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Texans aim to halt franchise-worst skid against lowly Jags
(SportsNetwork.com) - So much for that whole winning streak thing.
Faced with a chance to double their win total after ending a season-long skid a week earlier, the Jacksonville Jaguars instead reverted back to recent form.
In dropping their fifth game in five appearances at EverBank Field, the Jaguars rushed for a season-low 32 yards, managed just 274 in total and scored only 14 points - a tick above their league-worst average of 14 - in a 13-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Visiting Reliant Stadium for a Week 12 match with the reeling Houston Texans, they'll face an opponent who's had a nearly equal 2013 disappointment standings-wise, but one that's dominated the most recent get-togethers between the squads.
Houston has won five straight against Jacksonville while averaging just short of 30 points per game. The Texans won 27-7 behind two Ben Tate TD runs at Jacksonville last season, and took a 43-37 overtime decision at home, a game in which wide receiver Andre Johnson went off to the tune of 14 catches and 273 yards.
Alongside the futility, the Jaguars have encountered some dissension this week, too.
Wide receiver Cecil Shorts reacted angrily after catching just two passes for the second straight week. He was targeted only once through three quarters in the loss to the Cardinals and vocalized his discontent with the lack of on- field attention.
Shorts was fourth in the league with 87 targets through Week 9, during which the team was 0-8. He went for 81 yards and a score on three catches in the Houston visit last season.
"I just want to help my team get better and improve," he said. "I can do that by getting the ball."
On the ground, veteran Maurice Jones-Drew has a TD in two straight games in spite of just 64 yards on 35 carries - a 1.8-yard average - but he's thrived in the last several years against the Texans, scoring eight TDs and averaging 4.8 yards per rush in the last nine meetings.
Houston was gashed for 150 yards on 22 carries last week by Rashad Jennings, who played 38 games over four seasons with the Jaguars through 2012 before heading to Oakland this season.
The Texans are the league's best defensively when it comes to total yards allowed (286.1 per game) and passing yards allowed (167.5), but they plunge toward the other end of the defensive pack when it comes to rushing yards allowed (118.6 per game, 23rd in the league) and points allowed (27.6 per game, 28th in the league).
Nearly 10 of those 27.6 per game - 9.76, to be exact - have come off turnovers.
The numbers compound the other misery that's been created amid the worst stretch in franchise history - an eight-game losing streak that's dumped Houston from a two-year stay in the AFC South's Division luxury penthouse to its far less-accommodating low-rent floors.
The Texans have lost four straight by less than a touchdown, after the first four games of the skid were by an average deficit of 22 points.
If Jacksonville wins Sunday, in fact, Houston will be dead last in the four- team gathering, at least until it meets the Jaguars again on Dec. 5 in Florida.
"I could feel a lot better. I know that," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I'm just one of many people. Every player, every coach, it has been very difficult. It's tough on the organization, everybody, our fans. I feel a lot like everybody else, but I'm the guy that has got to get in there and figure out a way for us to work through it and that's what I'm trying to do."
Lost to season-ending injuries during the streak have been standout linebacker Brian Cushing and stud running back Arian Foster, while Kubiak himself sustained a mini-stroke during the team's Sunday night loss to visiting Indianapolis on Nov. 3.
Kubiak returned last week to run things from the press box during a 28-23 loss to Oakland and hopes to return to field level this week to squelch some additional controversy.
Starting quarterback Case Keenum - who'd been inserted into the lineup ahead of veteran Matt Schaub - was back on the bench after three failed drives to begin the second half against the Raiders. Schaub then argued on the sidelines with star receiver Johnson after a fourth-quarter misfire and Tate later chastised Houston fans for booing during the game.
Still, the coach sees the turmoil as a result of excessive caring, not a lack of it.
"I don't see anybody fraying," he said. "I'm honest with them with where we're at and what we do every day. We're in there working our tails off, just trying to work our way out of this."
Keenum will start again this week for a fifth consecutive game, and Kubiak, himself a veteran backup behind John Elway in Denver, insisted he gave the youngster the hook last week to augment his development process, not hinder it.
"I was really thinking of him, to be honest with you," Kubiak said. "I've been in this league a long time and dealt with a lot of quarterbacks. I'm trying to develop one right now. Right or wrong, I made that decision because of the situation I thought I was fixing to put a young player in."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Open a can of MJD.
If Jacksonville has a league-proven offensive strength, it's running the ball in the form of Jones-Drew. Meanwhile, if Houston has an easily recognizable weakness on the other side, it's stopping the run.
Jones-Drew's former understudy, Jennings, had an 80-yard TD run among his big plays last week, providing a legit script for his mentor to follow.
Avoid the big mistake.
Remarkably, the Texans enter Week 12 with the best total yardage defense in football -- and a 2-8 record. Many of the decisive points in their close losses have come thanks to huge errors, in the form of pick-6s or kick returns going the wrong way. Avoid that against the Jaguars and the playing field suddenly becomes more slanted in Houston's favor.
Based on the records, it would seem that this week is the first time in a while that this matchup has warranted actual analysis. But in reality, it probably doesn't.
Houston has played extremely close with sound opponents and barely fallen short of winning. The Jaguars, on the other hand, have lost nine times by double-digits. Put it together and it yields at least one day of lopsided positivity for the home team.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 27, Jaguars 10
11/22 09:18:44 ET