HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – It’s likely Jacksonville Jaguars first-year coach Mike Mularkey was simply quoting the textbook when he suggested the best way to keep Texans defensive end J.J. Watt hands down when rushing the passer.
Mularkey said a punch to the test would keep J.J. “SWATT” in check.
“Punch his chest in,” Mularkey said in response to Watt’s penchant for deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage. “That’s obviously a reaction and then doing it all it in the split second when the hand goes up. That’s the response and that’s what you’d like to have happen and it can. But that’s what we’d like to have happen. That’s anybody. That’s not just this team. That’s any team, any player.”
In any other week that is taken for what it is. But merely the suggestion of a punch or any perceived dirty tactic takes on an adding meaning when it comes to this rivalry between the AFC South foes.
It doesn’t take much to set the other side off. There is no love lost between these two and that is obvious each time they meet.
“We have a rivalry,” said Texans running back Arian Foster, whose team takes on the Jaguars on Sunday in Jacksonville.”It’s a divisional rivalry.
“It’s always going to be a lot of smack talk. It’s always going to be a lot of jibber-jaw back and forth, bad blood between each other.”
Last season, tempers flared when the Jaguars accused the Texans players of playing dirty. The Texans essentially fired back that the division’s weakest opponent needed to man up and quit whining.
This season’s two-game series is likely to be as intense as the Texans look to continue its winning streak against Jacksonville. The defending AFC South champs and the favorite to repeat this season has won three straight over Jacksonville and looks to extend that to an unprecedented four straight in the series with a win Sunday.
Jacksonville, which is coming off a disappointing season in which coach Jack Del Rio was fired and the ownership changed hands, is looking to rebound with second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert showing signs of improving and running back Maurice Jones-Drew as an elite back in the NFL.
It doesn’t seem the Jaguars are a threat to knock the Texans off their AFC South throne, but make no mistake Jacksonville is a threat to win each and every time these two teams meet. Expect a close, hard-fought game as usual.
“It’s always a hardnosed game,” said Texans coach Matt Schuab, who has managed to put numbers against the Jaguars but is just 2-5 against them. “It’s always a battle against these guys on both sides of the football so we got to be up to the task and go out and play good ball.”
That may certainly be the case with Gabbert looking like he has turned a corner after a disappointing rookie season. The former Missouri quarterback, who completed just 50.8 percent of his passes last season, looked sharp in the preseason and last week put his team in position to upend Minnesota in Week 1 with an impressive late-game touchdown drive. The Jaguars defense, however, failed to keep the lead.
But Gabbert showed he won’t be the easy mark he was last season after completing 23 of 39 passes for career-bests 260 yards and two touchdowns last week.
“Well you can’t make that leap unless you play, that’s the key,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whose team comes into the game 1-0 after defeating Miami during opening week. “He played all last year, that’s difficult on a young quarterback.
So as hard as it sometimes is on those young guys their first year, it’s so invaluable when they go to year two and you can see it with Blaine right now.”
His growth only makes Jacksonville that much more dangerous. The Jags already have one of the best running backs in the league and Jones-Drew showed that with an impressive performance out of the game last week despite missing all of preseason due to a holdout. And Jacksonville’s defense remains as stout as usual which means the Jags have a chance.
“They’re a definitely a physical football team,” linebacker Brian Cushing said. “They got one of the best running backs in the game and they use him. They use him a lot. We’re going to expect that. They’re going to try to come downhill.”
And be assured the Jaguars will be as relentless as usual. This is a big game for both teams but it’s even bigger for Jacksonville has it looks to get that signature to hang its hat on. A win over the division favorite would be huge and the Texans realize that.
“It’s good. It’s good to be the hunted that means people have respect for you, but we go into it with the mentality that we are always the hunters. You have to,” Watt said. “You have to go out there every single week like you’re fighting for your food like you’re hungry because if you sit back and rest on your laurels that’s when you get beat and we’ll never do that.”
The Texas Win If: They play suffocating defense and play opportunistic defense like they did during last week’s win over Miami. The Texans are explosive enough on offense to put up big numbers with the passing attack but they must get Arian Foster and the ground game going this week in order to have success.
The Texans Lose If: They allow Gabbert and the Jaguars offense to gain early confidence. Gabbert put the Jags ahead with a late-game drive last week against Minnesota and any hint of early success against the Texans defense could be all the trouble they need. Offensively, the Texans have to back into fast start mode and if not could be another disappointing offensive day.