Jaguars vs. Texans: Takeaways from Jacksonville's 13-6 Win over Houston
Speaking of takeaways...how about that Ryan Davis interception?
The Jaguars ruined the hopes of Texans fans, who hoped to end their eight-game losing streak against the league's only one-win team, by defeating the Texans Sunday in Houston. Jacksonville played a complete game: They ran the ball well, picked up first downs through the air and played stifling defense all game long.
Jacksonville now has a 2-9 record; so do the Texans. However, though the Jaguars are now ahead of the Texans in the division standings due to the head-to-head record, they still hold the tiebreaker for the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft due to strength of schedule. So enjoy the win, Jaguars fans...it didn't hurt their draft position.
What did we learn from the Jaguars' impressive road win against the Texans? Quite a bit.
The Jacksonville Defense Was Outstanding
218 total yards. Four of 15 on third down. 77 yards rushing. Those are totals most expected from the Jaguars this week...however, those are Houston's stats.
The Jaguars defense was all over the field against Case Keenum and the Texans offense. They featured a fierce pass rush, something we haven't really seen this season. They deflected passes in the secondary and, for the most part, bottled up the Texans' running game.
Jacksonville's defense is starting to play the way Gus Bradley hoped they would when he installed his scheme prior to the season. The Jaguars use confusing fronts to force the offensive line to constantly adjust, and their secondary was aggressive and looked to make plays on the ball instead of just tackling the receiver after the catch.
If the Jaguars defense continues to improve, it won't be more than a year or two before they're mentioned among the league's elite. It still needs more pieces, but it's on the right track.
Maurice Jones-Drew Had His Best Game of the Season
Maurice Jones-Drew broke the 75-yard mark on the ground for the first time in 2013 against the Texans, and he did it on only 14 carries. MJD looked more like the back that led the league in rushing in 2011; he hit holes hard, finished his runs hard and carried defenders for extra yardage.
This was the first game this year in which Jones-Drew averaged more than 4.1 yards per carry and only the second in which he broke the 100 total yards mark. He was impressive on the ground and through the air, hauling in six passes for 60 yards.
2013 is likely MJD's last season in Jacksonville, and though the first half of his season was disappointing, perhaps this Week 12 performance is the start of a farewell performance to remember.
Sen'Derrick Marks Is the King of Batted Passes
Cornerbacks Alan Ball and Will Blackmon entered Week 12 tied for the Jaguars team lead in passes defensed with nine each, and Ball picked up one more against the Texans to raise his team-leading total to 10. Linebacker Paul Posluszny is next in the ranks with eight after picking up one this week.
Following those three is an unexpected name: defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. Following two batted passes against Case Keenum, Marks has a whopping seven passes defensed on the season, an extremely high total for a defensive lineman.
Marks is outstanding at getting his hands up and swatting at the ball if he isn't able to get to the quarterback. The fifth-year defensive tackle is having a career year in Jacksonville in 2013 and is thriving in Gus Bradley's defensive scheme.
Marks is currently playing on a one-year contract. Given his performance this year, it would be hard to see him in another uniform next season; he's earned a place in the Jaguars' future plans.
Chad Henne Fed Cecil Shorts
After last week's two-catch performance in which he didn't receive his second target until midway through the fourth quarter, Cecil Shorts was outspoken about his role in the Jaguars offense. As he told the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran:
“I’m very disappointed; very disappointed in that … very, very, very, very disappointed in that,” he said. “To have one target until seven minutes left in the fourth quarter? One target. That’s — — dumb. That’s dumb, period."
The saying is "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," so many expected Shorts to be targeted early and often going forward. In Week 12, that's exactly what happened.
Shorts led the Jaguars with 11 targets, five more than any other receiver. He secured eight catches and picked up 71 yards, and he was an integral part of the Jaguars' success on third down (they converted seven of 17 third downs). Chad Henne looked for Shorts early and often, and it helped them come away with a victory.
I would be surprised if Shorts received single-digit targets even once down the stretch. He's probably the best offensive player the Jaguars have at this point, and he should be the focal point of the team's offensive game plan. Keep feeding Cecil.
The Jaguars Had an Actual Pass Rush
The Jaguars entered Week 12 second-to-last in the NFL in sacks with only 15. Their pass rush had been a weak spot all year, and the lack of a pass rush had made things difficult for their secondary all season.
Against the Texans, the Jaguars only picked up two sacks, but their pass-rushers spent the entire game driving Houston's offensive line backward. They were credited with five quarterback hits, but they forced bad decisions by Texans quarterback Case Keenum and caused him to run for his life several times.
Andre Branch was especially impressive; he exploded off the line of scrimmage and displayed high effort all game. Branch picked up a sack on a stunt early in the first half and also picked up a hit and a pass defensed and flushed Keenum out of the pocket more than once.
Branch has made progress so far this year, and he's shown some of the ability Gene Smith saw when he made Branch a second-round draft pick in 2012. Perhaps Branch can establish himself as a part of this team's future down the stretch. It's safe to say the Jaguars will be competitive more often than not if they continue to rush the passer like they did in Week 12.
Gus Bradley Made Another Questionable Challenge
With a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, the Jaguars had to punt from the Houston 46-yard line. Bryan Anger kicked a high hanging punt, and Houston return man Keshawn Martin let the ball bounce over his head toward the end zone.
Jacksonville gunner Demetrius McCray beat the punt to the end zone. McCray grabbed the punt at the 1-yard line after trying to re-establish himself in the field of play. However, he was unsuccessful; the play was ruled a touchback.
Upon viewing the replay, McCray not only didn't re-establish his feet in the field of play; he didn't get either foot outside the end zone before touching the ball. It was very obvious, and it was clearly not worth a challenge.
Gus Bradley disagreed. He quickly threw the challenge flag and sent referee Johnny Greer to the monitor to review the play. When Greer returned, he upheld the ruling on the field and even stated that McCray had gotten neither foot outside the end zone.
While this challenge didn't really cost the Jaguars, Bradley's challenges thus far in 2013 have been less than impressive. Hopefully the communication between the Jaguars' review specialists in the booth and the head coach can improve before Jacksonville wastes any more timeouts.
The Linebackers Were Much Better Than Last Week
Jacksonville's linebackers were a weak spot last week, allowing Arizona's unheralded tight end corps to rack up nine catches for 117 yards. Houston's tight ends has given the Jaguars problems in previous years, so it seemed likely the Texans would target the Jacksonville linebackers in the passing game.
The Jaguars also entered the game dead last in the league in rushing defense, allowing 139.1 yards per game on the ground through the first 10 games. Their performance against the run had been much improved since their Week 9 bye, but Houston averages 120.3 yards per game on the ground and seemed like a lock to break the 100-yard mark.
Jacksonville's linebackers answered the bell against the Texans. The three starters—Paul Posluszny, Geno Hayes and Russell Allen—were credited with a combined 29 tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, a pass defensed and a sack. They held Houston tight ends to six catches for 69 yards and bottled up the Texans' running game to the tune of 77 rushing yards and 3.7 yards per carry.
The Jaguars received an outstanding effort from their front seven against Houston. Hopefully that effort carries forward for the final five games.
The Players Sure Aren't Playing for Draft Position
There are plenty of Jaguars fans who root for wins but are far from disappointed with losses. The "race" for draft position is on in the minds of fans, and one win can make the difference between the opportunity to draft a future star and being stuck with a lesser player.
The Jaguars' players haven't received the memo they're supposed to be okay with losing. Their effort and intensity following the bye week has been a massive improvement compared to their performance prior to the bye week, and Week 12 was a continuation of that improvement.
Jacksonville's defense flew all over the field against Houston, and the offensive line generated push and opened holes for the running game. The Jaguars clearly had more energy than the Texans, and it was obvious on the field. One bad break for the Texans caused them to hang their heads and shuffle their feet; the Jaguars, meanwhile, bounced back from every adverse situation and made the momentum change instead of waiting for it to do so on its own.
Gus Bradley is clearly wearing off on this team: They are turning into a focused, intense group that won't be crushed by adversity. They should be able to continue to be competitive for the final five games, especially considering that schedule includes three more divisional matchups.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks the Jaguars are a better team than many give them credit for, and I agree. The Gus Bradley Jaguars are here, and they're not going away anytime soon. Hopefully their record will start matching up with their effort sooner than later because when that happens, they'll be a tough matchup for any team.