The Houston Texans start the 2017 NFL season September 10th at home when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two teams met last season in Jacksonville as the Texans prevailed 24-21. Starting this season off on the right foot is key for not only the team, but the city of Houston as well. A win in week one can lift the spirits of a community that desperately needs it after the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. There is no doubt that the this will be an emotional game as Houston looks to feed off the energy from the home crowd. If the home crowd can carry the team to victory, it will be the first in what can be a successful season in Houston.
With Tom Savage as the starting quarterback in Houston, the Texans will focus on their rushing attack. The Texans rushing attack last season was one of the best in the NFL. Houston ranked eighth in yards (1,859) and yards per game (116.2), but 29th in touchdowns (eight) and 19th in yards per attempt (4.1). The approach last season was volume based rather than results based, as they ranked sixth in attempts last season with 456.
A run based attack will be a tough task for Houston as they face a capable Jaguars rush defense. The Jaguars had the 14th ranked rushing defense last season, allowing 106.4 yards per game. However Jacksonville also allowed the ninth-most rushing touchdowns with 17. This leaves open the opportunity for Houston to score on the ground rather than the air.
The Texans passing attack last season was less than stellar. Ranking 29th in passing yards per game (198.5), 30th in touchdowns (15) and 25th completion percentage (59.5). This is due to the average play of Brock Osweiler and Savage. Neither quarterback is overwhelming by any means and Savage could be just a placeholder for rookie Deshaun Watson.
A pass heavy offense is not beneficial for the Texans as Savage is relatively unproven as an NFL quarterback. In five career games, Savage has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 588 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Savage took over as the starter last season for a struggling Osweiler before suffering an injury ending his season.
If the Texans have trouble rushing the ball, passing the ball will not be any easier. On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars had one of the better pass defenses in the NFL last season. Jacksonville allowed the fifth-fewest yards per game through the air (215.2) and touchdowns allowed (20).
The Houston defense was one of the best units in the NFL last season. Allowing the 12th fewest yards rushing per game (99.7) and 13 rushing touchdowns which ranked 17th. Defending the pass is where the Texans made a name for themselves last season. Allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game (201.6) and fifth-fewest touchdown passes (20).
The absence of J.J. Watt last season played a role in their sack numbers as they only managed 31 sacks on the season, seventh-fewest in the NFL. There is little doubt that these numbers will improve as the presence of Watt puts pressure on the opposing offense. Pressure that allows others such as Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus to rush the passer.
Jacksonville had a poor passing attack last season, ranking 20th in passing yards per game and 16th in touchdowns with 24. With the selection of Leonard Fournette in the NFL Draft, Jacksonville will lean on the running game. Fournette looks to improve an attack which averaged the 11th fewest rushing yards per game (101.9) and 30th in rushing touchdowns (8). Blake Bortles was lackluster for Jacksonville last season and the coaching staff will look to emphasize the running game. This is due to the uncertain future of Bortles in Jacksonville.
In order for the Texans to win this week, they will need to have an effective rushing attack. This is due to the strong pass defense of the Jaguars and the relatively inexperienced Savage. An offense based on the run with play-action capability is best suited for this offensive unit. Utilizing Lamar Miller early and often will be beneficial to the Texans offense, not only in week one, but all season long.
Drawing the defense towards the line of scrimmage will ultimately help the passing game. As the defense comes closer, this will provide an advantage using play-action to get superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins open. Hopkins will be likely to see one-on-one matchups that will be advantageous.
Hopkins struggled during 2016 and is looking to rebound in 2017. For the Texans passing attack to be effective, Hopkins will have to be involved. Hopkins managed 78 receptions for 954 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. Last season was the worst for Hopkins since his rookie year we he caught 52 passes for 802 yards and two touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, Houston will need to shut down rookie running back Fournette and pressure Bortles. The trio of Watt, Clowney and Mercilus will pressure the struggling quarterback to make poor decisions. Decisions which can result in turnovers for the defense. Which will create chances for the offense to score quickly and dishearten the Jaguars offense.
It is likely that the Texans come out of week one with a victory. All that is necessary to accomplish this is to minimize the times that Savage has to throw the ball. Keeping the ball on the ground is the path to victory. This is in addition to shutting down the Jaguars offense which projects to be quite lackluster this season. A victory in week one at home will certainly boost the spirits of a fanbase that desperately needs it.