Jags look to avoid season sweep to Texans at Wembley Stadium
The Jacksonville/London Jaguars welcome their division rivals, the Houston Texans, to their home away from home of Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday morning. The AFC South has quickly turned into the most competitive division in the NFL, as no team has a losing record and every team is in the playoff hunt. Every divisional game from here on out will have a playoff quality to it — even in faraway, foggy London Town. Both the Jags (4-4) and the Texans (5-3) are coming off big wins a week ago thanks to great performances from their quarterbacks, and both teams are looking to keep the momentum rolling into the second half of the season.
Houston vs. Jacksonville
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 3, 9:30 a.m ET
Where: Wembley Stadium (London, England)
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Texans -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Texans' stampeding running attack
Deshaun Watson has proven to be one of the league’s best and most exciting young players, putting himself squarely in the MVP conversation, but he hasn’t done it all by himself. The Texans’ collective rushing attack has quietly put together a rather impressive season, complementing the passing attack by ranking sixth in yards per game (133.6) and seventh in yards per rush (4.8).
No Houston runner has eye-popping numbers this season. The starting running back and leading rusher, Carlos Hyde, is averaging 68 yards per contest, while Watson and backup running back Duke Johnson are averaging just north of 30 yards on the ground apiece. But those numbers don’t tell the full story. Both Watson and Johnson are averaging more than five yards per carry, an impressive mark for a quarterback and a backup back. Watson has been especially dangerous, running for five touchdowns and picking up 17 first downs this season with his feet.
If Houston can establish a running game against a Jaguars defense that struggles to stop the run (4.7 yards per carry), Watson should be able to set up deep throws with play action.
2. A tale of two pass rushes
Both Watson and Gardner Minshew have been running for their lives from opposing defenses all season long, and really, since they’ve been in the league. Houston’s struggles to protect Watson have been well-documented, and last week, Watson was sacked three more times by the Raiders.
Since Watson entered the league a few years ago, no other quarterback has been sacked or hit more frequently.
This season is more of the same, as the Texans’ offensive line has surrendered 24 sacks (25th in NFL) and forced Watson to scramble out of the pocket more than almost any other quarterback in the league. This week, the Texans offense faces a Jags defense that recorded eight sacks against the Jets a week ago.
If anyone knows what Watson is going through, it’s the rookie Minshew. Jacksonville quarterbacks have been forced to scramble out of the pocket at the second-most frequent rate in the league this season. With J.J. Watt out for the rest of the season (again) with a torn pectoral, the Jags’ offensive line can now concentrate on doubling up on the dangerous Whitney Mercilus coming off the edge for Houston. Advantage: Jacksonville.
3. Houston's battered secondary
The only area for the Texans that has been exposed more than their offensive line is their defensive secondary. On Sunday, the Texans will likely have just one regular starter take the field against the Jaguars in safety Justin Reid. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph’s return is still up in the air as of now. With Lonnie Johnson ruled out with a concussion and Gareon Conley and Bradley Roby limited in practice, even if Joseph returns, the Texans’ secondary is still alarmingly thin. With Watt out and Mercilus likely occupied by double teams, Minshew should have plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers against a Texans defense that has allowed 13 passing touchdowns in the last four games.
With both teams so evenly matched and with so much on the line, this game is as close to a toss-up as we have seen in the NFL this season. It could all come down to what young gunslinger can make the most plays with the game on the line. So, give me the MVP candidate quarterback in Watson and his group of talented wide receivers headlined by DeAndre Hopkins to sweep the season series against Jacksonville.
Prediction: Texans 23, Jaguars 21
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.