In their first game of the 2017 NFL season, the Houston Texans host the Jacksonville Jaguars. On paper it appears that the Texans will come away victorious with little resistance from the Jaguars. Even so, there are areas that must be the focus of the game to come away with a win in week one.
1. Contain Leonard Fournette
The Jaguars selected the highly touted rookie in the first round of the NFL Draft. Leonard Fournette displayed his highlight reel capability while at LSU, if he shows any flashes of this in week one the Texans defense could be in for a long day. Luckily for the Texans, they were the 12th ranked rush defense in 2016 and that was without J.J. Watt for 13 games. The return of Watt to the defensive line will make the run defense stronger and should contain Fournette.
2. Force Blake Bortles to Throw the Ball
After what appeared to be a breakout campaign in 2015, reality set in and 2016 and Blake Bortles was an average NFL quarterback. Bortles was only able to complete 58.9 percent of his passes for 3.728 yards, 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Bortles ranks in the bottom half of all the key statistics for an NFL quarterback. If Houston is able to contain Fournette and force Bortles to pass, the defense will have done their job. Bortles is not accurate and is interception prone, having thrown 51 interceptions in three seasons. Bortles is not talented enough to lead the offense by himself and Houston must force him to do that.
3. Minimize the Impact of Duane Brown’s Absence
Left tackle Duane Brown has decided to continue his holdout into the season. What this means is that new starting quarterback Tom Savage will not have the former All-Pro blocking for him. Starting in the absence of Brown is Kendall Lamm, who has started seven games in two seasons. The issue with Brown’s absence is that the Texans were fifth overall in rushes behind the left tackle last season. Running plays ran behind Brown last season accounted for 11 percent of total rushes, the most for any running play not between the guards. Without Brown running plays ran behind left tackle will not be effective.
4. Ground and Pound
Lamar Miller had a productive first year in Houston, rushing 1,073 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games, while Alfred Blue added 420 yards rushing and one touchdown. The Jacksonville defense was ranked 19th in yards allowed last season and allowed 17 rushing touchdowns which was ninth-most. Attacking the overall weak run defense of the Jaguars will allow Houston to dictate the style and pace of the game. This will tire out the defense and allow the offense to get big runs in the fourth quarter which can take more time off the clock and secure the victory.
5. Limit Tom Savage’s Pass Attempts
Tom Savage has thrown a total of 92 passes in his career, not exactly a number that jumps off the page. The amount of time Savage has actually played during a game is limited and it is difficult to get an accurate perception of his ability. Savage ranked 48th in yards per attempt last season with an average of 6.3. This shows that Savage is not able to throw the ball down the field and must rely on short and mid-range passes. Luckily for Savage he has two reliable targets in DeAndre Hopkins and C.J. Fiedorowicz who can feast on the Jaguars defense in this area of the field. Although if the Texans get in a situation where they have to play from behind they could be in trouble.
The five keys to this week’s game appear to simple and could be applied to any opponent. While this is true, if a team is unable to accomplish relatively simple tasks, they will not win a lot of games. This holds true to the Houston Texans not only for this week, but for the entire season.