JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – All through the preseason, veteran Jaguars defensive players said they were going to be all right. Between resting veterans and nagging injuries, the expected starting 11 on defense didn’t have one play together. Signing Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye in the offseason, plus with the development of Myles Jack, Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue, the expectations were that the Jaguars defense would control the tempo of the game and field position.
And create turnovers.
All of that was true in the first half and more against Houston. Coverage down field helped the pass rush. Campbell had 2.5 sacks, Ngakoue stripped the ball from Tom Savage and Abry Jones recovered. It was exactly what the Jaguars were looking for out of their defense. The Texans had 25 total yards on offense midway through the second quarter. Two Jason Myers field goals made it 6-0 Jaguars.
Meanwhile, the offense looked exactly like what was drawn up when the Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars' first round pick had 17 carries for 56 yards in the first half and scored a TD on a 1-yard fourth down run. Questionable play calling limited the Jaguars offensive production, especially giving it to the fullback on third down at the goal line. Too cute; give it to No. 27. Tom Coughlin’s first words to Fournette when they drafted him were, “We’re bringing you here to score touchdowns so get ready.” And he did just that.
After much consternation about the quarterback, Blake Bortles was serviceable, going 7-of-13 for 91 yards. A couple of good throws, a couple off the mark but no turnovers. The Jaguars out-produced the Texans in yards, 178-46.
Again late in the first half, Ngakoue was dominating whichever offensive lineman was put in front of him. Another strip of the ball from Savage created a turnover that Fowler picked up and ran for a TD giving the Jaguars a 19-0 halftime lead.
To no one’s surprise, Houston replaced Savage at QB in the second half with their first round pick Deshaun Watson. He provided a spark for the Texans, driving them down the field and throwing a 4-yard TD pass to Andre Hopkins to make it 19-7. The drive was helped by two questionable defensive penalties. Ngakoue was called for roughing the passer on third down near midfield when he barely touched Watson. Fowler was called for hands to the face when his left hand was under the blocker's chin during a pass rush. Ngakoue’s was bogus. Fowler’s was the right call but just at the wrong time.
In a turnaround, the Jaguars answered right back, driving the length of the field thanks to solid running by Chris Ivory and Fournette, and a nice throw and catch by Bortles and Allen Hurns. The TD pass to Tommy Bohanon was part of the Fournette Factor as Bortles faked it to 27 over the left side and rolled to his right. Every defender went after Fournette and Bohanon was wide open for the TD. 26-7 Jaguars in the third quarter.
Although Watson had the elusiveness to get out of the pocket on a couple of occasions, the Jaguars were bringing the heat on the rookie forcing a couple of short throws. Fowler and Ngakoue were both still dominating, this time Fowler kicking the ball out of Watson’s hand with Ngakoue recovering.
Whether it’s a timing thing or a confidence thing, Jason Myers is quickly playing himself out of a job as the Jaguars kicker. A missed PAT early in the game was followed by a 39-yard missed field goal in the fourth quarter that would have given the Jaguars a 22-point lead. Bad time for a really bad miss when it comes to changing the momentum. Even head coach Doug Marrone said it could be a timing thing since the injury to long snapper Carson Tinker but whatever it is, it needs to be fixed.
With a few carries forcing the Texans to use their timeouts, Fournette got 100 yards on 26 carries. Bortles didn’t turn the ball over and the defense set the record for sacks, getting 10 against the Texans, four from Campbell.
A late interception by Tashaun Gipson gave the Jaguars a chance at a field goal. Myers converted this one making the final score, 29-7.
It’s the first time the Jaguars have started the season with a road win since 2000. They haven’t won an opener since 2011 against Tennessee, which also happens to be the last time they were over .500. It’s also their first win in Houston since 2014.
Money spent on defense with the addition of Boyue and Campbell seems to be money well spent. The veteran players doing what they’re supposed to do enhanced the development of the players they’ve been counting on. Getting 10 sacks, a franchise record, had to do with pressure and coverage, just how it’s supposed to work.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was how well the offensive line played. Maybe the Texans are terrible but no matter, winning the battle up front is where it all starts on offense. And the Fournette Factor made everybody better on that side of the ball, including Blake Bortles. It all worked just as they drew it up. This is the kind of team the Jaguars want to be under Coughlin and Marrone. They have the personnel to be just that.
But for now, they’re 1-0. And that’s good.