1. Shaun Cody
The Texans defense struggled to defend Reggie Bush and the Dolphins running game in their season opener last weekend. Don’t think for a second that new Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey didn’t notice. The Jags should look to establish the running game early and they have one of the toughest “three yards and a cloud of dust” running backs to pound the interior of the Texans defensive line in Maurice Jones-Drew.
MJD, fresh off an extended contract holdout, looked like he hadn’t missed a beat rushing for 77 yards in their season opener at Minnesota. Look for him to get even more carries Sunday. It will be up to Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell to clog those running lanes and force the Jags to rely on their passing game.
2. Connor Barwin
If the Texans can stop the Jags rushing game and get out to a 10 point lead, they’ll have Jacksonville right where they want them. Blaine Gabbert has made big improvements after a disastrous rookie season, but the last thing the Jaguars want to do is rely on him taking 5-7 step drops against the Texans ferocious pass rush.
That’s where Connor Barwin comes in. Barwin will make life miserable if the Jags have to play catch up. Jacksonville’s starting right tackle, Cameron Bradfield, is out for Sunday’s game. Look for Wade Phillips to exploit that and for Barwin to make Gabbert pay.
3. Derek Newton
Once again, Newton is in the spotlight. Jags defensive end Charles Mincey is of the more underrated pass rushers in the league. On a better team, he would get Pro Bowl consideration.
Newton passed his first test of the season last week, keeping Cameron Wake from getting up close and personal with Matt Schaub. The Texans will need another solid effort from Newton to keep Mincey out of the pocket this weekend.
Follow Robert Hensley on Twitter: @sportsradiorh