The Jacksonville Jaguars look to try and notch their first win of the season, in the 2012 home opener against the reigning AFC South champion, and Super Bowl hopeful Houston Texans, this Sunday at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville and Houston each kick off their divisional schedule this week, and while the Jaguars enter the game with a record of 0-1, a win against the Texans would leave both teams at 1-1, with Jacksonville getting the early divisional tie breaker advantage. The two teams have developed somewhat of a bitter rivalry over the first decade of Houston's existence, with some memorable moments and match ups.
While the Texans will be the heavy favorites going into Sunday's game, the Jaguars have historically played the Texans close, regardless of any personnel advantages on either side. With that said, here are three things to watch for the Jaguars as they try to get what would be a huge first victory this weekend.
I don't know if the folks at the Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute give the Jags a nice little kickback at Christmas time, but the team has been absolutely decimated by injuries to the lower extremities since training camp, and they continued through Week 1. At the time of this article, the team looks nearly certain to be without starters Cam Bradfield (ankle), Eben Britton (ankle), Rashad Jennings (knee), Derek Cox (hamstring, and Daryl Smith (groin) for Sunday's game. Smith and Cox have yet to see the field in over a month since sustaining their injuries late in camp, and the defense, particularly the secondary in regards to Cox, could really use both players on the field ASAP as the unit struggled for most of the day in Minnesota without them. The injuries have taken their heaviest toll on the offensive line, where the starting lineup has played together for barely a full half of play since the preseason. With the team relying on the offense to stay in games as it works out it's defensive kinks, having the likes of Guy Whimper and UDFA rookie Mike Brewster protecting Gabbert against a tenacious Texans pass rush isn't exactly the ideal situation to breed success for the Jaguars on Sunday.
2. Salute Your Shorts
Yes, I've been hoping to be able to use that title for QUITE some time. Second year wide receiver Cecil Shorts III had what could possibly be seen as a "breakout game" of sorts last week against the Vikings, catching 4 balls for 74 yards and what should have been the game-winning touchdown on the 39 yards pass from Blaine Gabbert. Shorts not only showed fantastic ball skills on that play, but also was a dependable target for Gabbert throughout the game, including using his strength and agility to turn a 3rd down pass two yards short of the sticks into a converted first down, as he powered through three Vikings defenders. It was somewhat of a surprise to see him get as much time as he did, as Shorts had been mostly resigned to the second team offense following Mike Thomas' reemergence in the preseason. Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey stated this week that he expects CS3 to get more looks on the field starting this week, following the impressive performance. Look for Shorts to get a lot of snaps on Sunday, as the team will likely be looking to keep 3-4 receivers on the field often, in order to spread out the Texans defense and try to counter their pass rush with quick, short passes and a lot of options for Gabbert to go to.
3. Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad....Four Man Rush?
If the Texans pass rush is a filet mignon by NFL standards, then the Jaguars rush is the Wal Mart cube steak clearance special. Once again, in what seems to be an annually recurring theme, the Jacksonville defense did next to nothing to disrupt the opposing quarterback in their game with the Vikings, including allowing Christian Ponder with all day to connect on a 26 yard pass with 18 seconds left in the game, that allowed the Vikings to kick the game tying field goal as time expired. More perplexing, after watching most of the game with the new "All-22" film on nfl.com, was that the Jaguars almost never blitzed last week, choosing instead to rush with the front four and play extra men in coverage. That strategy plain and simply cost them a win. If given the same amount of time that Ponder had last week, Matt Schaub will frankly be surgical with the ball against a secondary that will likely be without it's best cover corner, and whom showed a knack for missing tackle after tackle since the preseason began. Schaub has historically been prone to making some really boneheaded throws when under consistent pressure, so it's imperative the Jags bring the heat on the QB this week somehow, or the game can get out of hand really quick.