Champagne and cookies? Nah. Get your tea and crumpets ready — it’s London week.
Here are the matchups I’ll be paying attention to as I roll out of bed for this 9:30am divisional rivalry game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans.
QB Gardner Minshew II vs. S Justin Reid
The injury report for the Texans this week is longer than a CVS receipt, and the injuries to the defensive backs room in particular should make Gardner Minshew II smile wider than the first time he ever heard a Beatles song.
Former Jaguars free safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. will not make the trip to London with the Texans, which means Justin Reid will be joined by either A.J. Moore, Jahleel Addae, or the 38-year-old Mike Adams at the other safety position.
To me, this means that a young player like Justin Reid could feel the pressure to try and do stuff beyond the scope of his responsibilities, which could make him extra susceptible to some routes over the middle in the seam or cause him to bite on a double move. Whoever lines up next to the very talented Reid on Sunday should be picked on early and often by John DeFilippo.
Texans need to be worried about their secondary more than Watson. Missing CBs Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson Jr. and S Tashaun Gipson Sr. Gardner Minshew could feast on the DBs like other QBs have.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) November 1, 2019
RB Leonard Fournette vs. LB Bernardrick McKinney/LB Zach Cunningham
Houston is a top-five run defense unit so far this year, allowing just 85.4 yards per game. Powered by their thumper Bernardrick McKinney and tackle machine Zach Cunningham, there just isn’t a lot of room in the second level of a Texans defense that held Leonard Fournette to his worst game on the ground so far this year (15 carries, 47 yards, 3.13 average). Hopefully, John DeFilippo realizes this and schemes up some ways to get Fournette the ball in space and ramps up the screen game a little bit with so many defensive backs out for the Texans.
I’m sure Leonard still remembers getting stuffed on the two point conversion in Week 2, so I would expect some tough running once they get into the red zone and hopefully a rare rushing touchdown for Fournette.
WR D.J. Chark vs. CB Gareon Conley
I mentioned Gipson being held out of this game due to back/wrist injuries, but two more starting cornerbacks in rookie Lonnie Johnson and Bradley Roby are also going to be withheld for Sunday’s contest.
While Houston still has an experienced vet in Jonathan Joseph to fill in on the outside, that’s still good news for whoever lines up opposite D.J. Chark in three receiver packages, but Chark will have his hands full against new acquisition Gareon Conley, who was also limited this week with a hamstring injury. The Texans spent the draft pick they netted from the Jadeveon Clowney trade on Conley, so this could be our first look at a match up that we will have access to for the next few years. Go D.J. That’s my D.J.
We’ve been trying to figure out which way we wanted to go w/ a @DJChark82 shirt. We’ve had like 10 different designs w/ different themes. We settled on this one b/c 1 budding legend from Louisiana deserves another. What better way to claim our guy than to say: Go DJ, That’s My DJ pic.twitter.com/49l6BuunyF— DTWD Originals (@DTWDoriginals) November 1, 2019
OT Jawaan Taylor vs. DL Charles Omenihu
No J.J. Watt, no problem, right?
While Watt is an exceptional player and heartbeat of the Texans defense, rookie Charles Omenihu is a very competent player who has raised some eyebrows this season. The former Longhorn had some of the longest arms I’ve ever seen at the Senior Bowl (36+ inches) and his reach could pose some problems for the ascending Jawaan Taylor and his strong punch. Don’t get me wrong, not having to face J.J. Watt is still ultimately a net positive for the Jaguars - I’d just caution fans to not write off Omenihu and potential pressure off the right side of the offensive line. Whitney Mercilus against Cam Robinson on the other side is no picnic, either.
DE Yannick Ngakoue vs. OT Laremy Tunsil
The beast is waking up. Ngakoue is knocking on the door of surpassing Joel Smeenge as second all-time in sacks for the Jaguars, and I think he gets it this week against Deshaun Watson. The defense has suddenly turned into a turnover machine ever since that one guy got traded, and Ngakoue has been a huge catalyst for it as he continues to get back to 100% from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the first Texans contest.
Speaking of injuries, Tunsil was limited all week with a shoulder injury and is questionable for the game, so that’s not a great match up for the Texans as he tries to neutralize that cross-chop move that Ngakoue has perfected. He’ll be hungry, just like his wallet. #PayYann.
DE Josh Allen vs. OT Tytus Howard
Similar to Tunsil, Howard was limited this week with a knee injury and despite looking doubtful to suit up this weekend, he’s officially listed as questionable on the injury report. While he may always be remembered as the guy who got former general manager Brian Gaine fired for panic-selecting him when the Eagles jumped the Texans for Andre Dillard,
Howard has actually helped stabilize the offensive line for the Texans since settling in at right tackle. While he’s playing better than I anticipated, the Texans are allowing an average of 3.0 sacks per game (9th most in the NFL), and Josh Allen is doing things at a Pro Bowl level already.
With just one more sack on Sunday, Allen would join Denver’s Bradley Chubb and Von Miller as the only NFL players over the last 10 seasons to post at least 8.0 sacks through nine career games, and if he registers a sack-fumble on Sunday, would join Julius freaking Peppers as the only NFL player since 1993 to post at least 8.0 sacks and three forced fumbles through nine career games.
LB Myles Jack vs. QB Deshaun Watson
I don’t really know what Todd Wash is going to do on Sunday, but the defense played a pretty stout game against the Texans in Week 2, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for this Sunday.
What I do know, however, is Deshaun Watson is playing at an All-Pro level, and even without Will Fuller to throw the ball to, Watson can burn the Jags with his ability to escape the pocket and extend plays. I’m going to be paying attention to how often the Jaguars assign Myles Jack to spy Watson and make sure he doesn’t get past the line of scrimmage more often than necessary. It sounds like Najee Goode will be ready to go at the weak side linebacker spot next to him, so expect him and Ronnie Harrison to share the duties to shut down tight end Darren Fells.
CB A.J. Bouye vs. WR Deandre Hopkins
Ah, yes, do you smell that? It’s the smell of a new era. The more you listen to Bouye speak to the media now that the locker room is flush of certain individuals, the more it seems like Bouye didn’t really care for certain individuals and was tired of being the Robin to someone else’s Batman.
As I keep writing in these articles, Bouye has a tremendous opportunity to prove that he can be a No. 1 cornerback and will get to state his case on Sunday as he follows Deandre Hopkins around the field.
On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how the Jaguars deploy their cornerbacks if D.J. Hayden can’t go with his neck/shoulder. Does Tre Herndon move into the slot with Breon Borders outside? Does Borders start at nickel? Does recently-promoted Tae Hayes get his shot?
We’ll find out bright and early Sunday morning.