ReFo: Jaguars @ Texans, Week 12
No-one surely would have predicted that in Week 12 the Jacksonville Jaguars would have been coming in to Houston to claim a victory that put the Texans bottom of the AFC South with a 2-9 record that keeps them in the hunt for number one overall pick. Not even the Texans biggest doubters in pre-season would surely have predicted such a precipitous fall from grace for a team that looked well placed to at least be in the mix with the Colts in the AFC South. This was just another bloody nose for the Texans in a season that can’t end soon enough.
Clinching their second road victory within the division this season repeating their blueprint from last week in their home loss to the Cardinals by jumping out to a fast start establishing a 10 point lead but this time holding that lead, never surrendering the big plays that killed their chance of snatching consecutive victories last week. This was far from a polished performance by the Jaguars, but it showed the grit and determination to fight and maximize the plays they could make that some, including myself, had expected to see from them this season. Don’t be surprised if they play spoiler for somebody down the stretch. There are still clear and obvious flaws in this team yet they are giving themselves a puncher’s chance each time they step on the field at present.
Jacksonville – Three Performances of Note
Jones-Drew gets in the groove
The one constant for Maurice Jones-Drew this season has been solid pass protection this week he seized the opportunity to make a telling contribution with the ball in his hands. Providing 144 all purpose yards Jones-Drew provided the Jaguars’ second longest play of the game on a 44 yard carry that took him past the well blocked J.J. Watt (one of the few times Jacksonville contained Watt on a run play) up the left side and through into the secondary, untouched until he encountered Shiloh Keo. This one run accounted for more than half of Jones-Drew’s yardage with the other 40 yards coming on 13 carries of hard graft including his one yard score that opened the scoring. Reminding us all of his tremendous versatility and all-round game he added value as a receiver snagging 60 yards on six targets (all caught) both from the backfield and out wide drawing favorable matchups against the Texans’ linebackers.
Success Marshalling the Outside
Much of the talk entering this season was of how the addition of DeAndre Hopkins would add a second legitimate threat to the Houston passing game and only make Andre Johnson more dangerous on the opposite side. That hasn’t quite panned out this season and the Jaguars secondary rose to the occasion to make both receivers a non-factor for Case Keenum this week. On the outside Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball were targeted a combined seven times surrendering only three catches for 27 yards with Ball also walking away with a pass defense (his eighth in the Jaguars’ last four games). The only blot on Ball’s copybook was a missed tackle on running back Dennis Johnson behind the line of scrimmage on a swing pass while Gratz was bested for one first down by Andre Johnson on a slant. This entirely new Jacksonville secondary took some time to come together but with strong play at the corners from these two, another solid outing from Josh Evans and John Cyprien at safety this is a unit that is starting to grow as individuals and together as a unit.
Eye opener for the offensive line
There are some standout performers in the NFL right now on defense however none are playing consistently to the level that J.J. Watt is playing to week in and week out. The Jaguars have had some bright spots on the offensive line in recent weeks with right tackle Austin Pasztor showing particularly well in pass protection, but the entire line was given an eye opener to the whole other level that Watt is playing at right now. Starting with Pasztor on the right side, whose struggles continued in run blocking consistently bested by Watt as he surrendered three of Watt’s eight stops both to the inside and the outside with another nullified by a penalty. He also surrendered a trio of pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 1 Hu) though it shows the measure of Pasztor’s performances in pass protection that a -0.7 pass protection grade is his worst of the season to date. The other players to suffer chiefly at the hands of Watt were left tackle Cameron Bradfield (3 Ht) and right guard Uche Nwaneri who surrendered a hit and three defensive stops against the run to his outside, his inside and one through a bullrush. Unfortunate as it might be facing Watt twice a season is a reality for Jacksonville, a reality that they will need to learn from the lumps they took this time around to rebound and do better when they welcome him to Jacksonville in two weeks time.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Mercilus Re-Emerges But Can He Build on it this Time?
Opposite J.J. Watt’s stunning display was a fleeting remind from Whitney Mercilus of the form that Houston had hoped to see from him more regularly this season. After a steady start to the season I wondered aloud whether his Week 4 performance against Seattle (+4.0) would prove to be the start of a breakout season for the second year player. To this point it hasn’t been with his +1.3 pass rush grade this week his first positively graded game as a pass rusher since that heartbreaking defeat to the Seahawks. This week’s performance has bumped Mercilus’ Pass Rushing Productivity metric up to 9.2 which is still only good for 23rd among all 3-4 outside linebackers as a measure for how ineffective his season has been. As with that Week 4 display against Paul McQuistan, Mercilus took advantage of a favorable matchup in this game but rarely looked like tearing past Bradfield at left tackle to make the incisive play that might have sparked the Texans to life. There was more solid work against the run in a well rounded performance but the question must be asked again if this is the start of a strong close to the season or another isolated display?
Swearinger Makes his Mark Moving Forwards
After an up and down first half rookie safety D.J. Swearinger made his mark in the second half with an impressive display attacking the line of scrimmage, even coming the closest to making the decisive play that might have swung the game the Texans’ way. That play of course was his excellent read of a screen intended for Kerry Taylor in the right flat. Closing late to the line of scrimmage, after Chad Henne had made his final read and adjustment, Swearinger jumped the play and was able to get inside of former college team-mate Ace Sanders unattended to break on the screen pass knocking it down and almost getting enough of the ball to come up with the turnover. This excellent play against the pass was paired with two subsequent stops in the run game and another play standing up Will Ta’ufo’ou on a third down late in the fourth quarter. Steady would be a fair description of Swearinger’s rookie season to date, more plays like this made downhill could swing that description further forwards and offer one of the bright spots for the Texans this season.
A New Johnson Provides the Rare Spark on Offense
While the Jaguars’ secondary kept Andre Johnson quiet for most of the game undrafted free agent Dennis Johnson turned in a noteworthy performance at running back in only his fourth career game. Earning a career high 22 snaps Johnson (+2.0) provided more spark on the ground than starter Ben Tate and, like Jones-Drew on the opposite sideline, showed some life in the passing game with a lively reception beating two defenders for a 9 yard gain early in the second quarter. It was in the running game where he found more consistent success making use of the strong blocking from Chris Myers (+3.8 run block) and Brandon Brooks (+2.1 run block) to gain 62 yards on nine carries around those two blockers including three missed tackles. Positives were few and far between for Houston in this game but Johnson’s lively display was certainly one of them.
– Is it reaching the point where J.J. Watt producing a spectacular performance is no longer a “Performance of Note”? Possibly, just a +11.6 overall grade this week with six pressures (1 Sk, 5 Ht) and eight stops against the run.
– Ryan Davis’ spectacular effort to intercept the pass dropped by Keshawn Martin to close out the game cannot go without note. Peeling back from his pass rush he lunged one handed diving through the air snatching the ball away from Martin as he looked to re-gather, closing out the win.
– Metronomic on short passes Chad Henne went 21-of-25 for 212 yards on passes aimed within nine yards of the line of scrimmage.
PFF Game Ball
Another astonishing game by Watt, but complete games at running back are rare and Maurice Jones-Drew put in just such a game sparkling as a runner (+0.7), receiver (+2.2) and as a blocker (+0.5) to round out the set.
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