The Jacksonville Jaguars are set to take on the Houston Texans in what is a huge game for both teams in the race for the AFC South. The Jags (7-3) currently have a single game lead over the Texans (6-4) but a loss would be brutal for the team’s chances at the division. Not only would it tie things up as far as record is concerned, but a season sweep would give the Texans the tie-breaker with just six games to go down the stretch.
On the flip side, Jacksonville has a chance to give themselves some breathing room atop of the AFC South if they can overcome a Texans team that is starting to hit their stride at the right time.
It won’t be easy, however, as the Texans have been a nightmare for the Jags over the last few years. In fact, the Texans have won 10 of the last 11 contests between the team’s dating back to 2018.
If Jacksonville is going to change their fortunes against this pesky Texans team, they’re going to need some big performances at all three levels. Here are three X-Factors that could help swing things back in their favor this afternoon.
We all remember what a disaster it was for the Jacksonville special teams unit against the Texans back in Week 3.
It was a comedy of errors that led to some huge momentum shifting plays in favor of the Texans. Brandon McManus missed two field goals, with one of them getting blocked, and the kickoff unit allowed an 85-yard return for a touchdown to a fullback in what might be the worst defended return in NFL history.
This unit has got to make up for such a rough outing the last time around. They can’t afford to have another sloppy day where the Texans are consistently being set up with good field position due to special teams mistakes.
A clean, drama free day for them on Sunday could play a major role in the outcome of a game between two teams fighting for supremacy in the AFC South.
Not a lot went right in the Jags’ first outing against the Texans but one thing that did was tight end Evan Engram. Engram led the team in targets (8), receptions (7), and yards (67) in Week 3 as he was the only guy consistently creating separation from his man.
He’s been the safety outlet for Trevor Lawrence all year and I expect that role to be as prominent as ever in a game where the Jags will likely look to emphasize playing smart and fast.
Engram has been catching everything in the short to intermediate part of the field this season and is due a game where his run after the catch ability shines. I think this could be that game.
I’m looking for Lawrence and Engram to connect early and often in this one, as the talented tight end should be in line for a big game that would go a long way in deciding the result.
The Jaguars and Texans are in a tight race for the AFC South. The Texans beat the Jaguars earlier this season.— Jamal St. Cyr (@JStCyrTV) November 20, 2023
Evan Engram said that the Jags are "definitely be looking to get our lick back for sure." pic.twitter.com/Mp24Xfx4VR
Nothing Deep, Nothing Cheap
The Jacksonville defense had a tough time preventing splash plays in the pass game from the Houston Texans back in Week 3. A lot of them were due to the team not respecting the downfield playmaking ability of C.J. Stroud, who has sense established himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, and the clear favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
However, the team now has plenty of tape on this Texans passing attack and their affinity for throwing downfield should now be a part of the scouting report.
Stroud is third in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.3) and he leads the league in 20+ yard completions with 49.
C.J. Stroud continues to impress. His accuracy as a passer, his patience, his willingness to stand tall in the pocket.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 25, 2023
And watch this early dime he dropped in a pic.twitter.com/t9byyrOW6E
Those types of numbers make it obvious that the game plan should be to allow nothing deep and nothing cheap. Mike Caldwell should lean on safeties Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins to stay in the deep half of the field to ensure the Texans speedy receivers don’t take the top off the secondary. That does put a little more pressure on the front seven to recognize the short to intermediate stuff, but you can live with those plays to prevent the big ones.
If you go back and look at Houston’s last two losses, they were in games in which teams deployed a similar defensive concept to what I am pointing out, so it could be the way to go if the Jaguars are going to leave Houston with not only a win, but a two-game lead in the division.
Who do you think will prove to be an X-factor this afternoon?