The Jacksonville Jaguars embark on their fifth AFC South game on Sunday, heading out on the road to face the Houston Texans. With revenge on their minds after a humbling 37-17 loss to the same opponent earlier in the year, here are three matchups to keep an eye on:
Damarious Williams vs Tank Dell
Tank Dell over the past 3 weeks:— PFF (@PFF) November 20, 2023
12 catches gaining 15+ yards (1st)
Draft steal? pic.twitter.com/6Tb4VBpO22
Texans wide receiver Tank Dell introduced himself to the NFL when these two teams met back in Week 3. The rookie pass catcher torched the Jaguars’ secondary in Houston’s surprise victory, snagging five passes for 145 yards and a score. Since then, Dell has cemented himself as one of the league’s most explosive playmakers, despite his diminutive stature - operating on the outside and being a real weapon for CJ Stroud to target. Heading into just their 11th game together, this QB-WR duo is proving to be a problem for defenses - and will likely be a thorn in the side of the Jaguars for years to come.
In 2023, that problem likely belongs to Darious Williams. With Tyson Campbell missing Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring issue, his status for Sunday’s game is in doubt. Regardless, Williams has elevated his game to such an extent this season that the Jaguars consider themselves as having two CB1’s on their roster. Williams’ ball skills have been on show so far this year with three interceptions and 16 pass breakups - the most of any season in his career, and he’s still got seven games to go. Whether he follows Dell around the field will likely be determined by Campbell’s availability - but it’s a matchup I’m excited to watch.
Josh Allen vs Laremy Tunsil
The Texans have serious issues on their offensive line. When fully healthy, Stroud’s protection has been one of the best in the NFL - but injuries have decimated this group. Houston has Jarrett Patterson, Kendrick Green, Kenyon Green, Kilian Zierer, Scott Quessenberry and Charlie Heck all on IR - and to make things worse, their star left tackle popped up on the injury report on Wednesday. Laremy Tunsil was a non-participant in practice due to a knee issue. Whilst it’s suggested the Texans are just being cautious and Tunsil should be good to go on Sunday, not having your blindside blocker at full health gives the Jaguars more hope of getting to the quarterback.
Tunsil will be wary of the threat that Josh Allen poses to his backfield. The fifth year edge rusher has been playing like his pants are on fire in 2023, with 9.5 sacks already to his name. That’s just one short of his best ever season, when he recorded 10.5 as a rookie back in 2019. On course to be a free agent at the end of this year, Allen is playing for a big contract - either in Duval County or elsewhere. We saw last week that despite his impressive early career so far, CJ Stroud is not impervious to throwing interceptions when he’s under duress. Allen will challenge Tunsil and his quarterback for sixty minutes on Sunday.
Trevor Lawrence vs Jalen Pitre
Trevor Lawrence is the AFC Offensive Player of The Week— Jamal St. Cyr (@JStCyrTV) November 22, 2023
262 Yards Passing
2 Passing TDS
2 Rushing TDS
(The last time Lawrence Won AFC Offensive Player of the Week was for the Jaguars 2022 Week 13 game against the Titans) pic.twitter.com/M9m2KeAoa5
Trevor Lawrence has had some ups and downs this season, but despite the bludgeoning the Jaguars took from the Texans back in Week 3, it wasn’t down to the performance of their quarterback. Lawrence fared pretty well in that losing effort, an incredible diving Blake Cashman interception the only blot on an otherwise solid outing. Lawrence heads to NRG Stadium in fine form after a dominant outing against Tennessee last weekend, and will hope to consistently display that high level of output the rest of the way as Jacksonville battle for playoff football - and dare I say it, the #1 seed in the AFC. With his weapons stepping up, things are looking good - but it would be foolish to underestimate the young, talented secondary he faces on Sunday…
Texans safety Jalen Pitre had an incredible first season in the NFL last year, even picking up a vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year. His five interceptions was eclipsed by only four other people - all of whom had just one more with six. Pitre did benefit from a more versatile ‘DB’ portfolio in 2022, and he is yet to have a pick this season as he’s been utilized as a split safety, coming down into the box more often. Regardless, he’s a dangerous predator across the middle of the field, and Lawrence will be mindful of his whereabouts when making intermediate throws. Pitre made an incredible 21 tackles across two games against Jacksonville last season, demonstrating his playmaking ability. This season hasn’t matched those levels, and Houston fans have been quick to highlight the dropoff, but there’s no doubting Pitre’s talent.
If Lawrence can nullify the threat the safety brings - or exploit any weaknesses in his game - the Jaguars will be a step closer to their eighth win of the season.
Which matchups are you looking forward to watching in the big game on Sunday?