By Brien O’Donal
Follow me on Twitter @ODonalsVanguard
Football is back! With all the devastation and heartbreak that this city has gone through recently it was nice to have something to lift the spirits of the fans. The pregame payer announcements did just that. It was emotional to see J.J. Watt come out of the tunnel fired up and waving the Texas flag. He always has a great fire to his entrance, but after everything he’s done for the victims of Hurricane Harvey it seemed even more empowering to those watching. You could feel the excitement in the stadium as the Texans defense took the field to start the game.
Sadly that energy from the pregame didn’t carry over when Jacksonville just took control and did what it wanted at the line of scrimmage on their way to 87 yards rushing in the first half and 153 overall. The Jaguars biggest weakness is Blake Bortles at quarterback but when a team can run the ball at will the passing lanes open up. Even he looked better than average when he needed to throw the ball. They moved the ball well early but couldn’t finish, settling for a pair of field goals until Leonard Fournette got his first career touchdown on a 4th and 1 punch in. A missed extra point left it at 12-0.
The Texans offense looked about the complete opposite. 3 of their first 4 drives went 3-and-out and the other one stalled near midfield. The offensive line was the main culprit. Even when they were able to get their hand on their assigned blocks they were getting pushed around. They gave up 6 sacks in the first half, 3.5 to Calais Campbell which is the Jaguars franchise record for sacks in a full game. He would finish the game with 4 total. The worst sack allowed occurred at the end of the first half, resulting in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown sending the Texans to the locker room in a 19-0 hole.
No surprise, the rookie savior Deshaun Watson was called on to start the second half and on his first drive took the team down the field. After some lucky breaks on untimely penalties by the Jaguars defense, he was able to find DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone for their first points of the game. 19-7 now looked like a new ball game.
Coming into the season the Texans defense was a known commodity and was widely looked at as the reason they might win a good number of games. Today’s effort didn’t look nearly up to the standard they set last season. Jacksonville came right back out on the field and moved the ball at will on the ground and through the air. Good red zone play calling was capped off with a Bortles to Tommy Bohanon. They were right back where they wanted to be, 26-7 in the 3rd quarter.
In the last few years Jacksonville has spent a lot of money in free agency and invested high draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. The Texans offense was below average but the Jaguars defense looked very much above average. They blitzed extremely well and seemed to be in the backfield every play. The Texans offensive line gave up 10 sacks and 3 of those resulted in lost fumbles by the quarterbacks. That set a franchise record for team sacks in a game.
It’s very difficult to win football games in the NFL if your defense can’t stop the run and your offensive line can’t stop the pressure. Rookie Leonard Fournette finished the game with 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and added 24 yards on 3 catches. His counterpart Chris Ivory finished with 42 yards on 9 carries. As a team they were able to put up big yards on the ground all game against what is supposed to be a stout front 7 for the Texans.
Despite all the good things Tom Savage did in the preseason, the first half of today’s game showed why fans are always warned not to put much stock in what they see. He left the game after one half 7 of 13 for 62 yards and 2 lost fumbles. Watson looked better but not good enough. He finished the game 12 of 23 for 102 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and 1 lost fumble. The Texans running game never really got going with Lamar Miller leading the way on 16 carries for 57 yards. Hopkins led the receivers with 7 receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. Right behind him was tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz with 4 receptions for 46 yards.
This makes the first time the Jaguars have won their season opener since 2011. It shouldn’t have gone the way it did. The Texans are defending division champs and were looked upon to be a top defensive team in the NFL. There were serious concerns on the offense, mainly the offensive line; but there was hope that they could still put something together. It turns out the concerns on offensive line were more than concerns, they were very real problems. GM Rick Smith and owner Bob McNair should be on the phone with their missing left tackle Duane Brown doing whatever it takes to get him on the field. If they can solidify the most important position there’s a chance it may make the rest of the line better too.
Their next game is Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals. That is not nearly enough time to fix everything that went wrong today but just maybe they can get better on defense. Getting back to doing what they do well may help them avoid a full on death spiral. There is a lot of promise in Deshaun Watson and despite some concerns about starting a rookie, if the offensive line is going to be this bad the only hope they have is someone who can avoid that rush. It looked obvious that Savage could not move his legs. I don’t see any reason to start Savage next week so look for Watson to get the nod and hopefully cut down on his mistakes.