Texans 27, Jaguars 7: Power Game Makes Long-Awaited Return
Not the Texans we saw against the Dolphins
Photo by Marco Torres
A week ago, Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he'd have trouble sleeping after his team struggled in the run game on both sides of the ball - a concerning trend that began in the preseason.
He should rest a lot easier this week.
The Texans (2-0) physically demolished Jacksonville (0-2) up front Sunday, leading to a 27-7 win that was never in doubt. These weren't the finesse, passing game-led Texans that we saw against Miami and in August. This was the smash-mouth version we last saw eight months earlier in Baltimore.
"We emphasized it all week in practice," said Arian Foster, who rushed 28 times for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Indeed, the biggest turnaround came with Foster and the offense, which faced a Jaguars defense that is traditionally very stout (No. 6 overall in 2011). On Sunday, the Texans put up a whopping 417 yards against that unit - more than half of which (216) came on the ground.
Most impressively, the Texans held the ball for an eye-popping 43 minutes and 17 seconds.
"It's just will and determination," left tackle Duane Brown said. "The running game is something we hang our hat on."
The defense, meanwhile, was spectacular as ever, holding the Jags to a franchise-low 117 yards. J.J. Watt again led the way with 1.5 sacks, two pass deflections, a fumble recovery and three tackles.
The final 20-point margin was the same as it was against the Dolphins, but this was a very different game. In the opener, the Texans made several big plays but generally struggled to match the physicality of Miami. This week, they controlled both lines of scrimmage from the outset.
Here's a look at five standouts that contributed to the cause:
5.) Ben Jones
Part of the offensive line's turnaround came amid a change in personnel. Jones, a fourth-round center out of Georgia, has been transitioning to guard and rotated every other series with incumbent starter Antoine Caldwell. In his first meaningful snaps, Jones actually seemed to outplay the veteran. Particularly of note was a block Jones threw to spring Ben Tate for a 23-yard run late in the first quarter, setting up the Texans' first touchdown.
Against Miami and in the preseason, the Texans only found success running to the left side behind Pro Bowl tackle Duane Brown. This week, the Texans' run game finally found the balance they've been searching for since the offseason departures of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. 4.) Arian Foster
Foster wasn't his usual self against the Dolphins, rushing for only 3 yards per carry. The struggles continued early Sunday, with only 13 yards on his first seven attempts. Matt Schaub and the offense threw on a frequent basis to loosen the Jacksonville defense, but it still wasn't helping Foster. He appeared to miss several cutback lanes, and Kubiak pulled him aside on the sideline for a personal chat early in the second quarter.
Suddenly, Foster regained the form that's made him the league's top back over the past two years. His next 21 carries went for 97 yards. Was it the advice from Kubiak? Possibly. It could also be pressure from...
3.) Ben Tate
If Foster was mundane in the Miami game, Tate was virtually nonexistent. The other half of the NFL's top rushing duo carried it just five times for six yards, never finding any crease to burst through. That changed in a big way on Sunday, when Tate rushed 12 times for 74 yards (6.2 per carry). Tate was especially strong in the early going, picking up the slack while Foster searched for his footing.
"I see him break a run and I'm champing at the bit and thinking I could outdo that," Tate said of Foster. "Then I go out there and break one and then he's out there (thinking), 'I could outdo that.' It's a good, friendly competition out there and also helps this team go."
2.) Kareem Jackson
The third-year cornerback's name doesn't even appear in Sunday's box score. And that's a very good thing. Jackson didn't have any tackles because there were no completions in his direction. The only pass Blaine Gabbert completed beyond 10 yards went against Johnathan Joseph.
Yes, it's Gabbert. But even by his standards, Sunday was a remarkably weak outing. In his rookie season against the Texans in Jacksonville, Gabbert completed 13 passes for 136 yards -- several of which came against Jackson. On Sunday, the second-year ex-Mizzou QB was successful on just seven of 19 passes, totaling only 53 yards. Of those 53, 32 came on one play! Even taking account for the opponent, it was a suffocating performance by the Texans defense -- one that reflected how far Jackson's come and his capability as a legitimate NFL cornerback.
As always, though, the defense starts with...
1.) J.J. Watt
We're running out of superlatives for the second-year end from Wisconsin. In two games, he has three sacks, five pass deflections and eight tackles - staggering numbers for the end in a 3-4 scheme, traditionally a stats-limited position based around occupying blockers. As much as he's terrorized Gabbert and Ryan Tannehill, he's also the best Houston lineman against the run and was instrumental in limiting Maurice Jones-Drew to just 60 yards on Sunday.
"J.J. is moving into the great player territory," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said after Sunday's game.
Watt, however, judges himself through team performance. So far, so good.
"Two 20-point wins in the first two weeks? That's what we're supposed to do."