Here are five things to watch when the Texans (4-3) take on the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) at Reliant Stadium in Week 8. The Texans are 7-5 all-time in their Battle Red jerseys, including 4-2 against Jacksonville.
1. Rookie welcome: Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert is the first of three rookie quarterbacks the Texanns will face in the next eight weeks. Drafted with the 10th overall pick, Gabbert became the Jaguars’ starter in Week 3. He has a 1-4 record and has completed 48.3 percent of his passes with 810 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 69.4 rating.
Expect to see plenty of pressure from Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense on Sunday. Gabbert has been sacked 17 times in five starts, and the Texans are tied for fourth in the league with 19 sacks. Defensive end leads the Texans with 4.5 sacks. Linebacker and defensive ends and all have two sacks apiece.
Barwin moved to the weakside last Sunday, swapping with Reed, who moved to the strongside. The result: Reed notched his first-career sack, and Barwin had an active day that included two tipped passes at the line of scrimmage.
2. All about MJD: Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL with 677 rushing yards, carrying a Jaguars offense that ranks last in total yards (252.4) and passing yards (128.4) per game and 31st in scoring (12.0 points).
The two-time Pro Bowler has averaged 107.3 yards from scrimmage, almost half of the Jaguars’ total weekly output. He has been a model of consistency this season, with at least 84 rushing yards in every game and an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
Since becoming a starter in 2009, Jones-Drew has two 100-yard rushing games in three tries against the Texans. He averaged 98.3 rushing yards (4.2 per carry) with five rushing touchdowns in those three games, all Jaguars victories. The Texans rank seventh in the NFL in rushing defense this season after limiting Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to 18 yards on 10 carries last week.
3. Texans ground game: With All-Pro wide out yet again because of a hamstring injury, the Texans will rely on their running game to move the ball on offense.
ran for 115 yards and 119 had receiving yards last week, becoming the 32nd player in NFL history with 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game. He was the eighth player to accomplish the feat in the last 10 years.
Foster had averaged only 3.2 yards per carry in the previous two games and said he just now feels he’s getting into football shape after an early-season hamstring injury. He and backup , who has three 100-yard games this season, will be a handful for a Jaguars defense that ranks sixth overall (299.7 yards per game) and 10th against the run (103.4).
4. Spreading the wealth: Johnson will miss his fourth consecutive game this week. The Texans have gone 1-2 in his absence, using a wide variety of receiving targets along the way.
Foster, tight ends and and wide receivers and have all had 75-yard receiving days in the last four weeks. Foster has two 100-yard receiving games, including a 119-yard effort last Sunday. Quarterback completed passes to seven different receivers last week.
Underscoring just how important Johnson is to the offense, it took three-and-a-ahlf games after his injury for someone to pass him as the Texans’ leading receiver. Daniels now has 27 catches for 355 yards on the season, just ahead of Johnson’s 25 catches and 352 yards.
5. Replacing Manning: Sunday’s game will be the Texans’ first of at least four without free safety , who fractured his left fibula in Week 7 at Tennessee.
Third-year safety will replace Manning in the starting lineup. He’ll be backed up by , who was signed this week and will likely play on third downs in nickel situations. Rookie safety and rookie cornerback also could see time at safety.
Nolan, a third-year pro, has played in every game this season. A seventh-round draft pick in 2009, he had 10 interceptions in two years at Arizona State and three interceptions last season. Kubiak likes the progress he has made under first-year Texans defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.
Manning has been a big part of the Texans’ improved pass defense this season, helping them improve from 32nd in the league in 2010 to sixth this season. The sixth-year veteran has two interceptions and 32 tackles since signing from the Chicago Bears as a free agent.
Manning also ranks sixth in the league with 27.4 yards per kickoff return. Cornerback , Demps or wide receiver Jacoby Jones could return kickoffs for the Texans. Jones or Demps could return punts.