An Axe to Grind

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December 4, 2003
An Axe to Grind
by Keith Weiland

Before the Super Bowl three years ago, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher quipped that Jacksonville’s ALLTEL Stadium was a home away from home for his vagrant team given their success on the road against the Jaguars. With a second win in as many attempts in Jacksonville, Houston head coach Dom Capers might be singing the same tune.

The last meeting between the Texans and Jaguars was one for the archives. Trailing by three points with :02 left to play, Capers made the gutsy call for a quarterback dive on fourth down to give his team the uplifting 24-20 victory. The Jaguars, particularly defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson over whom David Carr made his fateful plunge, are certain to use that heart-wrenching loss as motivation for Sunday’ rematch.

The Texans, however, won’t be without their own form of motivation on Sunday. Many are sure to remember the cheap shot delivered by Jags’ special teams player Jimmy Redmond when he resorted to a dirty hit to bring down returner J.J. Moses. Free safety Marlon McCree, waived by Jacksonville in September, will see his first significant action against his former team on Sunday as well.

Winners of three of their past five games, the Texans are learning how to play smarter football. Of their two losses in that span, one came on the road to a resurgent and playoff-caliber Bengals team, and the other came in overtime to a championship-caliber Patriots team.

The Jaguars themselves are much improved since the last time these two teams met. They boast a 2-2 record in November with wins against the Colts and Buccaneers. Jacksonville played strong in its two losses to the Titans and Jets. Head Coach Jack Del Rio, he of the infamous lockerroom axe to remind his players of maintaining a strong in-season work ethic, has turned the corner with this young team, invoking an aggressive style of play on both sides of the ball.

What to Expect When the Texans have the ball…
All eyes will be on the quarterback, whomever that person may be on Sunday. David Carr, listed as questionable on the injury report, was unable to throw the football on Wednesday, and if he is still unable to go by kickoff, the reigns of the offense will be handed over to rookie Dave Ragone. Regardless of who plays, the Texans will run the ball early and often. Problem there is rookie Domanick Davis is injured himself (ankle) and missed practice time this week. Little-used Tony Hollings would be expected to carry the load if Davis cannot. Given the injuries at quarterback and running back, much of the burden will fall on the offensive line as they face a very tough defensive line in Jacksonville. Finding large gains on the ground against a defense that is holding opponents to a league-low 3.2 yards per attempt will not be an easy task.

When the Jaguars have the ball…
QB Byron Leftwich made his first NFL start when he faced the Texans in week four. He’s made every start for the Jaguars since then, showing improved poise and a passer rating of 72.6, respectable for a rookie and just 0.3 less than Carr’s rating. He’ll also have WR Jimmy Smith available to him this time around, plus Browns castoff Kevin Johnson may begin seeing an increased role in the Jag offense as well. RB Fred Taylor remains healthy and effective. Each of the Jags’ first 22 plays last week went to either Smith or Taylor, and there’s little reason to suspect that won’t be the case again this week. The Jacksonville offensive line is consistent and physical, not allowing a single sack last Sunday night against the Bucs. Their offense will get their yards on the ground and chew up the clock. The Texans’ front seven will again face a tough challenge, though they have improved their level of play over the past three games.

Match-Ups to Watch Andre Johnson vs. Rashean Mathis
Assuming the Texans are able to utilize the forward pass this week, Johnson has an interesting matchup with fellow rookie Mathis. Coming on strong as of late, the 6’1" Mathis logged nine tackles last week against the Bucs and helped limit their passing offense to just 144 yards. Capable of playing either right corner or free safety, Mathis will have his hands full against a bigger and stronger player in Johnson.

Interior OL vs. Marcus Stroud, John Henderson
Left guard Todd Washington has had some tough games of late, and while improved, the Texan line isn’t strong enough to make up for any weak links. Center Steve McKinney has also had some difficulty in this matchup, so both should expect another long day ahead of them on Sunday.

J.J. Moses vs Jaguars’ Special Teams Coverage
Moses ran like his shoes were on fire the last time these two teams met, totaling 173 return yards, including a kickoff return of 46 yards and a punt return of 40 yards. There was some talk after the game that perhaps the Jaguars were resorting to cheap shot tactics when Jimmy Redmond knocked out Moses following one of his returns. Redmond should probably keep his head on a swivel any time he walks on the field this Sunday.

Three Keys to Victory 1. Win the Battle of the Trenches on Offense
The Texans’ offensive line has two big priorities this week: protect Carr at all costs, and open some rushing lanes for Davis. As for the former, if Carr is unable to play, the line will need to keep the Jags’ pass rush at bay long enough to give Ragone the time he needs to make the right decision with the football. Regarding the latter, the underrated Jags run defense has been holding opponents to a paltry 58.5-yards per game average over the past eleven weeks.

2. Win the Battle of the Trenches on Defense The ineffectiveness of the Texans’ pass rush in the wake of the injuries to Seth Payne and Gary Walker is league renown. While it’s still not even average, the defensive line has shown considerable improvement over the past month. This has been evident in their ability to allow linebacker Jamie Sharper to freelance more, as he’s racked up 57 tackles and 3 sacks in the last four games. The D-line will need to continue this level of effectiveness to allow the linebackers to plug the gaps and contain Taylor.

3. Force Leftwich Out of the Pocket
Leftwich is already a pretty effective passer this early into his pro career, but he is immobile and still capable of rookie mistakes. If Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio employs schemes to put pressure on Leftwich, they may be able to exploit these weaknesses and force him to make another bad decision with the football, much like the game-turning fumble strong saftey Eric Brown forced to set up the winning drive in week four.

Views on the Game Saints   Bob says: The jinx continues. The two-game winning streak will have to wait for next year. Jaguars 17, Texans 13 Saints   Dave says: The Texans just don’t lose in Florida. Texans 24 Jags 20 Saints   Keith says: Defense is improving, but injuries are really taking their toll. Jaguars 16, Texans 10 Saints   Ric says: The win streak in Florida ends.. fortunately, we get to start another one next week against the Bucs. Jags 17, Texans 13 Saints   Warren says: Leftwich vs. Ragone would have been a prime quarterback duel in college football last year. Jaguars 17, Texans 13 2003 Regular Season Records Bob 9-3; Dave 7-5; Keith 6-6;
Ric 6-6; Warren 7-5

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Week 13 Preview Jacksonville Jaguars
2003 Record: (3-9)
12.7.03 | 12pm
Jacksonville, FL Texan Leaders David Carr
137/238, 1,666 yds, 8/10 Domanick Davis
188/825, 4.4 YPC, 5 TD Andre Johnson
51/778, 15.3 YPC, 4 TD Jaguar Leaders Byron Leftwich
172/300, 2,039 yds, 10/12 Fred Taylor
249/1,037, 4.2 YPC, 4 TD

Jimmy Smith
43/625, 14.5 YPC, 3 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