As bad as things have gotten at times this season, all is actually well in Jacksonville at the moment. In fact, in the hotly contested, ultra-competitive AFC South, the Jaguars find themselves tied for second place at 4-4 and just one game behind the division-leading Titans and Colts, who are both just 5-3. Of course, all this makes Jacksonville’s game this Sunday that much more important, as a divisional foe, the Houston Texans, visit EverBank Field. Interestingly, Houston finds itself in much the same position the Jaguars were in last weekend, when their 35-17 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys put an end to a two-game losing streak.
For the record, Houston lost on the road in decisive fashion to the Colts two weeks ago and then fell late in a close one against the Chargers one Sunday ago. And, if the divisional import surrounding this Sunday’s game wasn’t enough, both teams truly find themselves at seasonal crossroads. After a highly impressive 3-1 start to the year, Houston has now dropped three of its last four games and a win on Sunday is a must if it wants to be considered a legitimately good team. The Texans also follow up their game with Jacksonville with brutal contests at New York (Jets), against the Titans twice, at Philadelphia and versus Baltimore.
Jacksonville, on the other hand, hasn’t won or lost this year with any sort of consistency, and at some point needs to find a true identity. Over the last three weeks, the Jags have lost to Tennessee by 27 points and to Kansas City by 22, but most recently defeated Dallas by 18. And such inconsistencies make one wonder if the Jags have really turned the corner or if they were simply the recipients of a recent tilt with the uncompetitive Dallas Cowboys. Fortunately, such questions will in all likelihood be firmly answered this Sunday, in what’s shaping up to be the most important game to date for both teams involved.
KEYS TO WEEK 10:
As already established above, Sunday’s game couldn’t be much bigger for either team and, based strictly on matchups, should be one of the weekend’s most exciting games. Houston features a top-ten offense and finds success both on the ground and through the air. Texan quarterback Matt Schaub can be dynamic at times, receiver Andre Johnson is the NFL’s best and Arian Foster currently leads the league in rushing yards from scrimmage.
As for Jacksonville, things couldn’t be going any better on offense. Quarterback David Garrard is coming off the best game of his career and has never been more confident, Mike Sims-Walker and Marcedes Lewis are playing at all-time levels, and the Jaguar rushing attack is at the very least reliable. To make matters even better for Garrard and Company, Houston ranks very last in the NFL when it comes to containing opponent passing attacks and doesn’t exactly boast a dominant run defense either. Now, lets visit these matchups and more in greater detail.
Ball in Hand:
Going into most games, Jacksonville’s game plan is to pound the football with Maurice Jones-Drew and others, and for good reason. Until recently, it was perhaps the only thing Jacksonville could even consider calling an offensive strength. All of sudden, though, Garrard, Lewis and Sims-Walker seem like a deadly aerial trio, and just in time to face the league’s worst pass defense.
No team in the NFL has given up more yards through the air than Houston, and it’s given up the most passing touchdowns and the 3rd-highest completion percentage as well. As a result, Jacksonville should have no problem tossing the pigskin all around EvernBank Field, which in turn should stretch the defense and lead to open running lanes for Jones-Drew and others.
The Jags have always been a run-first football team, and they shouldn’t change that this weekend. That means running the ball early to explore the pass later. Jacksonville’s overall game plan, however, should absolutely reflect its newfound passing prowess as well as Houston’s conveniently porous secondary. And, if everything goes accordingly, the Jags should have no problem moving the ball up and down the field on Houston this Sunday.
On the Defense:
Unfortunately, the Jacksonville defense won’t see such favorable matchups this Sunday. While the unit has done a pretty decent job limiting opponents’ rushing yards, it has also given up the third-most rushing touchdowns this year. Of course, that doesn’t bode well for a team going up against Foster, the league’s leading rusher.
And, while I’m piling on, Jacksonville will of course still trot out the same dreadful secondary this Sunday, and must deal with Johnson, the league’s most physically imposing wideout. In truth, Jacksonville doesn’t have the manpower to matchup with all of Houston’s offensive threats and, as a result, must play solid situational football and, at times, choose what it wants to concede.
Usually stopping the run is of paramount concern to a defense, and I imagine Sunday will be no different for Jacksonville. That may mean sometimes leaving Johnson in one-on-one matchups with its corners, but certain risks are necessary when a team is at a personnel disadvantage. Jacksonville will also need to limit the big play, and try to force as many turnovers as possible. In the end, if Jacksonville can commit to stopping the run and force some mistakes in the passing game – like it did against Dallas last weekend, when the team recorded four interceptions – it will go a long way in keeping the Houston offense in check.
When it’s all Said and Done:
On paper, it looks as though both defenses will struggle stopping the opposing offense. Both teams have weak defensive backfields and an offensive ability to attack opponents both through the air and on the ground. Jacksonville, however, is coming off a bye and is playing at home, precisely the reason it is a slight favorite heading into the action.
Still, at any other point in the season, I’d pick Houston over Jacksonville in a must-win game. Quite simply, I believe it’s the better team. On this particular Sunday, however, I have to go not so much with Jacksonville, but with Garrard. As well as he is playing, Houston’s weak defensive backs have little chance of slowing him down, and I expect Jones-Drew to also have a huge day as a result. Considering how potent Houston’s offense is as well, I feel confident the game will be high scoring, with Jacksonville making the big plays at home when they are needed most.
Prediction: 33-27, Jacksonville
NEWS AND NOTES:
Despite the big win over Dallas, Jacksonville has been particularly busy of late, making three roster moves on Tuesday alone.
Specifically, the team added three players by signing free agent offensive tackle Adam Terry and cornerback Terrence Wheatley, while also activating wide receiver John Matthews from the practice squad. To make room, Jacksonville released quarterback Todd Bouman, defensive tackle Landon Cohen and offensive tackle Erik Pears.
BEATING THE SPREAD:
Just for kicks, each week I will pick against the spread in my three favorite games, using the opening lines from the USA Today Newspaper as my reference. Feel free to do the same; we can even compete, if you don’t mind losing (Zing!).
Hooray for me! Why, you ask? Because, for the first time in eight weeks, I went undefeated with my picks, a beautiful 3-0. It may have occurred two weeks ago, but my picks were nonetheless perfect in Week 8.
It’s straight back to business, however, and time to re-visit perfection in Week 10. Then, without further ado, my LOCKS of the week:
BALTIMORE at Atlanta, Straight Up: AFC, AFC, AFC. Like usual, the AFC is far and away better than the NFC, making this a pretty obvious pick. Though the Falcons are playing the game at home, in my opinion Atlanta is, at best, the NFC’s third-strongest team, while Baltimore may be at the top of a much stronger league. By that logic, the Ravens should at the very least win the game.
NEW YORK, GIANTS vs. Dallas, -14: Lately, everyone is taking advantage of their opportunity to bully the Cowboys, and don’t expect anything less from its divisional rival, the New York Giants. That and Giants are a much stronger, hungrier football team that is playing home. Enough said.
JACKSONVILLE vs. Houston, Straight Up: I really don’t need to explain the logic behind this pick since I’ve discussed this very game in great detail above. I will, however, say that I have great passion for pick ‘ems and that am confident the Jags will get the W.
Unfortunately, that’s all the time I’ve got for now, but be sure to check here on Sunday for a complete review of Jacksonville’s showdown with Houston. Until then, be good and keep reading…
Janovitz can be reached at Scott.Janovitz@gmail.com
About the Author
Written by Scott Janovitz