In past years, any type of win would have brought a smile to the Houston Texans and their fans. But as a sign of their recent success this season, Sunday’s 20-13 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars brought both satisfaction and dismay. Satisfaction at yet another dominant display by their No 1 defense and dismay at yet another injury to a key player.
In past years if you said that key player would be quarterback Matt Leinart, it would have raised a wry smirk. But with the Texans already missing their No 1 QB Matt Schaub, they could not afford to lose back up Leinart. Especially after Leinart had shown for the first 58 minutes of the game, that he may have been comfortable running this offense, showing signs of poise and maturity not shown in his previous career at Arizona.
Leinart had completed 10 of 13 passes up until that point, comfortably running play action plays, bootlegs and screens that are a usual part of the Texans’ offense. His best moment came in the second quarter where on a reverse rollout he withstood heavy pressure from Jaguars’ defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey to complete a pass to tight end Joel Dreessen for a 20 yard touchdown.
Leinart was not so lucky avoiding Mincey close to half time when Mincey drove him into the ground shoulder first, ending Leinart’s game and his season.
With Leinart’s injury the Texans’ hot defense will be asked to play to an even higher level if the Texans want to remain competitive in the final two months of the season. Based on their performance in this game their remaining rivals have plenty to be concerned about.
Admittedly the Jaguars’ offensive line was poor, overrun numerous times by an overwhelming pass rush. So overwhelming that it seemed to rattle rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert more and more as the game went on. Gabbert seemed jittery in the pocket and a few times seemed to unload the ball far too early before the pocket collapsed. At other times he seemed confused as to whether to run out of the pocket or throw the ball ending up simply awaiting the inevitable sack.
The pressure and confusion affected his passing as several passes were over thrown or lacked accuracy. One drive in the second quarter seemed to sum up his day. On the first play his pass was batted down by Texans’ linebacker Brian Cushing, the second play Gabbert completely over threw tight end Marcedes Lewis. The third play was again a poor throw and intercepted by Texans’ corner Jonathan Joseph.
Gabbert wasn’t totally to blame for the Jaguars’ offensive failings though. Lewis dropped one of the easiest touchdown passes he will ever be presented with in the second quarter. 2nd
and goal from the Texans’ three yard line Gabbert from play action lobbed a simple pass to Lewis who was completely on his own. Inexplicably Lewis dropped it, a problem Lewis seems to have had all too often this season. The Jaguars had to settle for a morale sapping field goal and barely threatened again.
Their offensive line could also shoulder some of the blame, too many times Texan defenders found themselves in the backfield all too easily. On a couple of the Texans’ defense seven sacks Jaguars’ lineman seemed to have initial control of the rushing defender but the Texans’ second effort was better and more desperate resulting in them able to avoid their initial block. Too many times the Texans’ had three pass rushing defenders beat five blockers.
It was left to the Jaguars injury depleted defense to keep them in the game. Their only touchdown came courtesy of Ashton Youboty’s 38 yard fumble return on the Texans’ opening drive of the game when running back Arian Foster fumbled for the first time in 172 carries this season.
Despite missing five starters including key players Rashean Mathis, Clint Sessions and Matt Roth the Jaguars’ defense was able to keep Texans’ potent running game under control. Apart from an excellent 43 yard run by Foster in the first quarter highlighted by great blocks from pulling guard Wade Smith and full back Lawrence Vickers, the Jaguars were able to keep Foster unusually quiet.
It didn’t help though when Leinart went down and was replaced by third string rookie T J Yates. The Texans didn’t ask much of Yates who was rarely asked to throw longer than 6-8 yards. This allowed the Jaguars’ defense to focus more on stopping Foster. The Texans remained scoreless in the second half and was content to leave it up to their rampant defense to defend their half time lead.
Led by four sacks from hybrid linebacker Connor Barwin and tremendous pressure from players such as JJ Watt, Cushing and Brooks Reed , Gabbert and the Jaguars didn’t look like ever threatening the Texans’ lead. Gabbert’s confidence was so rattled by the fourth quarter that coach Del Rio felt compelled to end his misery and replace Gabbert with Luke McCown.
McCown, making his first start since week two, was more successful leading Jaguars on a eight play 49 yard drive for a field goal, in their only score of the second half.
In the Jaguars’ final drive of the game, as they strived to level the scores, McCown completed two excellent deep passes, a 21 yard pass to Jarret Dillard and then a 25 yard pass to Lewis. However the key play of the drive was Connor Barwin’s fourth and final sack of the game. The Jaguars had 2nd
and 14 in midfield when with a huge bull rush Barwin willed himself to a crucial sack resulting in a 13 yard loss. With 3rd
and 27 Lewis’ catch fell short of the first down and the Jaguars eventually turned it over on downs.
The Texans will need similar heroics from their defense in coming weeks, especially against strong offenses such as the Falcons and Bengals to continue their pursuit of their first division title. Watching the two Matts on the sideline brought the realization that it was going to be a difficult task.