NFL Preview - Jacksonville (1-8) at Houston (8-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's easy to overlook an opponent judging by wins and losses. The Houston Texans can not afford to fall into that trap Sunday against an inferior Jacksonville Jaguars squad at Reliant Stadium.
Rain, wind and sloppy conditions didn't seem to bother the Texans in their eighth win of the season, a 13-6 triumph Sunday night against the Chicago Bears from Soldier Field. In a matchup of two impressive defenses, it was the visiting team that set the tone for the entire 60 minutes.
The Texans forced four turnovers, picking Bears quarterback Jay Cutler off twice before sending him to the showers with a concussion. It was business as usual for Houston, which has the best record in the AFC at 8-1 and is riding a three-game win streak into this weekend's AFC South tilt with Jacksonville.
"This is a huge win for us, on the road, in a tough environment, tough weather conditions," Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. "A grind-it-out, pound-it- out game shows that we can win in any environment, any situation.
"It wasn't pretty, it wasn't clean, but we came out with a win, and that's all that matters."
Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins made it easy on the defense when he drove Cutler into the ground during the second quarter, forcing the Bears to go with expensive backup Jason Campbell. Cutler was one of three QBs to suffer a concussion this past weekend, joining Alex Smith of the 49ers and Philadelphia's Michael Vick. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert has struggled mightily this season, especially in protection, and better have his head on a swivel this weekend.
Tied the with the Atlanta Falcons for the league's top record, the Texans limited the Bears to 249 total yards and are second in the NFL in that category, allowing 286.6 yards per game. They shouldn't have to worry about Jacksonville racking up yards because it's only producing an NFL-low 263.6 ypg. Houston, though, did have trouble stopping Brandon Marshall, who had another fine outing with 107 yards on eight receptions.
Texans safety Glover Quin leads the teams with 46 tackles and defensive back Kareem Jackson has a team-best four interceptions. Jackson and safety Danieal Manning had the picks against the Bears, and will try to pressure Gabbert into some more mistakes in the second meeting between the division foes. Gabbert escaped the first meeting by not throwing an interception.
While it appears the Jaguars may have trouble finding the creases in the Houston secondary, it will be the front line of the Texans' defense they'll have to contain. Texans stud defensive end J.J. Watt has an NFL-leading 10 1/2 sacks on the season. but Houston failed to record any in Chicago. Watt had 1 1/2 sacks in the first meeting with the Jags.
Jacksonville had plenty of time to prepare for the Texans and was last in action Thursday in a 27-10 beating at the hands of the AFC South-rival Indianapolis Colts.
The Jaguars had a tough time running the football (37 yards) and stopping the run (138 yards), two major ingredients in winning football games. It hasn't help that last year's leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew has been out indefinitely the past three games with a foot injury. Jones-Drew's backup, Rashad Jennings, ran for only 27 yards on 11 carries.
"We would like to finish this thing strong on an upward course in every direction," Jaguars first-year head coach Mike Mularkey said Friday. "We would like to finish strong."
Jacksonville, which recorded its only win of the season on the road at Indianapolis back on Sept. 23, lost its fifth straight home game to the season and is only 1-8. Mularkey said he never envisioned his team to be in such a predicament at this points, but that's how the cookie has crumbled.
Speaking of crumbling, Gabbert exited the loss to the Colts after aggravating a left non-throwing shoulder problem. Backup Chad Henne was forced into action and passed for 121 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Gabbert had 209 yards passing, an interception and the support of Mularkey, who said that pointing the finger at Gabbert for all of the team's issues is not fair.
"I don't think it's one guy. You always go to that guy [for blame]. Not in here," Mularkey told The Florida Times-Union. "Everybody is held accountable for why the offense is not functioning at a high level consistently, and I think that goes for everybody. That's including the coaches. We have to do better jobs of getting guys open better.
"Everybody's responsible. I believe and I think we can always make each other better. Each position can play off each other, but we've all got to play at a high level and coach at a high level for it to go. Not just one guy."
Gabbert underwent treatment on his limb over the weekend and the Jaguars have in plan in place if he's unable to exact revenge on the Texans. Houston has won four in a row against Jacksonville and leads the overall series, 11-10. The Texans are 7-3 in games played at Reliant Stadium.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Texans registered 411 yards of offense in the first meeting with the Jaguars and didn't even need quarterback Matt Schaub. While that may be a false statement, all Schaub had to do was hand the ball off to Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster. Foster had 110 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
Foster even passed Domanick Davis-Williams for the Texans' career rushing record.
"It's a good accomplishment, a nice individual accolade, but that's not why you play the game," Foster said. "It's a tribute to a lot of hard work by a lot of people ... offensive line, coaches, receivers, tight ends, it's a cumulative effort."
It also helps playing the Jaguars twice a year. In five career games against Jacksonville, Foster has rushed for 523 yards on 129 carries with six touchdowns. Houston is eighth in the NFL in rushing (136.8) and will face Jacksonville's 29th-ranked run defense (137.4).
Schaub passed for a season-low 95 yards, had one touchdown pass and was intercepted twice. The weather and Chicago's formidable defense may have played a role in that, but expect his numbers to get back to "normal" Sunday. But then again his previous low in passing yards was 195 against the Jags in Week 2. Foster, who just recorded 102 yards on 29 touches in Chicago, had his QBs back to lead the offense in the first showdown with Jacksonville.
The Jaguars have arguably the worst defense in the NFL, going 23rd against the pass (251.7) and 26th in both yards against (389.1) and points allowed (27.3). They don't have many stars on defense, save linebackers Paul Posluszny and Russell Allen and cornerback Derek Cox. Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is tied with four other players with just two sacks. Jacksonville did not sack Schaub back in Week 2.
Gabbert was sacked three times in the first meeting and has been taken to the ground 21 times this season. He was sacked three times versus Indy and has gone down six times in the previous three games. Mularkey said he has to see how Gabbert performs in practice this week to determine his status and doesn't feel a change under center would provide much.
"I don't think so, no," Mularkey said. "Everybody's got to play better ... Blaine and everybody around him."
More reps for Gabbert and other players such as rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon would benefit. Blackmon is nearing the bust mark and fellow wideout Laurent Robinson has been a shell of himself from last season, when he hauled in 11 touchdown passes with Dallas.
As for Jones-Drew, his status is questionable against the Texans. But why rush him back to a season that's already lost?
There's not much hope for the Jaguars the rest of the season. They're struggling in all three phases of the game and are one of two teams with a single victory. Houston will send Jacksonville to double-digit losses for the third time in five seasons behind a stout defensive effort and a revived pass attack. And by the way, Foster is at full strength and perhaps on his way to a rushing title.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 30, Jaguars 17
11/15 12:17:54 ET