Is Week 2 of the regular season too early to have a must-win game?
But when that game is on the road against a Houston Texans team that lost a heart-wrenching Monday Night Football game this past week, it might not be.
Compound this with a crucial follow up Thursday night divisional game at home in front of a national audience against a Tennessee Titans team that surprised the league by demoralizing a darling Cleveland Browns team? The next five days will make or break the Jacksonville Jaguars’ playoff prospects for 2019.
If the Jaguars are going to go into Houston and win this game on Sunday, here are the battles within the war they need to win to get the job done.
QB Gardner Minshew II vs. S Justin Reid
Reid is one of my favorite young players in this division and is a bright spot in what is otherwise a woeful Texans secondary that recently decided to pay Aaron Colvin $7.5 million not to play football. A ballhawking safety who can also stuff the box and bring the noise against the run, Minshew will need to keep careful tabs on where Reid is on the field at all times and hedge his bets on routes to his side of the field.
Reid and his running mate, former Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson, were both listed on this week’s injury report with shoulder and wrist issues respectively, but both have been full participants throughout the week.
If I’m John DeFilippo, I’m attacking the boundaries with my perimeter wide receivers against the Texans’ cornerbacks and keeping Dede Westbrook’s route tree relatively short with plenty of drags to keep the ball away from Reid.
OT Jawaan Taylor vs. DE J.J. Watt
Despite a couple of penalties last week, Taylor had an admirable Jaguars debut on Sunday. That’s good, because he’s going to need that confidence to square up against a future Hall of Famer in J.J. Watt who will be extra motivated by not recording a sack, tackle or pressure for the first time in his career last week against the Saints (although he did draw one holding flag on RT Ryan Ramczyk).
In a vacuum, the perfect solution would be to have a tight end or running back help out Taylor against Watt so he’s not on an island, but with a huge question mark at left tackle due to Cam Robinson’s injury status, John DeFilippo may need to spare that extra help for the left side against Whitney Mercilus, who had a sack and interception last week. Regardless of strategic deployment, I felt the departure of Jadeveon Clowney would severely hamper the effectiveness of a 30-year-old Watt, and if week one was any indication, this does seem to be the case.
WR D.J. Chark vs. CB Johnathan Joseph
Colvin may have been the head that rolled last week for his off-coverage blunder, but the entire Texans CB corps can be as much of an Achilles heel for this team as their offensive line is on the other side of the ball. Joseph is a savvy veteran who can rely on technique and positioning to still be effective, but let’s be real here - he is 35 years old playing as a boundary cornerback.
The book is still being written on the talent of the Jaguars wide receivers, but one thing is a fact about the group — they can fly. Chark’s 4.2-timed speed should be a tremendous advantage and if I were John DeFilippo, I would try to get Chark matched up on Joseph as often as possible to challenge him deep off play action. On the other side, Bradley Roby is in his first year as a Texan after playing his entire rookie contract as slot cornerback with the Denver Broncos, which can be another nice matchup for Chris Conley.
RB Leonard Fournette vs. LB Bernardrick McKinney/LB Zach Cunningham
Fournette may not be an official captain this season like he was in 2018, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t act like one and put the team with a rookie quarterback on his shoulders. Fournette played 86% of the snaps last week, and while this may not be sustainable for an entire season, there is no doubt that DeFilippo sees Fournette as his offensive centerpiece. The interior offensive line is going to have open up some creases for Leonard to keep building on his 5.1 yards per carry from last week, but then it’s up to him to gain those second level yards against thumpers McKinney and Cunningham. I expect a few HB screens off play action this week to try suck both guys up and then hit Leonard in space.
DE Calais Campbell/Josh Allen vs. OT Seantrel Henderson
Canes on Canes crime this weekend? Let’s hope so. With Marcell Dareus likely back in the mix this week, that means Campbell can take some more base snaps at his natural strong side defensive end position. Campbell will be peppering Henderson with power and technique all game and then Henderson will need to adapt to Allen’s speed to power when Campbell slides inside or gets a breather to not overwhelm his foot that has landed him on the injury report this week.
Regardless, this week’s matchup against a porous Texans offensive line is the perfect match up for Allen to build on a solid week one debut.
DE Josh Allen vs. OT Laremy Tunsil
Josh Allen may just be used this week as an edge rusher on both the left and right side to keep Campbell fresh from his injuries.
I had Tunsil giving up two sacks last week in his debut, but you have to think that his level of play will galvanize once he gets more familiar with his offense and the offensive line.
LB Myles Jack vs. RB Duke Johnson Jr./Carlos Hyde
My biggest concern going into this week is Myles Jack trying to press too much to atone for his ejection and meltdown last week. There’s no doubt Jack feels remorse about letting his teammates down, but oftentimes athletes will try to overcompensate to make up for these types of things, potentially leading to more mistakes. Jack needs to just take a deep breath, organize the defense, play his game, and keep the Carlos Hyde revenge game at bay. Jack and Quincy Williams will be extra vigilant of Duke Johnson Jr.’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield. Between Johnson, Hyde, and Tunsil mentioned above, this is quite a different of Texans offense than Jaguars fans are accustomed to.
CB Jalen Ramsey vs. WR Deandre Hopkins
Ramsey stated this week that Wash is going to allow him to do what he does best after the defensive coordinator got “too cute” last game. I’m guessing this means a lot of press man coverage on Hopkins and try to jam him on the line of scrimmage. If Ramsey can delay Hopkins’ release for just one-two seconds, that could be the difference between a sack and a pressure against this porous Texans offensive line. If this is the game plan, Jaguars fans should be thrilled about putting Jalen in position to fully capitalize on his physicality, length, and athleticism.
So what do you think? Which match ups will you be paying attention to the most? Is there a match up not listed above that you think can be the difference in this game? Let us know in the comments below.