JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – So much new.
When the Jaguars face the Texans in Houston on Sunday, there will be so many new faces on both teams and on both sidelines that it will almost feel like a matchup of two expansion teams. Instead, it’s an AFC South divisional game featuring two franchises heading in opposite directions.
Here are my four biggest questions for the Jaguars in their opener in Houston.
How will Trevor Lawrence play?
We only saw one game of Lawrence unleashed. That was in the preseason finale against the Cowboys, who played backups on defense against the Jaguars’ first-team offense. But in that time, Lawrence was dazzling, completing 11 of 12 passes and tossing two touchdowns. Based on Thursday’s game against the Buccaneers, the Cowboys starters weren’t much better against the pass. Still, the expectations for Lawrence are enormous.
Last year, Justin Herbert won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Here are his per-game averages: 24 completions in 40 attempts, 289 yards, 2 touchdowns, less than an interception per game. So that’s the baseline for Lawrence. He will certainly have games above and below Herbert’s line, but at minimum, Lawrence will be expected to play as well as Herbert did last year.
Against a Houston team that just traded away their best cornerback, those aren’t unreasonable numbers to expect if the Jaguars can get Lawrence into a rhythm on offense.
How will Urban Meyer adapt?
As the old saying goes, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Until Urban Meyer completes a full year in the NFL, he won’t fully understand the workings of the league. He has relied on his assistant coaches to help him along the way, but there is no replacing first-hand experience. So, how will Meyer adapt to the game on Sunday?
He has experienced success adapting mid-game at the college level, but in the NFL the games move faster, both on the field and on the clock. There are fewer offensive plays per game, which demands faster and more decisive adjustments be made. How will Meyer do on that front? There is no way to know until he goes through it. Meyer has never lost a season opener. But he’s never coached on in the NFL.
Can the Jaguars protect the passer?
Meyer said again on Friday that he is expecting better from his offensive line than they showed last year. He has shown remarkable faith in the abilities of a group that was underwhelming, especially with regard to pass protection a season ago. All of the top six offensive linemen are healthy and ready to go (Meyer praised reserve guard Ben Bartch this week for his development this season). Can they give Trevor Lawrence time to show off the deep ball? To convert on third down? To make plays in the red zone? If the answer is yes, the Jaguars should be well on their way to a 1-0 start.
Are the Texans really that bad?
I spoke with former Jaguars and Texan Seth Payne this week. Payne now covers the Texans for Sportsradio 610 in Houston. I asked him about the state of the Texans right now. I asked him if Hoston is in a “tank” season, trying to wind up with the first pick in the draft.
“That’s the problem, there isn’t a Trevor Lawrence in the draft this year,” Payne said. “I don’t know if tanking is the right word. I thought the Texans were trying to do a soft reset, clear the old contracts and be somewhat competitive by signing a bunch of veterans to one-year deals, but then they traded away their best cornerback, Bradley Roby, and traded him away. Yeah, (they’re) tanking and it’s probably going to be a long and painful process.”
Is it unfair to call a professional franchise a dumpster fire? Probably. But the Texans appear to have earned that distinction.