Week 7 scouting report


The current standings in the NFL are not much of a surprise. How it came to be that way? That is a different matter.

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At 5-2 the Jaguars are making league know-a-lots grin. But, a few plays and the Texans Sunday opponent could be sitting at 2-5. Four of Jacksonville's victories have come in the fourth quarter with a second year quarterback calling the shots.

"I look at the Jacksonville team and they're very similar to what Carolina was a year ago," Texans head coach Dom Capers said. "Carolina won four overtime games. Carolina doesn't win those four overtime games, they're not even in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl … That's just the way this league is set up now. Jacksonville has done an outstanding job of making the critical plays and they've gained confidence and that's why they're 5-2."

But that does not concern the Texans much.

For Houston this game is just another shot to prove that the Jaguars are not the only team that has arrived in the AFC South.

LAST WEEK:The Texans (3-3, 1-0) did not play last weekend and used the vacation to get healthy. Capers held a dozen players out of practice last week, but all but two returned for Monday afternoon's workout.

Jacksonville (5-2, 2-1) moved to the top of the AFC South with its victory at Indianapolis.

Quarterback Byron Leftwich threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Running back Fred Taylor had one of his best games of the season, rushing for 107 yards and catching three passes for 67 yards.

The Colts tied the game with 3:52 remaining.

Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio opted to give Josh Scobee a chance at a 53-yard game winner instead of trying to pin the Colts deep with a punt.

Obviously, it worked.

THE SERIES:The Texans/Titans rivalry may grab the majority of the headlines in Houston and Nashville, but the brief history between the Texans and Jacksonville has been more exciting.

The Texans lost to the Jaguars 27-0 Dec. 7 at Jacksonville. But the Texans won the last game at Reliant Stadium 24-20 after a last-second quarterback sneak by David Carr.

The all-time series is tied at 2-2.

TEXANS ON OFFENSE:Raiders defensive tackle Ted Washington is big. In fact, he's 6-5, 320 pounds big.

But even he seems small when compared to Jacksonville's defensive tackles.

John Henderson (6-7, 328) and Marcus Stroud (6-6, 312) anchor a defensive front that has been very stingy against the run thus far. The Jaguars are allowing 111 yards per game on the ground and practically nothing up the middle.

Henderson and Stroud have 30 tackles on the season. Stroud also has three sacks.

"They're both a dominate force inside," Capers said. "That's where their defense starts."

The Texans have worked to establish a better running game for the past three weeks – ever since rushing for 151 yards against the Raiders.

Jonathan Wells rushed for his second touchdown of the season against the Titans Oct. 17 but the team no doubt will benefit from the return of Domanick Davis to the backfield.

Davis has fought an ankle injury since Week Three at Kansas City and injured his thigh against the Titans.

The Texans are 23 rd in the league in rushing offense averaging about 101 yards per game.

But no one ever said running the ball in the NFL would be easy.

"People have been successful against them, but especially in the middle they can cause problems," said right tackle Todd Wade, who hopes to return to the lineup this weekend after spraining his ankle against Minnesota. "It's time for us to step up and start running the ball like we can. I think this is a good team to start against."

The Jaguars are thin at defensive end. Lionel Barnes and Brandon Green are out for the season, leaving Rob Meier and converted linebacker Greg Favors as the major pass-rush threat.

Favors has started the last two games, recording two sacks.

Yet, Jacksonville still seems desperate to improve its pass rush.

Former Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon signed with the team Tuesday. Gildon, a 10-year veteran, played in a 3-4 scheme in Pittsburgh. He has 77 career sacks, but was released by the Steelers following last season.

The Texans have plenty on their side of the ball to overcome a stingy defense through the air however, including confidence.

At .500 after six games, the Texans have a chance to make a run in the AFC South. The national media and other teams in the league have noticed.

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"I just think that people are not really sleeping on us anymore," Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "I think the past four games just shows that this team is not an expansion team anymore."

In the passing game especially the Texans have moved in with the league's elite. Carr is eighth in the league in passing yards. His 97.8 passer ratting is fifth in the NFL.

Johnson, who came just 24 yards shy of 1,000 receiving yards his rookie season, leads the AFC in receiving and is fourth in the NFL (591 yards, four touchdowns). He leads the league in yards after the catch.

The Jaguars pass defense was comparable to its run stopping ability early in the season, but has been exposed in recent weeks.

Jacksonville gave up 368 yards through the air against the Colts.

But the secondary still has playmakers and the ability to challenge the Texans aerial attack.

The addition of Deon Grant from the Panthers over the off-season made a tough safety tandem even better. Grant led Carolina to a Super Bowl, while Jacksonville's incumbent strong safety, Donovin Darius, has led the secondary for the past seven seasons.

Cornerback DeWayne Washington is the most experienced cover man in a secondary that has only three picks on the year. He will match up with Johnson, leaving the door open for wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who has two touchdowns and 237 receiving yards on the season.

Wide receiver Corey Bradford injured his groin against the Titans and was listed as questionable on the Texans injury report Wednesday morning.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Scobee's clutch performances this season have not gone unnoticed. He is nine of 11 on field goal tries this season and perfect on extra points.

Texans kicker Kris Brown is in the middle of one of the strongest legs of his career, connecting on 11 of 12 field goals this season and all 13 extra points.

His lone miss came outside of 50 yards.

TEXANS ON DEFENSE:There is always something to say for consistency.

With four wins coming in the final minutes, the Jaguars have consistently made nail bitters out of fans.

Part of that comes with a consistent quarterback.

Leftwich struggled in his first season. He became the starter after three games in 2003 and – understandably – took a few games to get into a rhythm. He threw three picks against the Texans in Reliant Stadium but has rebounded this season to be one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the league.

"They did well last year with a rookie quarterback and I think everybody saw the potential that Leftwich had last year and I think the fact that he's starting to play well really hasn't surprised us," Texans defensive tackle Seth Payne said.

Texans cornerback Aaron Glenn also said the Jaguars' improvement from 5-11 last season is not a shock. He said the team has obviously opened up the playbook more now that Leftwich has a year in the system.

That has made Jacksonville's receivers even more dangerous.

The Jaguars are averaging 227 yards per game through the air and have moved up to 11 th in the league after a dismal start to the season.

Jimmy Smith is still the main target. He comes into Sunday's game with a team-high 33 receptions for 586 yards and two touchdowns. But perhaps most surprising about Jacksonville's attack is the use of tight ends.

All four of the tight ends on the roster have at least one catch, led by George Wrighster (10 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown). He is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game with a back injury, but veteran Kyle Brady and converted wide receiver Todd Yoder combined for 5 catches 51 yards and a touchdown last week against Indianapolis.

Yoder averages more than 10 yards per catch.

"He looks like he's been throwing at this level for about five or 10 years," Texans defensive end Gary Walker said of Leftwich. "It helps to have guys like Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith and Kyle Brady and that offensive line around you taking care of you too. He's got every reason in the world to be confidant back there."

Taylor has had a lackluster year in some respects (501 rushing yards, 224 receiving) but he has quietly gone about his business.

He rushed for 163 yards and a touchdown the last time the two teams met and has the ability to break the big run at any time. His 100-yard performance against Jacksonville was his first 100-yard game of the season.

The Texans have allowed an average of 126 rushing yards per game.

Stopping the Jaguars offense may come with jumping out to a big lead and forcing them to be one dimensional. Taylor is the team's third leading receiver and when allowed to stay close, Jacksonville has made teams pay.

"We're going to try and jump on them early, try to get them frustrated and get Leftwich worried about different things," Texans linebacker Jamie Sharper said. "That's easy to do when you're at home with your crowd and our crowd is real loud and we have some things for them. If we go out here and really try to frustrate them early and put them behind a couple touchdowns it will work in our favor."

Leftwich does his share of throwing downfield, but averages 7.14 yards per attempt. He has 1,644 yards on the season, nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

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