The Texans are the defending division champions and current anointed ones for the AFC South. They have an imposing, violent defense and a bevy of stars on offense.
The Jaguars go into the game knowing they are down two of their best players. With neither Derek Cox nor Daryl Smith likely to play, Jacksonville will have to scheme around their injuries.
The good news for the Jaguars is that Houston has vulnerabilities that can be exploited. If the Jaguars can follow the following game plan, they'll have chance to score a thunderous upset.
Pound the Middle
Obviously the ground game and Maurice Jones-Drew will be featured prominently for the Jaguars. Houston has allowed some nice gains up the middle of the field as they like to overload one side of the line in order to generate pressure.
Jones-Drew is going to have to get reasonable yardage in tight, as the Texans' speed to the outside will make it difficult to get the corner. Reggie Bush was effective against Houston, but only had 14 carries as the Dolphins' offense imploded in a barrage of turnovers.
Jacksonville will have to stay patient and play within the confines of their scheme. They want to drive the ball 15 plays down the field. This shortens the game and makes the outcome more prone to the vagaries of chance.
Offensive line health has been a problem for the Jaguars for the past month, and they are going to need good play from the interior. Eben Britton is likely to be out, meaning Brad Meester is going to have a heavy load in the middle.
There wasn't much yardage to be had against Minnesota in the middle of the line, but against Houston there should be creases. Jacksonville has to take advantage of them.
Protect Blaine Gabbert
Miami was hanging right with Houston until the Texans put people in the face of Ryan Tannehill. Pressure, batted balls and turnovers ended the Dolphins' hopes by half time.
By now, we know what the Jaguars want to do. Their aim will be to give Gabbert simple, short reads that allow him to make a decisive play or quickly check down.
Houston was vulnerable on passes to the tight end leaking out of the backfield against Miami, so watch for Marcedes Lewis to stay in protecting Gabbert, then release into the flat. It has the effect of a delayed screen and can be effective against a big rush.
By now, everyone has seen the progress Gabbert has made, but it's easy to forget how fragile it really is. If he is run over at home and turns the ball over, all the old cat-calls will come back. Winning the game is important, but in the long run, protecting Gabbert from failure is more important.
Even if the Texans stretch out their lead, Jacksonville has to stay disciplined and work within the confines of the offense.
Attack Kareem Jackson
Jackson has played much better recently, but with Johnathan Joseph on one side for the Texans, Jacksonville has to go after the matchup advantage.
Ideally, they'll capitalize on Justin Blackmon against Jackson. Blackmon's strength is breaking tackles, while Jackson's is making them in the open field.
If Blackmon can turn some short gains into long ones, the Jaguars will have chance to do better on offense than people expect.
Double Andre Johnson
This should go without saying, but the Texans' passing offense IS Andre Johnson. If Aaron Ross and Rashean Mathis can't take turns quieting Kevin Walter solo, then the Jaguars aren't going to win this game anyway.
Every single time Matt Schaub drops back to pass, Andre Johnson should be bracketed. The Jags can try to scheme him out of the game, but ultimately, it's going to take brilliant corner play to hold him down.
Collapse the Right Side
There was almost no pressure generated by the Jaguars front four against Minnesota, and that has to change.
For all the talk about Arian Foster this week, the truth is the Jaguars don't care if he touches the ball 35 times. They want to play a clock-grinding game. The fewer possessions the better. They'll happily make Houston drive the ball 80 yards in 17 plays.
The key for Jacksonville will be to disrupt Matt Schaub when he drops back. That's going to mean huge pressure from Jeremy Mincey against Derek Newton, the young right tackle for the Jaguars.
Mincey has to have a big game and be in Schaub's face or he will absolutely pick apart the secondary.
Bend, Don't Break
The Texans have struggled in the red zone, and pressure has been a big reason why.
They will try to pound the ball in close and don't pass as much as they should. The Jaguars likely only need to get in Schaub's face once in three downs in close, so if they can take advantage, Houston will trade touchdowns for field goals.
A field goal is a win for the defense in the modern NFL, so Jacksonville should be fine with long drives.
After all, no one knows better than they do that quick scores kill.
This game should be closer than people expect. Houston isn't a flawless team, and the Jaguars are a little better than they get credit for.
Having said that, the odds are obviously against Jacksonville. If the Jaguars were at full strength, I'd be optimistic they could win the game, but I see the defensive injuries as too significant to overcome.
I like the Texans in a closer-than-expected 23-17 win.
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