Let’s be honest, if you take a look at the schedule for Week 1, this is hardly the game that jumps out as a must watch. The thought of Blake Bortles against Tom Savage isn’t exactly a match up to set the blood flowing, however, there is more to this game than seemingly uninspiring QBs and ultimately it is the following two match ups that you should be looking out for.
Tale of two defenses
The Texans and the Jags are certainly not thin on defense. The Texans have one of the best front sevens in the NFL thanks to the likes of Benardrick McKinney, Brian Cushing, Jadeveon Clowney and of course JJ Watt. Whereas the Jags have one of the best secondaries, and potentially best young corner pairings in the league in my opinion with AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey.
However, as far as I am concerned it is the Texans secondary and the Jags D-line that will effectively decide this game, and potentially help set the standard for the upcoming season, and here's why:
The reason I bring this up is simple; the Texans are well known as a run heavy team. For many years now they have favored utilizing Arian Foster or Lamar Miller to throwing the ball. Why? Most likely because of the array of mediocre QBs they're had - I mean Brian Hoyer? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Brock Osweiler? No thank you.
Now, with this in mind, you must look at the front seven of the Jags. They've got the likes of Malik Jackson and Myles Jack listed as starters on their latest depth chart. This Jags defense is young. They've focused building their team on acquiring the pieces through the draft, and adding on an occasional veteran here and there - with the long term in mind.
Good idea? Sure. The issue is that there are arguably too many youngsters at one time, all trying to adjust to the NFL at the same time. This has meant that they have continuously disappointed these past couple of years as the 'nearly' team. Take last season for example. Many looked at their loaded young defense and had them down to compete in the AFC South. Now don't get me wrong, their secondary was great and has widely lived up to their promise.
However, they ranked 19th in rushing last season which simply is not good enough in a division with Lamar Miller, DeMarco Murray, and Frank Gore.
However, this offseason they've been smart. They haven't brought in any rookie starters on the defensive line, and they added experience, quality, and leadership in the shape of recently acquired two-time Pro Bowl DE Calais Campbell (a move I really liked). Therefore this Week 1 match up will be vital in assessing if this now more mature and rounded D-line will be capable of matching their impressive secondary, up against a 1,000+ yard RB.
On the other hand, there is Houston's potential Achilles heel. The Texans are well known for their defensive capabilities both in the air and especially on the ground. However, as I've mentioned before they suffered two major blows to a secondary which ranked second in the NFL in passing yardage allowed last season.
This offseason they lost both break out CB AJ Bouye to the Jags, and SS Quintin Demps to the Bears. While the loss of Bouye is a tough one given his performances last season, I maintain that the Jags overpaid on a corner who is yet to be fully proven.
Don't get me wrong, he was excellent last season and was one of the leagues best corners towards the tail end of 2016, but that was only one year and he is yet to prove he can follow that on from season to season. However, given that he wasn't a starter in Houston when their secondary was fully healthy, and the fact they've added Treston Decoud to a now healthy secondary, I wouldn't be overly concerned about this loss.
The main issue is the hole left by the veteran Demps, who ranked joint second in the league last season in interceptions. His consistency and ability will be missed, and the question hovering over this defense all offseason has been who will replace him?
Some slated the hard tackling KJ Dillon to get his chance, but to my surprise, he was eventually cut. Other names that popped up were Eddie Pleasant, and Kurtis Drummond - currently second and third respectively on the depth chart. They have opted to go with third year Corey Moore, surprising? Not particularly given that he was on the field for almost 400 defensive snaps last year, far more than any other SS the Texans currently have available.
So he has the experience in this defense which is a good start, but can he be a competent replacement? That's where the Jags and their loaded receiver corps comes into play. While their effectiveness will depend on Bortles' performance, there is no doubting that with Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns and more, they have the talent to worry this Texans secondary. Therefore be on the lookout for this match up as it will be a strong indicator of how competitive this defense and therefore this team could be going forward.
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