Texans vs. Jaguars Game Snapshot
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
PREDICTION: Texans 24-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: Matt Leinart makes his second start since 2007 but he's in a good spot -- the Jaguars' pass rush has waned and their top cover corner, Rashean Mathis, is on injured reserve. Plus, the Texans lead the NFL in rushing and when Leinart must put the ball in the air, All-Pro WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) is expected to be there after missing six games. The Jaguars over-pursued RB Arian Foster in the first meeting, a 24-14 Texans win in Week 8, and gave up big plays from which this offense cannot recover. Maurice Jones-Drew is the only lifeline for rookie QB Blaine Gabbert in the methodical Jaguars offense. If the Texans take MJD away, Gabbert could be crippled against a team that has been dominant on third down (31.4 percent) and has 28 sacks.
FAST FACTS: The Jaguars are 32nd in offense, passing offense and yards per play and 31st in points. The Texans are first in total defense and yard differential per game, second in pass defense and points allowed.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The hottest topic in Houston all week has been quarterback Matt Leinart replacing the injured Matt Schaub and making his first start for the Texans on Sunday when they play at Jacksonville. Leinart has started one game in four seasons.
Taking a backseat to Schaub's injury and Leinart's promotion has been receiver Andre Johnson, who's starting after missing six games because of a hamstring injury. Ordinarily, Johnson's return would dominate sports-talk shows and the front page of sports sections but not this week.
When Johnson was injured in a victory over Pittsburgh, the Texans were 3-1. They've been 4-2 without him. The Texans have a four-game winning streak and a two-game lead in the AFC South. Their 7-3 record is tied for the best in the AFC with Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New England.
One reason the Texans have been able to withstand the loss of Johnson, outside linebacker Mario Williams and free safety Danieal Manning is because of a running game that averages 158.1 yards a game. Arian Foster and Ben Tate have been a dangerous one-two punch that's totaled 1,426 yards rushing.
When Johnson was out, no receiver drew double coverage. When Johnson is on the field, there's always a cornerback in front of him and a safety over the top. That's one less player the defense can commit to stopping the run.
"It's huge to have him back," Leinart said. "So many guys have stepped up in his place, from receivers to tight ends to (running backs). Now that we get him back, it's going to make us that much tougher to stop."
Leinart will need to knock off rust from so much inactivity. Johnson said he's got to play up to the standards set by his teammates while he was injured.
"We're trying to get our timing down, and he's probably a little rusty coming off of a bunch of weeks, but I know that he's been anxious to get back and help this team," Leinart said. "I expect him to be the same old Andre he's been for a long time."
How soon Johnson becomes the same old Andre depends heavily on Leinart and his ability to get the ball to one of the league's premier receivers.
"I'm ready to go," Johnson said. "It's going to feel good. I've been sitting for six weeks, a lot of frustrating times, but now I'm back on the field and feeling good.
"As far as shaking off the rust, on Monday, I felt like I hadn't played for years. I just felt like I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I felt like I had a lost a lot. When I went out to practice Wednesday, it was kind of night and day from Monday. I felt a lot better. I felt a lot more comfortable."
Coach Gary Kubiak will try to get Johnson involved in the offense as soon as possible. Johnson moves around because he doesn't want the defense to get comfortable with its coverage.
Johnson is eager to see what kind of on-field rapport he develops with Leinart. He was Schaub's favorite target for five seasons.
"We talk, and I just try to see what he's thinking when he goes through plays," Johnson said. "I think that's the only way I can really try to help him feel comfortable. Other than that, you just have to go out there and play the game. I feel pretty comfortable with both quarterbacks."
The Jaguars learned that that they are likely to be missing five defensive starters for their game Sunday against the Houston Texans.
They already knew that cornerback Rashean Mathis and linebacker Clint Session would miss the game because they are on the injured reserve list with a torn ACL and a concussion.
But three more defensive players, cornerback Derek Cox, defensive end Matt Roth and Terrance Knighton, didn't practice for the second consecutive day Thursday, a sign they probably won't play.
Cox was limited in practice Wednesday with a knee injury but he apparently aggravated it because he was on crutches Thursday. Roth has a concussion and the NFL is being very cautious about letting players play too soon after a concussion. And Knighton has already missed two games with an ankle injury and will probably miss a third.
With both starting cornerbacks, Mathis and Cox, out, the Jaguars will have to defend the Texans' Pro Bowl wide receiver, Andre Johnson, who is coming back from a hamstring injury, with backups William Middleton and Ashton Youboty.
Youboty signed with the team on Nov. 15 and played 23 snaps in sub packages in Cleveland in his first action as a Jaguar.
Of being thrust into the starting lineup so quickly, Youboty said, "It's part of the business. We play a violent sport and you've got to be ready."
This will be only Youboty's eighth start as he was mostly a backup in his first five years with the Bills. He was cut by the Bucs at the end of training camp this year.
"I feel comfortable in the scheme. I think I know the defense well enough to go out there and compete," he said.
Of covering Johnson with backups, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said, "You can't get overwhelmed with someone else's talent. You've got to go out there and apply technique and fundamentals."
Tucker added of Johnson, "Everyone has talent. He's a special player. We know that."
Johnson also has to make an adjustment because backup quarterback Matt Leinart will be starting in place of Matt Schaub, who is out for the season with an injury.
Of Youboty, Tucker, who coached him at Ohio State, said, "I feel good about him. I have confidence in what he can do. He looked good in practice and he played more than 20 snaps last week. He was very, very solid in our practices and they are pretty competitive. They are usually a good indication of what guys can do."
The three other backups starting will be C.J. Mosley, starting for the third game in a row for Knighton, Leger Douzable, making the second start of his career for Roth, and Russell Allen, who'll make his second start this year and 10th of his career for Session.
Of having five backups in the starting lineup, Tucker said, "We're going to need everyone at some point in time. We told them that from day one. Our philosophy is the next one up. We feel that everyone here can play winning football for us."
Tucker added, "Football is a game of attrition. At this time of year, everyone is banged up. Everyone's got issues. There are no excuses, no explanations."
Although Douzable will start at left end, John Chick, Aaron Kampman and George Selvie are likely to see action in the rotation.
--QB Matt Leinart said nothing will change because he's lefthanded and Matt Schaub righthanded. Center Chris Myers said there's no difference. Right tackle Eric Winston, who now protects the quarterback's blind side, said there's no difference for him. The receivers said the ball might have a different spin, but it's nothing noticeable.
--CB Johnathan Joseph, who is having an outstanding season and has become a legitimate shutdown corner, grew up close to Jacksonville and will have a lot of family members and friends at the game. Not only has Joseph been outstanding on coverage, but he's been very physical against the run.
--FS Troy Nolan started the last three games in place of the injured Danieal Manning. Nolan didn't make big plays, but he didn't allow any big plays. Manning will start against the Jaguars. Before he suffered a fractured fibula, he made big plays, but he also allowed a couple when he bit on play fakes and a receiver got by him.
--RB Mike Brisiel is loved by his coaches because he'll do anything to beat his man - bite, kick, gouge. And he's not going to change the way he plays. Some Jaguars ripped the Texans for what they called dirty play and taking cheap shots, but Brisiel is like his teammates in the offensive line in that he said this week they'll block exactly the same way they have been.
--WR Jacoby Jones started the last six games in place of the injured Andre Johnson. With Johnson back, Jones returns to his role as the third receiver. Jones has only 21 catches and two touchdowns, but his 18-yard average per catch is the best on the team. He also contributes on special teams by averaging 11.4 yards on punt returns, including a touchdown.
--CB Derek Cox didn't practice Thursday because of a knee injury and was on crutches after being limited Wednesday, a sign he probably won't play Sunday.
--DE Matt Roth didn't practice Thursday for the second consecutive day because of a concussion, a sign he probably won't play Sunday.
--DT Terrance Knighton didn't practice Thursday for the second consecutive day with an ankle injury. He's already missed the last two games with the injury and probably won't play Sunday.
--DE Aaron Kampman, who's missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, was limited in practice Thursday for the second consecutive game and hopes to play Sunday.
--CB Ashton Youboty, who joined the team a week ago, will likely start in place of Derek Cox.
--DE Leger Douzable will likely make the second start of his career Sunday in place of Matt Roth.
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