Can you feel it? The excitement, the anxiousness, all coming back? It’s Week One folks, and the Urban Meyer Era will begin for the Jaguars in NRG Stadium against a Houston Texans team that looks hapless. However, they are still a professional football team, and anything can happen on any given Sunday, so here are the keys to victory for the Jaguars.
Control the Line of Scrimmage
It was no secret that Jacksonville was one of the worst teams in the league at defending the run, or getting sacks in 2020. They allowed the most 20+ yard runs in the league, and finished the season allowing the third most rushing yards per game. This translated to the passing game, where easy third downs negated any pass rush the Jaguars could get. In the offseason, Meyer added Malcolm Brown, Jihad Ward and Roy Robertson-Harris in order to control the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball. This has paid off in early returns in the preseason, as the Jaguars run defense looks stouter. The Texans will be trotting out a makeshift offensive line outside of Laremy Tunsil, so for the Jaguars to win, they need to control the line and limit explosive runs via Tyrod Taylor or the Texans’ stable of backs.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Texans have notoriously had the Jaguars number. In the last five games the two teams have played against each other, the Texans sacked Jaguars QBs more in two of the teams’ tilts(with two more being a tie). The offensive line has been a topic of much discussion this offseason, and going into the preseason, but with a fully healthy Brandon Linder, Andrew Norwell and Cam Robinson, the tides should turn in the Jaguars favor. Plus, there is no more JJ Watt on the Texans so that helps. If the Jaguars can create holes in the run game, it should help the play action deep shots the offense is designed to take at its’ peak.
Generate Explosives in the Passing Game
This point kind of goes hand in hand with the back half of the first point. If the Jaguars can keep Trevor Lawrence clean throughout the game, I don’t see any reason why the Jaguars cannot generate plays of 20+ yards through the air. The Texans defensive backfield is questionable, especially with Bradley Roby now being a New Orleans Saint. With DJ Chark Jr. back healthy, the Jaguars will be able to stretch the field vertically with his speed, and allow for LaViska Shenault to operate over the middle against smaller DBs and slower LBs. If given enough time to throw, Lawrence could pick the Texans apart.
Get Off the Field on Third Down
This has been a sore spot so far for the Jaguars defense. In the preseason, they were able to stop the run, but when it came time for third and medium-to-long (6-10+) yards, they haven’t been able to get off the field. The Baltimore Ravens aggressive, blitz-heavy scheme is heavily influencing the Jaguars defense, which means that if the Jaguars are going to blitz and play man coverage primarily on third downs, the blitz has to get home, or there has to be enough pressure to force a wayward throw. The Jaguars have to end drives on third down, to keep their legs fresh as well as give the offense more opportunities to score.
Limit Explosive Passes
I’m sure Jaguars fans have the image of Marquez Callaway beating Shaquill Griffin and Tyson Campbell twice on long touchdowns in the Monday Night preseason game against the Saints. In Cullen’s man-heavy scheme, it is important that the Jaguars DBs don’t get beat deep, because there won’t be a lot of help. The Texans might not have much in the ways of receiving depth, but Brandin Cooks is still a big play generator. In the previous Texans-Jaguars clash, he had one of two passing touchdowns that went over 40 yards. To negate this, DBs Shaquill Griffin and CJ Henderson will have to be physical at the line of scrimmage, and not give Cooks a free release. Throw off the timing of the route, and make QB Tyrod Taylor hold on to the ball a little longer. Rookie DB Tyson Campbell is questionable for the game, but Meyer said he will play, which means that in order for him to be successful, he must make plays on the ball. Locate the ball in the air and generate PBUs and interceptions.
Win the Special Teams Battle
Special teams has been another issue for the Jaguars in the preseason. From missed kicks to penalties on long punt returns, the Jaguars have to be better in the third phase of the game. The Jaguars went out and acquired Jamal Agnew in free agency to give some juice to the return game, while Josh Lambo returns from injury to give some stability to the kicking portion of the unit. Meyer has always placed a large importance on special teams, so winning this phase is paramount to an all around victory for the Jaguars.