Hall of Fame
Join Date: Apr 2004
This doesn't promise to be a "GIMME."
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans had similar first halves of the season, splitting eight games and two in the division. That left both teams one game out of first place in the competitive AFC South.
That's why Sunday's matchup is a critical one within the division, and the Jaguars will be looking for their fourth straight home victory over the Texans.
Jacksonville (4-4) has endured two straight losing seasons and Houston (4-4) has yet to make the playoffs in its first eight. It's always difficult to contend in the South, which has been won by Indianapolis six times in the last seven years.
The Colts and Tennessee are both atop the division with 5-3 marks. Jacksonville and Houston are right behind them, and have 1-1 South marks.
The Jaguars are ready to get back to work after seeing the Colts and Texans lose during their bye week.
"Last home divisional game, coming off a bye week on a weekend we gained ground in our division, I don't think there's going to be any underestimating the importance of this game," defensive end Aaron Kampman said.
Jacksonville is relishing the chance to attack the Texans' league-worst defense after an impressive 35-17 win at Dallas on Oct. 31. David Garrard completed his first 12 passes, and finished 17 of 21 for 260 yards with a career-best four touchdown passes and one rushing score.
"We have to be able to build on it," Garrard said. "We can't just have one big game and turn around the other way. We have to be able to build on the confidence that we have now."
The Jaguars held a combined 292-183 advantage in rushing yards in sweeping two games from the Texans last season. Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 195 yards and two TDs in those games, and his 135 yards against the Cowboys marked his highest total since he had 177 against Tennessee last November.
Houston has dropped consecutive games to fall out of first place, losing 29-23 to San Diego last week. The Texans are allowing 399.5 yards per game, and coach Gary Kubiak is ready to make changes.
One of them is to move linebacker Brian Cushing back to his natural strong-side position after he filled in at middle linebacker for DeMeco Ryans, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Texans have registered two sacks in the las two games, and hope moving Cushing outside will help the pass rush.
"I didn't feel like anything was wrong, I just didn't feel like I was really playing the game that I can," Cushing said. "And now I'm moving back to SAM and doing the things that I'm good at, which is playing the edge and rushing the passer and doing those kinds of things."
Garrard threw for 452 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against Houston last year. Not forcing turnovers has been a problem for Houston, which has created eight to tie for the second-lowest total in the league.
"We've got to strip the ball out and try to make some big plays," Kubiak said. "To me, those things come in bunches. If you keep playing hard, you tend to find some. We haven't, so hopefully, in the back half of this season, we get a lot better from that standpoint."
The Texans figure to do a better job running the football this year with NFL leading rusher Arian Foster, who did not have a carry against the Jaguars in 2009. Foster ran for 127 yards and two scores last week, bringing his totals to 864 and nine for the season.
"They want to run the ball to set up the play-action pass game; make it look like run," said Kampman about the Texans. "They pick up big chunks that way. The key is making them one-dimensional. It's no secret. Stop the run and the play-action pass game doesn't look as effective."
Matt Schaub is 0-4 in his career against Jacksonville, throwing for seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
He'll try to attack a secondary that is part of the fifth-worst pass defense in the NFL, but one that coach Jack Del Rio feels is improving since second-year safeties Courtney Greene and Don Carey and second-year cornerback Derek Cox are growing accustomed to playing as a unit.
"Everything that you want as a football team in terms of opportunity is sitting right there in front us," Del Rio said.