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NFL Preview - Jacksonville (2-5) at Houston (4-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - If he's lucky, maybe something else will rub off on Jack Del Rio besides Icy Hot.
While the Jacksonville head coach would surely like to take after New Orleans counterpart Sean Payton on things like annual playoff appearances and a Super Bowl championship, it seems Del Rio will have to start with rehabbing an injury.
The Jaguars' boss became the second coach in three weeks to get decked on the sidelines during this past Monday's game against Baltimore, leaving him hobbling from practice-to-practice with a sore leg as his team prepares for Sunday's road date against the AFC South-leading Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
Payton broke his left leg in a game against Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Jacksonville ended a five-game skid with a surprising 12-7 home downing of the Ravens and actually pulled within two games of the division lead the Texans established with a 41-7 blowout at Tennessee this past Sunday.
Until Monday, Del Rio's team hadn't won since edging the Titans in Week 1.
"I got a bag of ice and a couple of Tylenol, and that's it," Del Rio said of his ailing leg. "I'm good to go."
Against Baltimore, the Jaguars allowed just 146 total yards, forced nine three- and-outs, sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco three times and caused two turnovers. It was the fourth time Jacksonville has kept a foe to less than 20 points this season, but only the second time it's won in that scenario.
"I just think our guys just played real well," Del Rio said. "I don't know if there's ever been a team that's not excited for Monday night. The stage is set up. It's exciting. The crowd gets into it under the lights, in front of a national audience, and so I think that certainly was motivating.
"For our guys, defensively I think they got tired of hearing about how great Baltimore's defense is and I feel like we're doing some good things here. That was an opportunity for us to kind of get out there and get after them ourselves and make some plays and make our own statement."
As for the Texans, they continued their maddening brand of split-personality performances with their 34-point road win against a Tennessee team that had entered last week as the AFC South's top dog.
Even without primary offensive weapon Andre Johnson and standout defender Mario Williams -- both out with injuries -- Houston rolled up 518 total yards and held the host Titans to 148.
Head coach Gary Kubiak's squad opened the season with wins over doormats Indianapolis and Miami, lost at New Orleans and had a seemingly substance- building defeat of Pittsburgh before consecutive losses to Oakland and Baltimore dropped them to 3-3.
The Texans were similarly difficult to figure last season, when they started out 4-2 but wound up 6-10.
Johnson has missed three straight games with a right hamstring problem, but returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday and could be available for this week's clash. Also back at practice after missing two games with a strained chest muscle was fullback James Casey.
"Are we excited to get [Johnson and Casey] back? You bet, because I think it does make us tougher to defend," Kubiak said. "We do have a lot of options, and the versatility of James in what we do and knowing how people play Andre...yeah, you want those two guys back on the field. Hopefully, they're back there this week."
These divisional foes have split 18 all-time meetings as well as last year's season series, with the Texans posting a 34-17 win over the Jaguars at Reliant Stadium in the 2010 regular-season finale to avenge a frustrating 31-24 defeat in Jacksonville in Week 10, with the deciding points coming on a 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from then-Jags quarterback David Garrard to Mike Thomas on the final play. Jacksonville has lost in four of its last five visits to Houston, with its lone positive result there a 31-24 decision in 2009.
Del Rio has an 8-8 overall record against Houston, but his teams are just 2-6 at Reliant Stadium under his direction. Kubiak is 5-5 against both Del Rio and Jacksonville during his tenure in Houston.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the No. 10 overall pick in this past April's draft, recorded his first NFL win as a starter against the Ravens last week. Since 2010, running back Maurice Jones-Drew averages 95.3 rushing yards per game, second-best in the NFL behind only Houston's Arian Foster (97.0 ypg), and seeks an eighth straight game with 80-plus rushing yards. Jones-Drew also leads the AFC and is second in the NFL with 677 rushing yards, trailing only Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (712). In his past three games against the Texans, Jones-Drew has two 100-yard rushing games and five touchdowns. Thomas had a career-best 149 receiving yards in last November's win against the Texans, while fellow wide receiver Jason Hill has two touchdown catches in his past three games. Tight end Marcedes Lewis enters the game needing eight catches to reach 200 for his career.
The Houston defense is tied with Baltimore with an AFC-best 19 sacks, and rookie linebacker Brooks Reed -- a second-round choice in last April's draft -- registered the first of his career in last week's game. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing leads the Texans with 47 tackles, while eighth-year defensive end Antonio Smith has 4 1/2 sacks up front and in the backfield, cornerback Johnathan Joseph has 25 tackles and three interceptions.
Jacksonville is second-to-last in scoring offense (12.0 ppg), last in both total yards (252.4 ypg) and passing yards (128.4 ypg) and 10th in rushing yards (124.0 ypg). The Texans are fifth in scoring defense (18.7 ppg), eighth in both total yards (302.9 ypg) and passing yards (203.6 ypg) allowed and seventh in rushing defense (99.3 ypg).
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
In six career starts against the Jaguars, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has completed 133-of-187 passes (71.1 percent) for 1,640 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 109 rating. He aims for a third straight game with a 120-plus passer rating against Jacksonville as well. Foster became the first player since Brian Westbrook in 2007 to have at least 100-plus rushing yards and over 100 receiving yards while scoring both a running and receiving touchdown in the same game when he did so against the Titans last week. He rushed for 180 yards on 31 carries (5.8 average) with two touchdowns against Jacksonville in last year's season finale as well and aims for a fifth straight game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage yards after posting 234 last week. Backup running back Ben Tate posted a third 100-yard rushing game of the season by gaining 104 yards in last week's rout, while Johnson's 85 career receptions against Jacksonville are tied for his most against any opponent (also has 85 against Tennessee). Johnson also needs two catches to reach 700 and would be doing so in the second-fewest games (120) in NFL history, behind only Marvin Harrison (114). Tight end Owen Daniels aims for a third straight game with a touchdown against Jacksonville on Sunday.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny leads the Jaguars with 59 tackles and cornerback Rashean Mathis has two interceptions in his past three games on the road against Houston. Defensive end Jeremy Mincey has two sacks in Jacksonville's last three games, while cornerback Drew Coleman posted his first interception of the season last week.
Houston is seventh in the league in both scoring offense (26.0 ppg) and total yards (400.6 ypg), 10th in passing yards (260.7 ypg) and fifth in rushing yards (139.9 ypg). The Jaguars are eighth in scoring defense (19.9 ppg), sixth in both total yards (299.7 ypg) and passing yards (196.3 ypg) allowed and 10th in rush defense (103.4 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
If Johnson returns, he automatically changes the game for the Texans, who've relied on his connection with Schaub to open lanes for Foster and produce one of the league's most prolific offensive balances.
Speaking of Foster, his double 100-yard game last week provides an interesting challenge for the Jaguars, who've been a top-10 unit across the board on defense.
Gabbert earned his first win as a starter, but didn't dazzle against the Ravens. He'll likely need to be more productive this week, as it's probably going to take more than four field goals to earn a win at Houston.
If the Texans want to establish themselves as an AFC power, a win here at home to get to 5-3 at the halfway point would be an important ingredient. An offense coming off 41 points scored and a defense coming off seven points allowed that will be facing a team that couldn't record a touchdown last week spells a must- win -- and a will-win -- for Houston.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 24, Jaguars 10
10/27 08:54:31 ET