(SportsRadio 610) - The Texans are 0-2, picked to lose by eight points to the Jaguars and destined to start 0-3 even though they haven’t lost on the road to Jacksonville since 2017. They achieved the 2019 road victory over the Jaguars in London.
Injuries are the primary reason for the Texans’ problems. Injuries have created massive issues in the offensive line and secondary.
DeMeco Ryans will try to do what his predecessors – Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, David Culley and Lovie Smith – accomplished over the last six seasons: Beat Jacksonville on the road.
The Jaguars are 1-1 after losing at home to Kansas City. Their defense played well. Their offense didn’t. They plan to use the Texans as a get-well game so they can stay in first place in the AFC South.
As for the Texans, they’re in last place, where they belong after losing by 16 and 11 points to Baltimore and Indianapolis.
Here are five things to watch as the Texans try to extend their road winning streak over the Jaguars to six games:
KEEP LAWRENCE FROM BOMBARDING SECONDARY
In his third season, quarterback Trevor Lawrence is coming off a mediocre game against the Chiefs and hopes to rebound against the injury-depleted Texans’ secondary.
Cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. (hamstring) and Tavierre Thomas (hand) are out for multiple games. Safety Jalen Pitre (lung) will miss a second consecutive game. Safety Jimmie Ward (hip) missed the first two games but is expected to make his debut.
There’s a lot of pressure on Grayland Arnold, who’ll replace Thomas in the slot, and Shaquill Griffin, who was kept over Desmond King II and is elevated to Singley’s starting role.
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke has experienced depth to be inserted into starting roles, but he can’t afford any more injuries. The defensive backs are going to have problems trying to cover Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley and Evan Engram.
PASS RUSHERS MUST PRESSURE LAWRENCE
The Texans’ defense is coming off a poor performance against the Colts, and it starts up front. No sacks. One hit on the quarterback. Not one tackle for loss.
It was an anemic effort after an impressive start against the Ravens. Will Anderson Jr., Jonathan Greenard and Jerry Hughes are ends who have to get heat on Trevor Lawrence. He likes to throw from the pocket although he can be effective rolling out or sliding to avoid the rush.
The Colts’ Gardner Minshew, another pocket passer, picked the defense apart after replacing the injured Anthony Richardson. The defense did a much better job against Lamar Jackson in the first game.
Tackles Maliek Collins and Sheldon Rankins have to up their game, or the Jaguars will crush them up the middle.
If that happens, the linebackers could be in trouble because the defense is missing the injured Denzel Perryman, the leading tackler. Rookie Henry To’oTo’o can slide into his normal position in the middle rather than play outside.
DEFENSE HAS TO IMPROVE AGAINST THE RUN
The Texans did a splendid job of stopping the run against the Ravens, keeping Lamar Jackson bottled up and allowing the backs to rush for 2.3 yards a carry.
Then the defense looked horrible against the Colts. Anthony Richardson ran for two touchdowns in the first quarter before leaving with a concussion.
The defensive players played like they had no clue Richardson could run so well even though they’d been coached on it all week.
The Colts outcoached the Texans in alarming fashion. The Texans couldn’t stop Colts running back Zack Moss (18 carries, 88 yards). They ran 23 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 5.5 yards a carry.
The Texans have surrendered six rushing touchdowns and a two-point conversion in two games. They have to keep from getting blown off the ball against Travis Etienne, who’s been limited to 117 yards and 3.9 a carry.
STROUD HAS TO GET MORE TIME TO THROW
Even though left tackle Laremy Tunsil could return after missing the Indianapolis game, remember C.J. Stroud was hit 10 times, including five sacks, in the first game against the Ravens.
Overall, Stroud has been hit 19 times, including 11 sacks. He’s on a pace to be sacked 93 times.
The receivers – especially Nico Collins (13 catches, 226 yards, 1 touchdown), Robert Woods (12 for 131) and Tank Dell (10 for 106 and one) – have been terrific at getting open and not dropping passes.
Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik is hamstrung because he knows the Texans can’t run the ball consistently, but he doesn’t want Stroud to get hit any more than he has been, so it affects the play calling.
Stroud has been outstanding when given a modicum of time to throw, but he’s shown he can be accurate when he doesn’t have enough time. Ideally, he won’t have to run on the move as much as he has been.
CAN TUNSIL MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Believe it or not, the Texans don’t have the worst running game in the NFL. It just seems that way.
They average 62 yards rushing. Three teams are worse. Their offensive line is getting manhandled.
Left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) is listed as questionable at Jacksonville. If he returns, that means Josh Jones could move back to left guard. Jones has struggled with penalties, run blocking and pass protection.
Until the run blocking and pass protection improve, don’t expect much from the offense, no matter how well C.J. Stroud continues to play. If he keeps getting hit so much, he’ll join Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson on the sideline with injuries.
Right guard Shaq Mason, who joins Tunsil as the two regular starting linemen, has to play better blocking for the run and pass. Because of problems up front, the Texans are unable to control the ball for long. Those issues are exacerbated in the red zone, where the Texans have failed miserably.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Monday, Thursday and Sunday on Texans Radio, also on SportsRadio 610. He writes five columns a week and does three Houtopia Football Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com.