Five things to watch: Texans vs. Jaguars

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.

Thursday notebook: Injuries aplenty for Jags, Texans

Late-season injuries have shaken up the Texans and Jaguars’ lineups heading into their regular-season finale at Reliant Stadium.

The Jaguars already know they’ll be without quarterback David Garrard, who has a finger injury in his throwing hand. They also could be without Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who has yet to practice this week because of a knee injury that sidelined him in Week 16.

Fourth-year quarterback Trent Edwards will start in Garrard’s place.

“I just studied him coming out of college (at Stanford),” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Thursday. “He’s got a very good arm and moves very well, so he fits what they do. So I imagine that we’ll see the same stuff they do with David.”

The Texans placed rookie linebacker on injured reserve on Wednesday and ruled out rookie cornerback on Thursday. will start at middle linebacker in Sharpton’s place. Wide receiver will be counted on to contribute with ’s status up in the air.

“We probably are going to have some new faces step up,” Kubiak said. “We’ve just got to go out there and play with the same effort we’ve been playing with and we’ve got to find a way to make a few more plays. They are a very physical football team. Every time we get together with them, it’s very physical. Our focus is good today.”

Milestones within reach
Despite the Texans’ disappointing 5-10 record, running back and quarterback have a chance to achieve rare statistical milestones on Sunday.

Foster needs 56 rushing yards and four receiving yards to become the sixth player in NFL history with 1,500 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in the same season. Schaub needs 103 passing yards to become the fifth player in history with 9,000 yards in a two-year period.

“We talk about having balance as an offense, and… (that) tells you that we went out there and got some of those things accomplished,” Kubiak said. “It says a lot about the job that has been done by a lot of people, but the credit needs to go to those guys up front. They’ve done a hell of a job.”

Under the direction of John Benton, the Texans’ offensive line has paved the way for Foster to lead the league in rushing this season. They helped Schaub lead the league in passing in 2009.

Support for Kubiak
A day after former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips gave a ringing endorsement of Kubiak, players also came to his defense in the locker room on Thursday.

“I think he’s done so much for this organization,” tight end said. “The Texans weren’t winners until he came in. We haven’t been a losing team for three years until things kind of didn’t work out for us this year. But he’s really turned the culture around here. He’s gotten the right guys in here to get where we want to get. That probably goes a little unnoticed or is overlooked just because all of the things that have happened this year.”

Jacoby Jones was asked if the best statement the team can make in favor of keeping Kubiak would be to go out and win on Sunday.

“We love Coach,” Jones said. “He’s a great coach. He’s one of the best coaches I ever had. If that what it takes, we are going to go out and bust our behinds and get this W.”

Health check
Kicker (right hamstring) did not practice for the second consecutive day, but that has been the norm in recent weeks. Johnson (ankle) was the only other Texan to sit out.

Defensive tackle (knee), linebacker (knee/foot), tight end (hamstring), defensive tackle (ankle) and safety (shoulder) were limited in practice.