McClain: Texans in familiar role as underdogs against Jaguars

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(SportsRadio 610) - The Texans are 0-3-1 after losing 34-24 to the Chargers at NRG Stadium.

Here are the weekly Texans observations as they prepare for Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.

PIERCE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE

In the last two losses against the Bears and Chargers, Dameon Pierce has 34 carries for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Sunday’s 75-yard touchdown run helped elevate his average per carry to 6.2 in those games. Even without that touchdown, he averaged 4.1.

For the season, Pierce is 10th in the NFL with 313 yards rushing – the most by a rookie. He’s on a pace for 1,331. The Texans’ record for a rookie is 1,282 by Steve Slaton in 2008, their third season under Gary Kubiak.

Pierce’s 5.2-yard average per carry is sixth among running backs. His 15 first downs are eighth.

USING PIERCE AS A RECEIVER

Speaking of Dameon Pierce, he also has eight receptions in the last two games but averages only 3.6 per catch. Usually, he gets the ball in the flat as a checkdown when Davis Mills can’t find an open receiver. Pierce always has at least one defensive player on him.

Pep Hamilton should try to get the ball to Pierce on designed plays in the passing game so he can operate in space.

Pierce caught the ball well at Florida. Last season, he had 19 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 11.4 yards a catch. He’s shown since he arrived as a fourth-round pick that he’s ready, willing and able to take on whatever assignment he’s given.

Through four games, he’s become the team’s best weapon on offense.

A RIDICULOUS DECISION BY COACHES

Against the Chargers, the Texans got the ball back down by 10 with 16 seconds left. Quarterback Justin Herbert had taken a knee at the Texans’ 32. For some reason, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had Dameon Pierce take a meaningless handoff for a 2-yard gain on the last play.

If you’re not going to have Davis Mills take a knee on the last play, then Rex Burkhead should have been on the field for the handoff.

Imagine if Pierce had suffered an injury. How preposterous would that decision have been? That decision made no sense.

SHOUTOUTS FOR BLOCKING AGAINST CHARGERS

Three players in particular deserve praise for their blocking against the Chargers – fullback Troy Hairston, receiver Nico Collins and tight end O.J. Howard.

On Dameon Pierce’s 75-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Hairston, Collins and Howard made terrific blocks that helped spring him around the right side and allowed him to explode down the sideline for a score that pulled the Texans within 21-7.

Hairston, 5-11, 245 is a rookie who played linebacker at Central Michigan. He  continues to improve as a lead blocker. He’s got a nasty streak, likes to hit defenders and loves to finish blocks.

In his second season, Collins also continues to improve as a blocker. At 6-4, 225, he’s got the size to take on defensive players and continues to impress the coaches. He had three catches for 82 yards, including a 58-yarder that set up a Davis Mills touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks in the fourth quarter.

Collins is getting open. Twice against the Chargers, he got open only to have Mills overthrow him. In his last two games, Collins has five catches for 123 yards, a 24.6-yard average. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton needs to make sure Mills targets Collins more, beginning at Jacksonville.

Howard, 6-6, 251, was acquired before the season. He caught two touchdown passes in the tie with the Colts. He has only five catches for 72 yards, but his blocking shows he’s willing to contribute in other ways.

GREEN NEEDS TO BOUNCE BACK AGAINST JAGUARS

Rookie left guard Kenyon Green had a difficult time in pass protection against the Chargers. Too often, he struggled trying to protect Davis Mills. Green is a fierce run blocker, but his pass protection needs a lot of improvement.

Green also was called for three penalties, two that were accepted. On the second series of the game, the Texans were at the Chargers’ 44. They trailed 7-0 and faced third-and-11. Mills completed a 22-yard pass to Brandin Cooks to the 22, but Green was called for holding. One sack later, they had to punt.

Green’s frustration boiled over late in the game. On the first play after the two-minute warning and with the Texans down by 10, he had allowed a sack. On fourth-and-16, Mills had to throw it up for grabs and was intercepted. Green was called for holding and unnecessary roughness after the play. The Chargers accepted the roughness call before taking a knee on four consecutive plays.

Green’s coaches like his talent and his willingness to get better. Mistakes are part of a rookie’s maturation process. Expect to see Green improve his pass protection and to keep his cool.

NO LONGER LAST AGAINST THE RUN

Believe it or not, by allowing a season-low 81 yards rushing against the Chargers, the Texans aren’t last against the run this week. They went from 202.3 yards a game to 172. The Bears are last, giving up 183.3.

The Texans also improved in rushing, averaging 95 yards. The Jaguars are eighth against the run, surrendering 93.8 yards, including 3.6 a carry.

A FAMILIAR ROLE AS THE UNDERDOG

The Texans have an eight-game winning streak over the Jaguars, but they’re 6 ½-point underdogs at Jacksonville.

Last season, David Culley’s first and only season as coach, the Texans were decisive underdogs in both games, including the season opener at NRG Stadium. They defeated the Jaguars 37-21 at home and 30-16 on the road – half of their four victories.

During the eight-game winning streak, Bill O’Brien won four as the head coach, Romeo Crennel two as the interim coach in 2020 and Culley two last season. The Texans average 26.6 points to Jacksonville’s 12.6. In the last four games, the Texans average 31 and allow 21.5.

The last time the Jaguars beat the Texans was 2017 when Jacksonville reached the AFC Championship Game and lost at New England.

With Doug Pederson in his first season as their coach and Trevor Lawrence in his second season as their quarterback, the Jaguars expect to end the losing streak and begin one of their own.

John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com. He also can be read four times a week on GallerySports.com.

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