5 Keys to the Game for Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Then you realize the running game, which is the core of your offense, was inadequate because neither flank of the offensive line blocked very well. The Dolphins ran the ball a little too effectively in the first half. Thankfully, the four takeaways your defense created in seven minutes of the second quarter changed the entire direction of the contest.
In Week 2, you face the Jacksonville Jaguars, the most banged up team in the league. They started off the season with nine players on injured reserve. Plus, guard Eben Britton and right tackle Cameron Bradfield have spent this week in walking boots. Starting linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Derek Cox were out in Week 1, and Pro Bowl cornerback Rashean Mathis only saw spot duty against the Minnesota Vikings.
To avoid looking ahead to Denver and dropping a winnable game, what must Houston do to come back home with the "W?" Here are five key areas that will lead the Texans to a 2-0 start.
Shore Up the Offensive Line
Working out the troubles with the offensive line is the first order of business. Without better run-blocking, Arian Foster and Ben Tate will remain unproductive. The line also has to sell the run to facilitate the play-action passing favored by Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
Pro Football Focus was less than kind to the interior members of this group in their first game together. Wade Smith and Antoine Caldwell both were graded out at minus-2.6, and Derek Newton’s minus-4.5 even surpassed their ineptitude.
One week is not enough time to fix this predicament. Taken as a whole, the line did a better job pass-blocking. The Texans could try changing their tactics and do what the rest of the league does: use the pass to setup the run.
Jacksonville gave up 123 yards rushing to Minnesota and Christian Ponder finished with a 105.5 passer rating. If you cannot do it one way, surely you must be able to do it the other.
Diversify Passing Attack
When the quarterback locks in on only a couple of receivers, it should make the passing game easy to defense. Unless you are the Miami Dolphins, of course.
Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels had most of the targets and a dozen receptions in Week 1. The Jags might be short on cornerbacks again this week, so maybe head coach Gary Kubiak can put all his trust in just two players.
Ted Johnson appeared on In the Loop, the morning drive-time show on Sports Radio 610 in Houston. The former linebacker with the Patriots during their Super Bowl run feels Jacksonville has one of the fastest front sevens around.
The Texans can use this to their advantage. According to Johnson, “These guys are all about getting upfield fast. There are creases and seams where you can torch these guys.” If unable to run the rock, what better way to get these guys upfield than sling the ball all over the place?
Better still, get Lestar Jean and James Casey the ball in addition to the old reliables. Help Keshawn Martin cure his case of “the dropsies" that could end up draining his confidence. And put Arian Foster on the end of those passes in the flat he turns into long gains.
When a team loses in overtime as the Jaguars did, they have got to be feeling down. This is no time to be kind.
So, Texans: feel free to kick them around a bit.
Improve Red-Zone Touchdown Percentage
This has been an issue throughout the Kubiak era, even though it has not always been reflected in the win-loss record.
The Texans were 6-10 in 2010 but ranked fifth with 62.6 percent tuchdown percentage in the red zone. The 10-6 2011 division winners, however, were 23rd at 47.6 percent. The explanation must be the defense ranking second in yardage and fourth in points allowed last year.
They are ranked 22nd in the red zone approaching Week 2, so no reason for concern. That assumes the defense will maintain both its excellence and ranking. Everyone knows defense wins championships.
Ted Johnson also observed the NFL is always evolving. The conventional belief the key to success is stopping the other team has not been the case recently. Since Indianapolis won it all in 2006, only two Super Bowl winners have been ranked in the upper-half of the league in both yardage and points allowed. Those would be Pittsburgh in 2008 and Green Bay in 2010.
New Orleans in 2009 is an example of how most teams get it done these days. They were 20th and 25th, respectively, in the above defensive categories but ranked fourth in red-zone touchdown percentage.
Obviously, playing well on both sides of the ball is the ideal scenario but scoring touchdowns, and lots of them, is what league officials want. The Texans may need to go with the flow.
That means taking a shot in end zone on 3rd-and-20 at the opponent’s 18-yard line, not running a draw to Arian Foster as the Texans did in the Dolphins game. Please take note Coach Kubiak: find a way to get the ball to some wideouts inside the 20.
Stop the Run by Rushing the Passer
In the trial that was his rookie year, Blaine Gabbert looked like the worst first-year quarterback since Ryan Leaf. His receivers and offensive line shared in the blame, but few thought he was capable of much further development.
The opening game of 2012 was his first step towards proving the doubters wrong. He threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions and gave the Jaguars the lead with 20 seconds left. Now that he has receivers to throw to and a line good enough to shut out Jared Allen and get Maurice Jones-Drew 77 yards on 19 carries, Gabbert looks like he is on the road to NFL respectability.
But numbers can be deceiving. The limitations of this same line forced him to scramble five times and get sacked twice. The best players on the Vikings defense are aging, the exact opposite composition of the Texans’ defense.
Jones-Drew may be the only quality running back at full strength this Sunday because Rashard Jennings is not expected to play. Just to make sure he does not display the skills he used to lead the league in rushing, the key is to go after Gabbert with a vengeance.
Last week, left tackle Eugene Monroe only had to worry about Jared Allen, who hit 30 in the offseason and receives very little help from his teammates. This week he has to concern himself with J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin, and a blitz or three from the safeties. If they can bring enough pressure then the inside linebackers can concentrate on Jones-Drew and keep him in check.
Special Teams Needs to Be Special
For those convinced Trindon Holliday has a firm foothold on the kick return job, consider who is available to replace him. The availability of Justin Forsett, Keshawn Martin, Danieal Manning, and Quintin Demps could send the preseason sensation to the waiver wire if he keeps treating the ball like a foreign object.
No disasters ensued last week, but there were no thrilling runbacks either. Just the sight of Holliday mishandling another kick for no good reason. He can only do one thing well but if he is unable to do that thing, then another line of work may be in the offing.
The coverage team did more damage than allow a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. In what is supposed to be the no-kickoff-return era, Miami averaged 25.8 yards. This field position could have been put to good use if a rash of turnovers in the second quarter had not turned a tight game into a joke.
The Texans also miss the leg of Brett Hartmann, the punter from last season who was cut due to injury and PED suspension. Maybe if Holliday is released, there could be an opening for Hartmann. But in the end, you are just replacing this one-dimensional player with another.