The Jacksonville Jaguars will open their season with what could prove to be a pivotal AFC South battle against the reigning Division Champions Houston Texans today at NRG Stadium.
The Jaguars are coming off a big week in which they finally decided the winners of some of their previously undecided position battles but there’s still a lot that’s unknown about this team going forward.
Chief among those unknowns is not just who will start and get the most work at running back. With that in mind, here’s an advanced look at what today’s game means to the Jags and what they need to do to win it.
What’s At Stake
The Jaguars haven’t beaten the Texans since Blake Bortles became Jacksonville’s quarterback three years ago. They’re 0-6 against them in that span, but don’t blame that all on Bortles. Sure, his play has been spotty, but the Texans are 14-4 against AFC South opponents since Bill O’Brien took over as Houston’s coach. So, in addition to getting them off to the fast start that everyone craves, what a victory would do for the Jaguars today is possibly signal a shift in the power structure of the division. The Texans have owned this division for several years now. Many believe they’ll have to fight a lot harder to keep ownership of it this year, what with Tennessee and supposedly Jacksonville on the rise. A win today would lend further credence to that belief and might even leave some believing the Jaguars are suddenly the team to beat or at least a team to be feared.
An old football cliché says games are won in the trenches and this one surely will be. As they proved a year ago, the Texans defensive front was a force even without three-time Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Now Watt is back and along with fellow end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, they have one of the most formidable defensive fronts in all of football. The Jaguars will counter with an offensive line that is, well, let’s just say it’s not formidable. The Jaguars are so unsure of the talent here that it wasn’t until this week that they decided to keep Patrick Omameh as their starting left guard and it may only be a result of Branden Albert retiring that rookie second-round draft pick Cam Robinson is starting at left tackle. This is as tough a matchup as the Jaguars front will face and it’s not just a matter of protecting Bortles from their pass rush. The Jaguars want to establish a power running game to take some of the pressure off Bortles. That has to be job one and if the Jaguars can’t do it, they could be in big trouble.
During their three-year unbeaten streak against the Jaguars, the Texans have sacked Bortles 24 times, the most of any team he’s faced. It’s obvious, then, that in order to win this game the Jaguars will have to do a better job of protecting their passer, no matter who it is. At the same time, the Jaguars have to do a better job of getting to the Texans passer themselves. They’ve recorded just eight sacks against Houston the last three years, including just one last year. The Jaguars spent a lot of money upgrading their defense this past offseason, adding pass rusher Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye. The idea, of course, was to be better against the pass and that starts with bringing more pressure. There’s no doubt the Jaguars have the talent to effect the quarterback more. In addition to Campbell, they have two promising pass rushers in Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler and another very strong corner in Jalen Ramsey. All the pieces are there for the Jaguars to present a very good pressure package that is capable of winning games, and those pressure packages may be the key to winning this game.