Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: Keys to the game, matchups to watch and prediction

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 7, 2017 at 11:26 PM
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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT HOUSTON TEXANS

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NRG Stadium. TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, Steve Tasker.

SERIES HISTORY: 31st regular-season meeting. Texans lead series, 19-11. Houston have won the last six meetings over the past three years. Jacksonville has not won since Dec. 5, 2013, when it posted a 27-20 victory at home. The Jaguars won both games that year to end another five-game Texans winning streak. Houston won 11 of the last 13 meetings after the Jaguars won nine of the first 17. Houston's two wins last season were by one and three points.

GAMEDATE: 9/10/17

KEYS TO THE GAME: Quarterback play will be a significant focus in this game. Despite drafting Deshaun Watson 12th overall, the Texans remain committed to fourth-year pro Tom Savage, who has played in five career games and attempted just 92 passes.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, is sticking with Blake Bortles even though he regressed in 2016 and did not appear much improved this preseason. Veteran Chad Henne failed to surpass Bortles on the depth chart.

For that reason, the Jaguars will try to establish a running game, early and often. Rookie Leonard Fournette saw limited action during the preseason due to a foot injury but appears 100 percent for the opener.

When the Jaguars do go to the pass, it's not likely to be deep throws. The confidence in the passing game isn't there right now, even though receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee had strong training camps.

Defensively, look for the Jaguars to put more pressure on Savage, who will not have holdout left tackle Duane Brown.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey and CB A.J. Bouye. This will be a key matchup, assuming Hopkins plays. He's had an injured thumb since the preseason opener on Aug. 9 and has not practiced since. But earlier this week he said he's "1,000 percent" ready for this week's opener with the Jaguars. That news was welcomed by both Ramsey and Bouye, two of the league's top cornerbacks. Ramsey always wants to cover the opponent's top receiver and has shown he has the talent to shut down most of them. Bouye will want to cover Hopkins, his teammate the last four years in Houston before Bouye signed with the Jaguars during the offseason. Hopkins' production fell last year with the team's quarterback struggles, but he still managed 78 catches for 954 yards and four TDs. A week ago, he signed a five-year, $81 million contract extension.

--Jaguars RT Jermey Parnell vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt. It doesn't matter who the Jaguars' offensive tackle is, Watt is likely to dominate him like he has Jacksonville tackles in the past. In 10 games against the Jaguars in his first five seasons, Watt had 57 tackles and 14.5 sacks. Three times he had three sacks against the Jaguars, and he's had at least one sack in seven of the 10 meetings. Parnell likely will go against Watt most of the time, although Watt does move around on the D-line. Parnell has struggled at times against elite pass rushers, especially those who have power and a quick move off the line.

JAGUARS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette shows the talent and maturity to be a star in the NFL for the next decade. He has an explosive start out of the blocks and has the power to run over people and the speed to run around them. He will be in the starting backfield and looks to be fully recovered from an ankle injury that slowed him during the last couple of preseason games.

TEXANS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Running back D'Onta Foreman. Foreman is a 6-foot, 233-pound, tackle-breaking, bruising presence in the backfield. The third-round pick (89th overall) out of Texas can also catch passes and has good speed in the open field.

FAST FACTS: In 2016, WR Allen Robinson joined Jimmy Smith as the only Jaguars receivers with 800 yards and six TD catches in consecutive seasons. He has 100 receiving yards in two of the past three meetings. ... Jaguars WR Marqise Lee had a 100-yard kick return in the last meeting, tied for the longest kick-return TD in team history. . . . Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny led the team with 133 tackles in 2016, his team-record fifth season with 100 tackles. Since 2008, he leads the NFL with 1,127 tackles. ... Houston RB Lamar Miller has 402 rushing yards and four TDs in the past four division games. He ranked sixth in the AFC with 1,073 rushing yards last season and has three seasons in a row with 1,250 scrimmage yards. ... Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins led the team with 78 catches last season and has a franchise-record 317 catches in his first four seasons. ... Houston DE J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 76 sacks and 133 tackles for loss since he entered the league in 2011.

PREDICTION: The Texans will be highly motivated to put on a good show for the home fans as Houston recovers from Hurricane Harvey. Watt & Co. will deliver.

OUR PICK: Texans, 23-13.

--Chris Cluff

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