It's been a rough couple seasons for the Houston Texans, dating back to the outset of 2020. I don't need to tell any of you Texans fans that. You know already. Just eight wins in two seasons (plus four games this season). However, think about this for a second — imagine how rough these last couple seasons would have been if the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't exist.
Of the aforementioned eight wins, four of them have come against the woeful Jaguars, including the first win as interim head coach for Romeo Crennel in 2020 and the first win of David Culley's only season as head coach in 2021. Now, here comes Lovie Smith, looking for his first win as Texans head coach. We'll see. To be clear, this is a far superior version of the Jaguars than we've seen in any of the last FOUR seasons, let alone the last two.
The Jaguars are nearly a touchdown favorite over the Texans. It's been a while since you could say that. Here are four things to watch for as the Texans try to become the final team to get a win in the NFL in 2022:
4. Special teams making a play
The Jaguars are currently 4th in overall DVOA (a fancy acronym for efficiency ratings) on Football Outsiders
. They are 12th in offensive efficiency and 6th in defensive efficiency. In other words, they are probably better than their 2-2 overall record would indicate. The Texans, meanwhile, are 31st overall, 30th on offense, and 27th on defense. If they are going to hang in this game, the Texans will probably need to get a play from their 5th rated special teams units. In the last two games, special teams have been integral in the Texans hanging close — Desmond King's 31 yard punt return in Chicago set up a score, and the forced fumble on DeAndre Carter's kickoff return against the Chargers set up what could have been a go ahead touchdown. The texans will need a play or two on special teams to win this one.
3. Texans defensive front seven
There are issues here, in the Texans' front seven, that sprung all sorts of leaks this past Sunday. First, Austin Ekeler destroyed the Texans linebackers in the short passing game, scoring two touchdowns on pretty elementary dink and dunk plays. Second, the Texans defensive line never came close to agitating QB Justin Herbert. he was hit once all afternoon. ONCE. Trevor Lawrence lost FOUR fumbles against the Eagles last week, so there are turnovers to be had if the Texans front seven can get some heat on the Jacksonville quarterback. It's going to be a brutal rest of the season if the first three games worth of pass pressure from the defense (10 sacks in three games) was a mirage.
2. Josh Allen (no, not THAT Josh Allen!) and Travon Walker
On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars have done a pretty good job getting after the passer. Travon Walker, the first overall pick in this past draft, has been one of the better rookies early on, and Josh Allen (no, not THAT Josh Allen, THIS Josh Allen) has three sacks and four tackles for loss through four games. This should be a good test for Texans offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard. Tunsil has been one of the best tackles in football early on, while Howard has been pretty solid, as he heads into his fifth year option in 2023.
1. Battle of 2021 rookie quarterbacks
As always, the story of the game will ultimately center around the quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence was the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, while Davis Mills was the 67th overall pick. In between, six other quarterbacks were selected, four more in the first round and two (Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond) within three picks ahead of Mills. While both of the quarterbacks in this game have been inconsistent in their young careers, and you could argue that Mills has regressed from Year 1 to Year 2, these are two of the top three quarterbacks in this class, based on performance. (Mac Jones of New England would round out the top three.) Both need to protect the football better than they have recently. Lawrence was responsible or five turnovers last week, and Mills has four interceptions in his last two games. The Texans MUST have a positive turnover margin in this one, or they have no chance.
SPREAD: Texans +6.5
PREDICTION: Jaguars 27, Texans 19
SEASON RECORD: 2-1-1 SU, 1-2-1 ATS
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