With the Texans’ bye week in the rearview mirror, we can now assess them on a more even plane with most of the teams around the league, so here it goes — eight games (nine weeks) into the season, with all of the problems they've been having on offense (31st in DVOA), special teams (31st in DVOA), and turning other teams over (29th in turnover margin per game), the Texans are still one of 11 teams with five wins or more.
Think about that — by what many experts see as the most reliable metric for assessing performance, Football Outsiders's DVOA, the Texans are the second to worst at two of the three fundamental areas of American football, and their defense, while good overall, is very poor at doing one of the two or three most fundamental things a defense should do.
Yet they're 5-3 with a 1.5-game lead in the division over two teams that they've already beaten.
At 5-3, are these Texans a mirage or are they just doing a better job of masking deficiencies while fixing them than Bill O'Brien's previous two versions of Houston Texans teams, both of which were 3-5 through eight games?
We will find out and find out fairly quickly.
Every game is crucial, but when you look at the quarterbacks the Texans will be facing over the four weeks after the game this Sunday in Jacksonville — Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck — taking care of business against the Jags takes on even heightened importance.
There's no reason to mess around with a 2-6 team that has poor QB play and a head coach who is a dead man walking. Take care of your business, and get the hell outta there.
Now, let's identify four things to watch for...
4. DeAndre Hopkins versus Jalen Ramsey
Around this time last season, Hopkins was putting up monster numbers. But it wasn't until a Week 11 matchup with Jets future Hall of Fame CB Darelle Revis that Hopkins got his ultimate respect, torching Revis for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Now, in Week 10, Ramsey gets a similar opportunity to match up with one of the most tricky, physical receivers in the league, and a player who is seeking a breakout game. Ramsey has lived up to every bit of hype as the fifth player chosen in the 2016 draft. This should be a fun matchup to focus on throughout the afternoon. It makes me wish this was a home game so we could watch the off-the-ball action live, and see these two battle.
3. Texans' 1.5-headed RB monster
Halfway through the season (that's 50 percent to you and me), Lamar Miller is already at 73 percent of his total usage in 2015 with the Dolphins. He's had 175 touches this season (rushes and catches), and had 241 for all 16 games last season. I'm not saying Miller can't handle an increased workload from his Miami days. Hell, that's what he's being paid for by the Texans, but there's no question that he was on a disturbing trend of overuse in the first few weeks of the season. In the last two games, Bill O'Brien seems to have found a nice mix of Miller and Alfred Blue — 11 productive carries apiece against Denver in Week 7, and then 17/9 for Miller/Blue against the Lions. I think that Lions' game mix is ideal for both guys, two Miller carries for each Blue carry. Now, behind an offensive line that's had a week to rest and should be in synch going forward, barring injuries, they get a Jaguar defense that is 27th in rush defense DVOA. This is a good matchup for Houston's 1.5-headed rushing monster.
2. Defensive linemen not named "Clowney"
You know what? I feel like most weeks in this space, I'm saying something to the effect of "Jadeveon Clowney is doing such-and-such pretty well, but we need more of this-and-that." Well, you know what? Not this week. JDC, you've been solid to very good all year. Yes, a few more sacks would be nice, but it's high time your linemates step up and do a little something to stop the run and disrupt the pocket. So Christian Covington, stop being a souped-up Jared Crick and get to being the best Christian Covington you can be! D.J. Reader, you've done some nice things, but with Vince Wilfork dinged up with a groin injury (yes, somewhere amidst those ham hocks Vince calls "legs" there ARE groin muscles, and they CAN be pulled!), you need to step up. Antonio Smith, you're very funny in interviews, but stopping T.J. Yeldon is no laughing matter! (Actually, it might be...but you get my drift.) The Texans need a shut-down game defending the run, so that the heat is then on Blake Bortles, and then we can...
1. Awaken the turnovers!
If ever there were an opponent against whom the echoes of turnover ghosts from years gone by should be awoken, for the Texans, it would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. As outlined above, the Texans have been almost completely bereft of big, game-changing, field-position-switching turnovers this season. Honestly, a -6 turnover margin and a 5-3 record, as outliers on a regression analysis go, the dot for that mix would look like Pluto on a map of the universe. (God, was that a dorky analogy or what?) The Texans are 29th in the league in per-game turnover margin at -0.9. But have you heard the good news?! The Jacksonville Jaguars are 32nd!! DEAD F'N LAST!! Offensively, they are 29th in interceptions thrown per game (all hail, King Bortles!) and 29th in fumbles lost per game. Honestly, if the Texans don't force a few turnovers in this game, then the red flags are doubled in size and run straight to the top of the "red flagpole."
Now, will multiple turnovers equate to a positive turnover margin? That's up to Brock Osweiler. I'm going to go with the theory that Osweiler can play comfortable, going against a ham-and-egg defense at noon on a Sunday in a relatively quiet stadium.
Prediction: Texans 27, Jaguars 16
Spread: Texans -1.5
Season record (SU, ATS): 6-2, 6-1-1
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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