On Sunday, the Houston Texans open their season at NRG Stadium against divisional rival Jacksonville. And, while the rest of the season will be full of uncertainty, this is a game that the Texans have a legitimate shot at winning. The gameplan? Simple: stop Trevor Lawrence at all costs. Here are three ways that the Texans can accomplish this and earn a big win.
Stop The Run
The first step to neutralizing a rookie quarterback is taking away his help and forcing him into uncomfortable situations. Despite his talent, Houston should want Trevor Lawrence passing as often as possible on Sunday because mistakes are bound to happen. Lawrence may be a generational talent, but a rookie QB can’t make the right decision on every throw, especially in his first career start.
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Jacksonville, on the other hand, will look to support Lawrence by pounding the rock with second-year back James Robinson. Despite being undrafted, Robinson broke out last season for over 1,000 yards and ten total touchdowns. In two games against the Texans, Robinson rushed for nearly 150 yards and a touchdown.
All things considered, Houston wasn’t terrible against Robinson last season, but they’ll need to do even better on Sunday. After all, the Texans’ defense was second to last in run defense a season ago. To actually win some games this year, improvement is a must. On the bright side, Houston was dominant against the run throughout the preseason, ranking top-five in rush yards allowed.
If the Texans can keep this trend going and slow down Robinson, it should cause the Jaguar offense to air it out with Lawrence. Additionally, stopping the run on early downs will force Jacksonville into some third and long situations. Once this happens, Houston can dial up the pressure, and make Lawrence uncomfortable. All of this should lead to at least a few bad decisions from the rookie. And, without a run game, it will be hard for the Jaguars to sustain long drives down the field that put up points.
Control The Clock
Trevor Larence can’t hurt the Texans if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, so it’s a must that they win the time of possession. The best way to do this is by getting their run game going early and often. It’s a strategy that has proved effective many times. One example was seen last year when the Raiders used their ground game to take up time in Kansas City and ultimately defeat Patrick Mahomes.
Trevor Lawrence is no Patrick Mahomes, but the point is the less he has the ball, the better. Fortunately, the Texans have a dynamic trio of running backs to get the job done. It’s not exactly a three-headed monster out of the backfield, but Philip Lindsay, Mark Ingram, and David Johnson each have a unique set of skills. Once again, Houston proved this during the preseason, finishing with the fourth-best rushing offense after their three games.
It’s no secret that without Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ offense will be taking a massive step back. But, with a decent run game behind their revamped offensive line, Houston could squeak out some solid drives. And, as the running gets more consistent, the passing will too. Tyrod Taylor will be set up to create plays off of play-action. With the speed of Bradin Cooks and Nico Collins, it’s only a matter of time before something breaks big. And, as long as the defense does its job and the run game holds strong, even just a few of these big plays will be enough to pull off the win.
Bring The Heat, Take The Ball Away
Throughout the preseason, Lovie Smith’s defense wreaked havoc recording 11 sacks (fourth-most) and ten takeaways (most). And, although starters weren’t playing, this was done against top NFL offensive schemes in Green Bay, Dallas, and Tampa Bay. Houston is clearly playing with more intensity on the defensive side of the ball this season, and it’s something to get excited about.
There will be no better time to showcase this intensity than this week against Trevor Lawrence. While veteran QB’s tend to take advantage of a defense’s aggression, rookies cower in the face of it. Again, cowering doesn’t seem to be a Trevor Lawrence trait. But, this should be one of the toughest defenses he faces all year.
Houston must keep up their preseason momentum and not shy away from the challenge. If and when they do put the Jaguars into third and long situations they have to capitalize. There shouldn’t be any heroics or miracles from Lawrence, it should be the Texans’ defense constantly forcing the issue.
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But unfortunately, it won’t be easy for the Texans to continue all of this. With the trade of Bradley Roby and injury to Lonnie Johnson Jr, Houston’s secondary has been depleted. Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves don’t exactly inspire confidence as starting cornerbacks. There is a real potential for things to go wrong, and the Jaguars’ receivers may end up having a field day.
In the end, it’s going to come down to the guys up front picking up the slack and applying pressure on every down. Big days from Charles Omenihu, Jodan Jenkins, Whitney Merciuls, Zach Cunningham, etc, are needed. If things do go right, more sacks and turnovers will come, leading to a collapse of Jacksonville’s offense.
Horns Up And Go Texans
Trevor Lawrence seems to have a bright future ahead of him, but he is still a rookie making his first start on Sunday. If the Texans can continue doing the things that went well for them in the preseason, there’s a good chance they deliver a big win in front of their home fans. Regardless, this figures to be a close game between two rivals. And, whether the team starts the path to 17-0 or 0-17, it’s nice to have football back.
Catch the game Sunday at 12 pm central and keep an eye out for a post-game reaction right here with Border Fuel!