I’m usually not a fan of talking about games as a must-win; the only such occurrence is when a playoff spot is on the line (e.g., Jaguars vs. Titans in Week 18 last year) or the team is actually in the playoffs. This is a long season, and the entire NFL landscape can change in a matter of a week.
Despite all of these pre-formed thoughts, this is an extremely pivotal game in the team’s overall mood and will decide which team is at the top of the AFC South standings. In order for the Jaguars to win this game, the team will have to stop two certain players on this Texans team, and that’s what I would like to dive into and get the readers ready for this entertaining divisional game. While my predictions have been pretty spot on (Jeffery Simmons and Derrick Henry last week), this game will be a little more challenging to examine just because of how young this Texans team is.
Starting with defense because I think everyone knows who the offensive player will be. This Texans defense is very interesting to examine, and it’s hard to find just one player on this defense that really stands out. In their Week 3 matchup, Jacksonville had 404 total yards, with 288 through the air and 116 on the ground. This game really just got away from them, and the Jaguars offense was just too little, too late. The player to watch on this Texans defense is linebacker Blake Cashman. While he has had an up-and-down season, his interception of Trevor Lawrence was a real blow to this team, as it occurred on the drive immediately following the very odd kickoff return for a touchdown. In Week 6 of this season, Cashman recorded 15 tackles, two for a loss, and two breakups against the Saints. This impressive game was rewarded with AFC Player of the Week honors. Linebackers tend to be the leaders of the defense, communicating plays and stopping the run.
A good linebacker is very important for the success of a defense, and Cashman is a great example of this. His leadership on and off the field has clearly been exhibited in a stellar defensive-minded head coach like DeMeco Ryans trusts him to run this defense. On that note, I would like to discuss my other opinion on a defensive player to watch for the Texans. Ryans might be one of the most important people on this team because of his ability to take this team from having the 2nd overall pick to competing for a playoff bid the following year. Ryans comes from a very impressive list of coaches under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, and it is no surprise to most NFL analysts that he has had such sustained success this early in his head coaching career. The 49ers' defense under Ryans was one of the best in the league, and the similarities are apparent in Houston.
Now to everyone’s favorite: the offense. This Texans offense is years ahead of pace and has been putting up very impressive numbers for having a rookie quarterback and a rookie wide receiver. This player is obviously C.J. Stroud. I mean, heck, some sports media personalities are talking about Stroud for MVP, and this game will be a big one to circle when the time comes later in the season. In Week 3 against Jacksonville, Stroud completed 20 of his 30 pass attempts for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Two of those 40-plus-yard plays against this Jaguars defense were big gut punches and really sucked the life out of this team. While Stroud carved up this defense in Week 3, the rest of his season has been nothing but miraculous, for any quarterback, and even more so for a rookie quarterback. With 3,000 yards, 17 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions, he is essentially running away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year crown and will go down as one of the best rookie quarterbacks we as fans have ever seen.
Strouds impressive drive against the bucs pic.twitter.com/r0kBlKX4Qm— Jefferson Gibson (@rumandcokejefe) November 25, 2023
The drive that impressed me was his game-winning touchdown against Tampa Bay in Week 8 to catapult this team to a .500 record and show his maturity. I’m just going to put the entire drive in this article, but Stroud looked so calm and collected that there was almost never a doubt that the Texans were going to win this game. The only player that I have ever thought that way about is Tom Brady on the Patriots. Even Mahomes doesn’t give me that confidence. Stroud is years ahead in his growth as an NFL player, and this Jaguars defense will have one of its toughest tasks of the season. More pressure needs to be applied to Stroud; he wasn’t sacked once in their Week 3 matchup, and that definitely needs to change. If Stroud is able to feel comfortable in that pocket and sling it all over the field, it will be a long day for all the Jaguars faithful.
This is, in my eyes, the most important game of the Jaguars’ season (to this point). This game does not decide the season, but it will be a great game to win to gain some respect around the league and extend their lead in the division. This Texans defense plays as one unit, but Cashman can be a force in the run game. Stroud is having one of the best seasons by a quarterback this season, and if the Jaguars cannot get the necessary pressure to make him uncomfortable, this game will be over very early.