If the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to jump out of the gate and immediately establish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC South this year, they’re first going to have to do something they haven’t done since quarterback Blake Bortles was in college at UCF:
Beat the Houston Texans.
The Jaguars have lost their last six meetings with the Texans, who have been beating up on everybody in their division, not just the Jaguars, ever since former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien took charge of the team before the start of the 2014 season.
That, of course, was also Bortles first season in Jacksonville and the way Bortles sees it, there is one common denominator that can be found in each of those six losses that the Jaguars have suffered at the hands of the reigning division champions:
The play of the Texans defensive front seven.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to be able to handle their front,’’ Bortles said. “But it’s not just the offensive line that has to do that, it’s me, it’s the backs helping, the tight ends helping, the receivers winning and getting open.
“It’s a group effort because they are extremely good. I mean, the rest of the league struggles with that a little as well, so we’ve got to find ways to handle that and do different things there, but I’m excited for the challenge, and I know our guys are too.’’
Oh, it’s going to be challenge all right. After all, the Texans will have J.J. Watt back for this game. Watt hasn’t faced the Jaguars since 2015 but that hasn’t kept the Texans front seven from dominating the Jaguars, who have done their worst job of protecting Bortles against Houston.
Of the 140 sacks Bortles has been taken down for during his three-years in the league, 24 have come at the hands of Texans. That’s four more than Titans, who have sacked Bortles the second most and like the Texans have allowed Bortles to throw just one touchdown pass against them.
Now you know why the Jaguars have decided to change their offensive approach and go to more of a power running attack. Their hope is that they can wear opposing defensive front sevens down a little bit and create a few more scoring opportunities for themselves.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen either. Not with a rookie (Cam Robinson) at left tackle and a lot of uncertainty regarding who will start at left guard or running back, where Leonard Fournette should get the nod as long as he’s healthy.
In fact, it’s possible Fournette will actually get a lot more work in this game than the Jaguars originally planned, especially with third-down back T.J. Yeldon, who just happens to be the best pass protector among the team’s backs, nursing a sore hamstring.
If Yeldon can’t go the Jaguars may have to lean on Fournette to do something he seldom did in college which is protect the passer. That’s never an easy task for a back and it’s especially hard for a rookie taking on a front seven as dominant as Houston’s is.