Stroud, who's now completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 626 yards, is clear on what he must do at EverBank Stadium on Sunday.
"I've got to be right with everything I have to do on my table and get guys ready to win, and I think that we've [taken] steps every week, and now it's time to put it together, so just executing," Stroud said. "We've got to execute early on and just get our rhythm and roll."
2) Get Angry Again – Running back Dameon Pierce turned in the finest play of the season in 2022 when he bulldozed through the bulk of the Jaguars defense for a 20-yard gain that would set up a Texans touchdown. Houston won the game that October day and Pierce was awarded the "Angry Run of the Year" Award in February.
So far in 2023, Pierce and the Texans run game have been limited to less than three yards per carry. He and the rest of the team want that to change, and he explained how that change can come from within.
"No matter who's on the field, it comes down to basic fundamentals of what we can do," Pierce said. "It's controllable. It's a simple fix. It's not like we have guys lacking, or not giving the effort. As long as we stay adamant with it and intentional with it, you're going to see more and more runs pop, the longer we mesh as a unit."
Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik also detailed what's ailed the ground attack.
"We've got to stop having mental mistakes in the run game," Slowik said. "We've got too many unblocked defenders in the hole. We can scheme up some better plays in some areas, and when we get the right looks, we've got to make them explosives – and right now, we're not."
The Jaguars defense through two games is Top 10 in the league in yards per carry allowed, at just 3.5. Those stats have come against the Colts and Chiefs, respectively.
3) Captain Comes Back – The Texans will get a captain back in the fold on Sunday. Safety Jimmie Ward, who missed the first two games with a hip injury, practiced all three days this week
Ryans is glad Ward will get to make his Texans debut.
"Jimmie is an instinctive playmaker," Ryans said. "Love having him out there. He provides versatility to us on the defensive side of the ball, so happy to see him back out at practice, back working with us as well."
Defensively, Ward's return helps settle some things down, according to coordinator Matt Burke.
"Obviously coming from a second level piece in the back end, from coverage checks and those sorts of things, he's a guy that's done it, done it in the system," Burke said. "There's a calming presence to some of the things he brings to the table, so obviously he's a factor in that hopefully."
4) Trouble for Trevor – When these two clubs met last year in Jacksonville, quarterback Trevor Lawrence through two interceptions. He threw six more the entire season, compared to 25 touchdown passes. Houston won, 13-6, and the Texans will need to make life difficult for the 2021 first overall pick again.
"Trevor Lawrence is a really great quarterback and I think he like he's one of the fastest quarterbacks to get the ball out in the league." Defensive end Will Anderson, Jr. said. "So it's going to be a great challenge for us. We just got to keep doing our job and keep doing our game plan."
Ryans explained how tight coverage will be at a premium on Sunday.
"Trevor gets the ball out fast, whether it's screen games, RPO games – the ball is coming out fairly quickly," Ryans said. "It's just a matter of guys being where they are supposed to be and guys being tight in their coverage."
5) Adjusting without Stingley – Along with safety Jalen Pitre, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Tavierre Thomas, the Texans will also be without cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr. He was ruled out for Sunday because of a hamstring injury, and has been placed on the injured reserve.
Stingley picked off Lawrence in the end zone last season at Jacksonville, and started both games this season.
In his place, the Texans will likely use Shaquill Griffin a bit more. Griffin was a Jaguar the last two seasons after spending the first four years of his career in Seattle.
"Shaq has done a good job for us," Burke said. "He's a veteran corner, he's played a lot of ball. He's a physical corner. I would say he's one of our better tacklers at the edge – he's shown that in preseason games and as we've gone through the weeks here. I feel good about what he's done and where his growth has been for us."
Griffin is ready to tangle with some old teammates from Jacksonville.
"This matchup is going to be fun," Griffin said. "It's going to be fun to see. They're going to be fun to go against, fun to compete with. I'm excited for it."