The Texans (6-4) host the Jaguars (7-3) in a Week 12 matchup this Sunday in Houston. It's the first time the two clubs have met in the month of November or December when they've each had records better than .500. The Texans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville in Week 3 this year, 37-17. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon inside NRG Stadium.
1) Stroud Growth – The last time he played the Jaguars, quarterback C.J. Stroud lit Jacksonville up for 280 yards and two touchdown tosses while completing 20-of-30 pass attempts. It was his first win as a professional, and the Texans have gone 6-2 since the start of Week 3.
He's also improved since then, and not just by a little bit, according to Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell.
"A bunch," Caldwell said. "He was good back then and he's even better now. It's pretty amazing to see him come in and do the things that he's been able to do. He takes care of the ball, he throws the ball wherever he needs to, makes a bunch of plays with his legs and he's a guy that is really putting on great performance's week after week after week."
Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik points to Stroud's pocket awareness and management as a main area in which the young quarterback's made strides.
"How he has come along in handling the pocket and handling the things that happen around playing the quarterback position, being able to keep his eyes downfield and deliver really accurate balls in the midst of chaos," Slowik said. "Every week, he's taking steps in the right direction."
2) Run game redux – In each of the last two weeks, Devin Singletary has rushed for more than 100 yards. This Sunday against Jacksonville, he might have fellow running back Dameon Pierce joining him on the active roster. Pierce hasn't been active since the loss at Carolina, missing the last three contests with an ankle injury.
If he does return, it's one more weapon to add to the arsenal on the Texans offense. In the three games without Pierce, Singletary has a combined 65 carries. Minus a handful of end-arounds by receivers Tank Dell and Xavier Hutchinson, and some scrambles by Stroud, the Texans running backs/fullback have a combined three carries in that trio of contests.
"Whenever it is that 'D.P.' comes back, we believe wholeheartedly in sharing that load," Slowik said. "It's the same at receiver, tight end, everywhere – except quarterback. We want to make sure guys are fresh, and when they touch the ball, they give all they've got until they're tackled or they're scoring."
With a possible Pierce return to the field, Slowik thinks he'd fit in nicely with what the offense has been able to do lately.
"The growth that we've had in the run scheme, and what we've been doing up front and the holes that we've created, I think the offense is seeing how powerful that is," Slowik said. "How much that opens the play-pass world, opens the keeper world and the stuff I think that we've done a really good job of over the last three weeks.
3) Take it out on Trevor – The Texans pass rush has a combined 15 sacks in the last four games. Neither Stroud or Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was sacked in the Week 3 Houston win. But according to Will Anderson, Jr., the Texans defense continues to head in the right direction, especially after last Sunday's victory. In that 21-16 triumph, they allowed the Cardinals into the end zone just twice.
"It's all about consistency and building each week," Anderson said. "How we're preparing at practice and just owning the details. Ccoach always just speaks on, just do 'us' better. When we're all on the same page, we're a really great defense."
Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson has noticed Anderson's growth, in particular.
"Quite a bit," Pederson said. "I think he's really settled into that role, he's fast and he's got good strength and leverage, power, pad level, all that stuff. He's turning into a really good edge rusher."
With a passer rating over 100 in six games this season, Lawrence is tied for second in the NFL with Denver's Russell Wilson.
4) Stopping the run – The Texans defense hasn't allowed any player to run for more than 100 yards in a game this season.
Jacksonville's Travis Etienne carried 19 times for 88 yards, and also caught four passes for 50 yards in Week 3.
But overall, the Texans haven't given up very much on the ground in 2023, and Head Coach DeMeco Ryans explained how they've been fairly successful.
"We've stopped the run the last couple weeks because it starts with our edge setters," Ryans said. "With Jonathan [Greenard] and with Will, they've done a really good job of keeping the ball inside and then it turns into 'Where are our second-level defenders?' The linebackers, the safeties, the nickels, are showing up and being violent. We want our guys to be physical and knock ball carriers back."
Anderson described what the Texans must do to limit any damage Etienne can do.
"Just swarming," Anderson said. "Everybody getting to the ball and just tackling. Those are the two biggest things. Just swarming and tackling."
5) Mirror, mirror – For the third fourth straight week, the Texans are facing off with a team that's similar to them in terms of turnover differential. Houston and Jacksonville are tied for 9th in the NFL at plus-3. They've taken the ball away from opponents three more times than they've turned it over.
The Jaguars lead the NFL in takeaways this year with 20.
Houston, meanwhile, is for the 7th-best mark in the league in turnovers. They've been picked off or fumbled the ball away a combined 11 times.
In the first go-round, the Texans came up with a pick and a fumble recovery, and didn't turn the ball over to the Jaguars.
When Lawrence has throw the ball, he's been picked off three times combined in the Jaguars' seven wins, and three times combined in their three losses.