3TFO: Jaguars @ Texans, Week 12
The Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Houston this week to try to get their second win of the season, one that would once again be at a divisional opponent’s stadium after beating the Titans in Week 10. On the home side, the Texans will try to end their eight-loss streak. They were close in the last four games, being defeated by an average 3 points. Right now these teams are in possession the first two spots in the 2014 draft so this game could be important to decide which team gets the first pick.
Both teams have their backup quarterbacks in as starters, but their situations are completely different. Case Keenum has energized the Texans’ offense and could be making his case to be the starter next season, while Chad Henne is just a veteran QB providing a stop-gap until a new hope-to-be franchise quarterback arrives. Jacksonville come to the game as the underdog, but their defense is playing better lately and they could surprise a Houston team that has had problems in close games.
Andre Johnson vs. Jaguars Cornerbacks
Covering Andre Johnson is the biggest concern for opposing defenses when they face the Texans. Without Arian Foster he remains the best playmaker in the offense, and is playing like one of the best in the league. At +16.3 Johnson has the second-highest receiving grade and ranks third in Yards Per Route Run with 2.52. The change at quarterback affected his role in the offense in one important area — deep passing. Since Keenum took over in Week 7, Johnson has been targeted downfield 10 times, which represents 20.8% of his total targets. Before that he had just two deep targets in 63 total targets (3.2%). In the past four games he has caught five of those 10 throws with two drops for 209 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, Johnson has dropped just three passes — he ranks seventh in Drop Rate at 4.0, but all of them came in deep passes. So it’s as much impressive that he’s caught 67 balls in passes traveling less than 20 yards in the air without a single drop as that he’s dropped 37.5% of the catchable throws he saw downfield.
The Jaguars will face a great challenge in Johnson. Their starting cornerbacks will get to see a bit of him each because they play sides, with Alan Ball on the right and Dwayne Gratz on the left. The rookie came back to the starting lineup after the bye week and had his best game so far against Tennessee with a +2.5 grade in coverage, allowing two completions on three targets for 21 yards and one interception. He couldn’t maintain that level last week against Arizona giving up 98 yards in four catches for a -2.0 coverage grade in just 38 snaps. On the other side, Ball comes from his two best games of the season. He earned a combined coverage grade of +4.9, allowed 43.8% of completion and surrendered 0.92 Yards Per Cover Snap with six passes defended.
Who Stops Watt?
Andre Johnson is a big challenge for any team in the league, but his teammate J.J. Watt is arguably the biggest challenge in the NFL right now. He is an unstoppable force that has to find yet the immovable object that could stop him or at least slow him down. In Week 6 the Rams kept him quiet by making him earn the worst grade of the last two season at +0.2 by running away from him all game long, as Sam Monson broke down in his Analysis Notebook. That’s always an option for the Jaguars, but after two consecutive games grading over +10.0 you can’t underestimate how disruptive Watt is even when you try to avoid him.
The task will be up to right side of the offensive line where Watt plays 70% of the time, with Uche Nwaneri at guard and Austin Pasztor at tackle. Both players are performing better in pass blocking, with Pasztor leading all offensive tackles (at least 25% of the snaps) in Pass Blocking Efficiency at 97.8 and Nwaneri tied for 15th out of 59 guards with 16 pressures allowed in 411 snaps. It is exactly the opposite in run blocking where both of them rank among the worst at their position in run blocking grade. The Jaguars’ offensive line rank 31st in our Offensive Lines Rankings and their inability to create space for their running backs is the most important reason. Running away from Watt may be the best idea for this game.
Cecil Shorts vs. Jonathan Joseph
Cecil Shorts has played over 90% of the snaps in every game but Week 6 when he injured his shoulder he played just four snaps. His grade (+3.5) is one of the few bright spots in Jacksonville on offense, but he’s seen his targets go down in the past two games — he averaged 12 per game compared to eight total in the past two. This Sunday he’ll face another good cornerback in Jonathan Joseph after going against Alterraun Verner and Patrick Peterson. Joseph (+4.2) ranks 19th in coverage among CBs, is in the Top 10 in completion percentage (47.5%) and is tied for 15th in passes defended (7).
In their meeting in Week 11 last season, Shorts was targeted twice when covered by Joseph and came away with one catch for 9 yards, so you could call that a draw. This Sunday we could watch a lot more action between these two players after Shorts asked for more targets following the loss to the Cardinals. So it’ll be a matchup to keep an eye on.
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