Reporting Paul Gallant
The Texans open up their cupcake division slate Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here’s what you can expect from this AFC South cellar-dweller.
Signs of life from Blaine Gabbert?
Gabbert was the league’s WORST quarterback last season. And that’s not even a question. Blainey was completely terrified on the field – curling up into the fetal position at the mere whiff of a pass rush – embarrassing the Jaguars on every given Sunday. The game ALWAYS appeared way too big for him.
But his supposed dramatic improvement was one of the biggest story lines in Jacksonville this off-season. With more toys to play with – like first round draft pick Justin Blackmon and free agent signing Laurent Robinson bolstering a receiving corps featuring tight end Marcedes Lewis – and a full year under his belt, a lot of prognosticators expected Gabbert to make major strides in 2012.
Through one game, that actually may be the case. Gabbert put on his big boy pants against the Vikings – tossing for 260 yards and 2 scores – including what should have been the game winning touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts. He wasn’t just effective, he was CLUTCH.
Still, call me unimpressed. Minnesota’s defense is putrid. Sure they can get after the passer (the Vikings led the league in sacks last season with 50 – in large part due to Jared Allen’s 22), but only Tampa Bay allowed more points than the Vikings in 2011 (28.1 per game). Why? Because the Vikings have one of the worst secondaries in the league.
I’ll admit Blaine Gabbert looked good last week. But he was playing against a sieve – not against the Texans D. Expect a big time regression Sunday.
It’s all about stopping Mojo
If you watched the Texans and Dolphins, you noticed that Houston struggled in the early going against the run – at least until Miami fell into a hole and had to give up. They can’t afford to let that happen against Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is back from his pre-season holdout. MJD was unable to crack 100 yards rushing in a game against the Texans last year (18 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown week 8 in Houston, 18 rushes for 99 yards week 12 in Jacksonville), but he’s still dangerous – on the ground and as a receiver. The Texans D must keep all eyes on Mojo whenever he’s on the field.
Call a Doctor!
The Texans couldn’t be running into the Jaguars at a better time, because Jacksonville has been ravaged by injuries. The Jags opened the season with 10 guys on the reserved-injured list. Last week in Minnesota they had four inactives on defense: starting cornerback Derek Cox, starting linebacker Daryl Smith, plus backup defensive ends Austen Lane and George Selvie. Cox had limited participation in practice this week, but Smith didn’t practice at all, while Lane and Selvie have already been ruled out against the Texans.
The offense had itself a rough week as well. The Vikings game saw three starting offensive linemen – left guard Eben Britton, right guard Uche Nwaneri, and right tackle Cameron Bradfield – sidelined with ankle injuries. Nwaneri was able to practice this week, but Britton and Bradfield were MIA.
Running back Rashad Jennings, who had a solid pre-season starting in place of MJD, also had to leave the Vikings game. He’s dealing with a knee injury, and while the MRI exam revealed nothing significant, he hasn’t practiced this week.
If Cox, Smith, Lane, Selvie, Britton, Bradfield, and Jennings all don’t play against the Texans, the Jaguars would be down to 45 healthy players — the number they are allowed to dress for a game — for Sunday. That bodes VERY well for Houston.
Swiss Cheese Defense
The Jags D was a strength in 2011. That wasn’t the case week one against Minnesota. Adrian Peterson is Adrian Peterson – but if the Jags D is so good, he should not have had the statistics he had (17 carries for 84 yards and 2 TDs ) in his first game back from a knee injury. Linebacker Paul Posluszny is a good player in the middle of that front seven, but the fact that three of Jacksonville’s leading five tacklers were defensive backs (safeties Dawan Landry, Dwight Lowery and cornerback Aaron Ross) screams bad tackling to me. If I’m Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, I run, run, and run some more to wear that banged up defense down.
By the way – the secondary is awful too. Without Derek Cox, the Jags will struggle – as they showed when they allowed the Vikings to tie things up after taking the lead with just 20 seconds to play. Expect more of the same on Sunday.