The Battle for Third Place

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September 25, 2003
The Battle for Third Place
by Jimmy Mohr

The Texans battle the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium Sunday, needing a win to stay out of the AFC South cellar. Then again, the Texans looked like solid last place contenders last week against Kansas City in their Reliant opener. With the Chief loss, the Texans have now strung together two pathetic second half performances in a row.

Fortunately, this Sunday, they face a Jaguars team that has yet to string together much of anything this season.

The Texans committed a season high four turnovers last week, twice as many as they had in their first two games combined. They also allowed a defensive touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown and were flagged ten times.

One of the few bright spots was the play of first round pick, WR Andre Johnson. Fantasy football nerds are likely falling all over themselves this week trying to add him to their roster; he leads the team in receptions (18), yards (249) and touchdowns (2). His size and willingness to fight for the extra yard poses a serious threat to opposing defenses. Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney have combined for only one more reception than Johnson.

The Texans’ offense is going to have to control the ball to compensate for injuries to their defensive front, keepingthe pigskin away from Fred Taylor. Gary Walker is playing, but still hampered by a shoulder injury. The Chiefs rushed for 168 yards last week, and that was with Priest Holmes on the sideline for much of the second half.

The Jaguars are off to their worst start ever. Aging QB Mark Brunell is doing his best to fend off rookie Byron Leftwich, who worked with the first team on Wednesday and could get his first NFL start if Brunell can’t go due to an injured elbow. Brunell and the Jaguars offense managed only 13 points last week despite 126 yards from Taylor.

The Jaguars’ defense has given up 85 points in three games and allowed nearly a 50% success rate on third down. They have done a decent job stopping the run, though, allowing 79.3 yards per game.

What to Expect

When the Texans have the ball…
The only thing going well for the Texans offense right now is Andre Johnson. RB Stacey Mack has only 159 yards rushing and zero touchdowns in three games. In fact, the only rushing touchdown this season belongs to David Carr. The Texans’ playcalling remains dumbfounding. Last week, Chris Palmer called a pass play on 3rd and 1 during the Texans’ first drive of the second half. Carr was intercepted and the game soon snowballed out of control. If the Texans expect to have a chance this week, they will have to have success running the ball against one of the better run-stopping teams.

When the Jags have the ball…
Starting QB Mark Brunell is recovering from a cut that required stitches on his throwing elbow last week. First round pick Byron Leftwich lies in wait for his chance to take over for the aging Brunell, but head coach Jack Del Rio says Brunell will start Sunday if he is healthy. The Jags rely on RB Fred Taylor who leads the team in rushing yards and receptions, not to mention groin pulls. He is averaging over five yards a carry, but has yet to put the ball in the end zone. Expect the Jaguars to test the injury-depleted front of the Texans’ D in an attempt to take pressure off Brunell. His favorite target, WR Jimmy Smith, is out for his fourth and final game for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Match-Ups to Watch

Byron Leftwich vs. Mark Brunell
The changing of the guard could happen in Reliant this weekend. Fans and the media in Jacksonville are itching to see Leftwich turned loose for an entire game. Brunell is not as mobile as he used to be and he has been sacked nine times this year. Leftwich has as many touchdown passes as Brunell – in 69 less pass attempts. As of Wednesday, Leftwich was taking most of the snaps with the first team during practice. Stay tuned to see which lefty is at the helm come Sunday.

Chester Pitts vs. Hugh Douglas
Douglas had 37 sacks the past three seasons with the Eagles. As a Jag, he has started slow, but he could break out at any time. Pitts is proving himself capable of protecting Carr’s blind side, but will have to cut down on penalties.

Tony Hollings v. Stacey Mack
Before his costly fumble, Hollings looked every bit worth the second round pick Houston spent in this year’s supplemental draft. Not only did he effectively run between the tackles, but also showed a burst of quickness to the outside, something Mack simply doesn’t have. Will Hollings start to eat into Mack’s playing time? Or will Mack rise to the challenge against his former team?

Three Keys to Victory

1. Turnovers
The Texans committed four of them last week; two fumbles and two interceptions. As Bum Phillips might say, do that and you’ll have more hell than a li’l bit. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have done a good job of not turning the ball over. Brunell has yet to throw an interception this season, and may not have to worry about adding to that total if Leftwich gets the start. Leftwich, on the other hand, is a raw talent with a lot to learn. The Texans could confuse him and force him into throwing interceptions.

2. Stop Fred Taylor
Fred Taylor is the leading rusher and receiver for the Jags. He rushed for 126 yards in last week’s loss to the Colts. The Texans allowed Priest Holmes to run all over them last week; they will be tested again this week.

3. Play for 60 minutes
The second halves of the past two games have been disastrous for the Texans, who’ve been outscored in the final two stanzas, 52-7. Whatever goes on at halftime – whether it be keg stands or who knows what – has got to stop. Maybe the Texans should stand on the sideline during halftime to try and buck the trend.

Views on the Game Texans   Bob says: I’d like our odds better if this were in J-ville. The Texans have as many wins in their history in Florida as they do
in Texas. Texans 17, Jaguars 16. Texans   Dave says: Texans take two weeks of frustration out on Jags. Texans 23 Jaguars 17 Texans   Jimmy says: The Jags officially become Houston’s bitch. Texans 19, Jaguars 16 Texans   Keith says: Andre Johnson, end zone. End zone, Andre Johnson. Texans 24, Jaguars 17 Texans   Ric says: Once bitten, twice shy? Nah… Texans 21, Jaguars 14 Texans   Warren says: A Texans win at home against the Jags is an upset according to Vegas? Texans 24, Jaguars 21. 2003 Regular Season Records
Bob 2-1; Dave 2-1; Jimmy 1-2; Keith 2-1;
Ric 1-2; Warren 2-1
Week 4 Preview Jacksonville Jaguars
2003 Record: (0-3)
09.28.03 | 12pm
Houston, TX Texan Leaders David Carr
51/94, 646 yds, 2/4 Stacey Mack
53/159, 3.0 YPC, 0 TD Andre Johnson
16/249, 13.8 YPC, 2 TD Jaguar Leaders Mark Brunell
54/82, 484 yds, 2/0 Fred Taylor
53/268, 5.1 YPC, 0 TD

Matthew Hatchette
10/117, 11.7 YPC, 2 TD

2003 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.09 Denver 12-20 08.15 at Dallas 6-34 08.23 San Diego 17-19 08.28 at Tampa Bay 3-34 Regular Season 09.07 at Miami 21-20 09.14 at New Orleans 10-31 09.21 Kansas City 14-42 09.28 Jacksonville 24-20 10.05 Bye 10.12 at Tennessee 17-38 10.19 New York Jets 14-19 10.26 at Indianapolis 21-30 11.02 Carolina 14-10 11.09 at Cincinnati 27-34 11.16 at Buffalo 12-10 11.23 New England 20-23 11.30 Atlanta 17-13 12.07 at Jacksonville 0-27 12.14 at Tampa Bay 3-16 12.21 Tennessee 24-27 12.28 Indianapolis 17-20   Overall Record 5-11