The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) return home to TIAA Bank Field this week for an AFC South divisional matchup with the Houston Texans (0-3-1). The game is at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday and will be broadcast on CBS in local markets.
The Jaguars are looking to bounce back after being defeated on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, while the Texans are looking to notch a win for the first time in 2022. Houston has also won eight-straight games against Jacksonville.
We wanted to learn more about Houston this year, so we spoke with Scott Barzilla, also know as “vballretired,” of Battle Red Blog — the Houston Texans website and community for SB Nation.
Is Houston better than its record indicates? Is Davis Mills a viable option in the long term for the Texans? How will the AFC South shake out this season? Scott answers these questions and more.
1. The Texans are winless, but tied the Colts in the season opener and have had final scores all within 10 points for each game. Would you say Houston is better than its record shows or not? What does the team do well and what does it need to improve upon?
Scott: The Texans are worse than their record. While it is true they could have won all of their games, their opponents have been better in each game. Running back Dameon Pierce could be an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate and Houston’s defense has a knack for getting takeaways. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives stop. In particular, Houston really need to improve on defending the run.
2. How has second-year quarterback Davis Mills performed this season? Does he look like the team’s long-term solution or will Houston need to make an upgrade at the position after the season? Outside of Mills, who are the players on Houston’s offense to watch out for on Sunday and why?
Scott: Davis Mills is clearly not the answer. He has moments, but they are mixed with bouts with inaccuracy and a lack of pocket presence. The Texans should look for an upgrade, and with extra draft capital from the Deshaun Watson trade, they should have their pick of the litter.
Running back Dameon Pierce is a beast. He’s averaging about five yards a carry and broke off a 75-yarder on Sunday against the Chargers. He combines toughness, elusiveness and surprising speed. He is on pace to easily surpass 1,000 yards.
3. Defensively, the Texans rank toward the bottom of the league in total defense and rush defense. What have the issues been on that side of the ball and who are the key players to watch on that unit?
Scott: The secondary is the strength of this team. Jalen Pitre is a sure-fire all rookie selection at safety and has an outside chance at making the Pro Bowl. Derek Stingley Jr. isn’t a shutdown cornerback yet, but he’s flashed that ability. The problems lie at linebacker and defensive tackle. The Texans have decent guys at both spots, but they are probably backups/rotational guys masquerading as starters. Christian Harris was taken in the third round as a linebacker, but he’s been on injured reserve. His return in a couple of weeks could help considerably.
4. With the AFC South looking wide open this season, do you think Houston can possibly still win it? If not the Texans, which team is your pick to win the division title this season?
Scott: Before the season I was convinced the Colts were head and shoulders the most talented team in the division. There’s nothing that has happened to dissuade me from that opinion. What has happened is that Frank Reich has found a way to disappoint yet again.
That leaves the Jaguars and Titans. I think the Jags have more talent and I think Doug Pederson is an obvious upgrade over what the Jaguars had in the past (even prior to Urban Meyer). The Titans have a history of overachieving. I have no clue how they won 12 games last season. So, I really can’t count them out.
It will come down to head to head matchups like it always does. That includes battles with the Texans. The Colts already blew a chance to beat the Texans. They’d be in a tie for first with a win there. The Jags and Titans have to take care of business against the Texans. I’m leaning Titans just because history is on their side, but a Jags win wouldn’t shock me at all.
5. It’s early, but four games into the Lovie Smith era, what is the general feeling from Texans fans regarding Smith and his staff? Even though the team isn’t winning yet, is Smith leading the Texans into the right direction, could this be another short tenure in Houston, or is it too early to tell?
Scott: That’s a long and complicated answer. I don’t think they can fire a coach three years in a row. Yet, I don’t think anyone envisioned him being a long-term answer. From there, I don’t think any of us can tell you what the plan is. I think Lovie is a professional and solid enough guy. His defenses are usually solid but unspectacular. His teams typically take care of the ball and make fewer mistakes than their opponents. You can easily win some games that way. However, I don’t see him developing a Bryce Young or C.J Stroud into a franchise quarterback.
Bonus: The Jaguars have opened as 7.5-point favorites against Houston and the over/under is currently set at 45, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Will the Texans cover the spread, are you taking the over or under and what is your final score prediction?
Scott: They had to lay that half point, didn’t they? I think the Jags barely cover (Editor’s note: the line has now moved to seven points even). I’ll go 28-20 which means you can bet the Jags and the over. However, that would technically make it a one score game. I just don’t see how the Texans stop Travis Etienne Jr. and James Robinson. The key will be who takes care of the ball between Trevor Lawrence and Davis Mills.
Thank you to Scott for filling us in on what to know about Houston. Be sure to follow Scott and Battle Red Blog on Twitter.