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3 things we learned about the Jaguars

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Forget about any quarterback controversy in Houston. Brian Hoyer left little doubt who the starting quarterback will be for the Texans, at least for the foreseeable future.

Behind some pinpoint passing by Hoyer, the Houston Texans scored three touchdowns in less than seven minutes in the fourth quarter to power the Texans past the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20 on Sunday in a showdown of AFC South Division teams.

Hoyer, who has been on the bench or in mop-up duty since starting the season-opener against Kansas City, turned in a solid performance, connecting on 24 of 36 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien made it clear when asked if Hoyer had shown him enough in the game for him to continue as the starter.

“Definitely. There is always things that all of us can improve upon, especially coaching-wise,” the Houston coach said. “I think when you look at him; he went in there and managed the game well. He has a good calmness about him right now. He is confident and I am proud of the way he played today.”

Hoyer was at his best in the fourth quarter when he led the Texans on two scoring drives to overcome a 14-10 Jaguars lead. Jacksonville scored in the closing seconds of the third quarter when quarterback Blake Bortles connected with tight end Julius Thomas for a 29-yard score. It was Thomas’ first touchdown as a Jaguar.

Houston answered that score with an 81-yard drive in nine plays. Hoyer accounted for 65 yards on four completions, including a 9-yard throw to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the corner of the end zone. Three plays earlier, Hoyer left the game after taking a late hit from Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien. Hoyer returned, and after a running play and an incompletion, teamed with Hopkins.

The Texans (2-4) weren’t done there, though. After the Jaguars went three-and-out, Hoyer needed just four plays to cover 46 yards. The score came on a 26-yard completion to Hopkins, who easily beat Jaguars cornerback Davon House near the goal-line. That gave the Texans a 10-point cushion and put the game out of reach for the Jaguars (1-5).

“It’s huge to get a win on the road and especially against a division opponent,” Hoyer said. “It was a challenge today, it wasn’t always pretty but when it counted, we made the plays. It was a total team win, everyone doing their job.”

Hoyer’s favorite target was Hopkins, who was targeted 15 times and finished with 10 receptions for 148 yards and two scores. He came into the game with a league-leading 578 yards and will likely stay atop all receivers in yardage.

The defense got in on the scoring parade at that point. On the Jaguars’ first play following the kickoff, Bortles overthrew wide receiver Allen Robinson and the ball was grabbed by defensive back Andre Hal. He had a clear path to the end zone to complete the 41-yard interception return and build the Texans’ lead to 31-14. It was the sixth pass thrown by Bortles in his 19-game career that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

On the Jaguars’ next series, backup safety Lonnie Ballentine suffered a leg injury. His leg was put in an air cast and he was taken off the field in a cart.

Jacksonville scored on its next possession when Bortles guided the Jaguars 80 yards in 11 plays. The score came on an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Allen Hurns in the corner of the end zone, but that was as close as the Jaguars could get.

What we learned about the Jaguars:

1. Quarterback Blake Bortles is still a work in progress. Bortles was coming off a 300-yard effort the week before against Tampa Bay in which he recorded a career-best 125 passer rating. But he was nowhere near that figure in this game, dropping to his second lowest mark of the season at 70.6.

What’s of concern to Bortles numbers is that he had his normal offensive line intact as well as his top three receivers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas. Yet he was still sacked three times, he threw interceptions and completed just 57 percent of his 53 passes. It continued the up-and-down play for the second-year quarterback. The week before, Bortles talked how he needed to “will” the team to a win. Was he pressing in this game to will the team to win?

“I would hope that every player has the mindset that they want to will the team to victory,” he said. “I think every guy who has a position on this team has that mindset that when they get their opportunity, they are going to do what they can to help this team win. I’m not different. I wouldn’t say I was pressing, trying to do too much. Would I say I made bad decisions on throws? Of course.”

2. Julius Thomas is not the answer to carry the passing game. Thomas is good, no question. And the Jaguars passing game is better now that he’s returned and is an integral part of the passing attack. But Thomas can only do so much. When he was sidelined following hand surgery, many felt that the Jaguars passing attack would take off once he returned.

Thomas saw plenty of action against the Texans and was targeted 13 times. But he managed to catch just seven passes for 78 yards. Several of the intended receptions, Thomas dropped. Others, the pass was out of his reach. Whatever the case, he had to take a back seat to the performance of Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins who had 10 catches for 148 yards.

Thomas admitted afterward there were still areas that he and Blake Bortles need to work on.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen next week or the week after that,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be something that we continue to build. You don’t get a great rapport with somebody after one season. I’m trying to get a great feel for what he wants to do and he’s trying to get a great feel for how I am and how I play. It’s coming along.”

3. The Jaguars defense is in disarray. Jacksonville has faced back-to-back teams that came into the game with one win. Yet both — Tampa Bay last week and Houston on Sunday — beat the Jaguars by scoring more than 30 points. The 69 combined points that the Jaguars have given up the last two Sundays is an indication of the problems that still exist on the defensive side of the ball. That’s where the Jaguars went out during the offseason and brought in four free agents and promptly labeled them starters. Yet the problems with the defense continue to mount.

In Sunday’s game against the Texans, Jacksonville failed to record a turnover and had just one sack on Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer.

The Jaguars were also as close to being back to full strength as they’ve been this year. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny returned from an ankle injury and tackle Sen’Derrick Marks saw his first action of the season after recovering from offseason surgery. Safety James Sample who has started twice this year, was the only defensive player to miss the game who has had a start.

Where does the defensive unit go from here?

“We’ve just got to continue to focus in on what we do and grind even more and do everything with a sense of urgency, knowing that this is the way we’re going to do things,” Posluszny said. “We need to continue to find the opportunities to make plays to help us win games.”

Etc.:

–DT Sen’Derrick Marks was only credited with one tackle in the game, but Marks was just glad to get his name on the stats sheet. The game marked his first return to action since the end of the 2014 season when he suffered a torn ACL. He had surgery in early January and has been on the mend ever since. “It was good to get back out there and just get the feel of the game and the game day experience,” Marks said. “I thought we came out and played some good ball. Now we made some key mistakes and we’ve been killing ourselves with that all year, but it’s good to be back out.”

–MLB Paul Posluszny said now is the time to hit the panic button. This marks the fifth consecutive season that the Jaguars have started out a season with one (or none) wins in their first six games. The teams haven’t regrouped after that either as the Jaguars have not won more than five games in any season since 2011. Posluszny said it’s not time for the players to meet without the coaches. “I don’t think there’s a lot of benefit from that; there’s no need to talk,” the veteran linebacker replied when he was asked if a closed door meeting with players only is needed. “There’s nothing like that; we need to produce, we need to have great weeks of practice and be completely dedicated to our jobs to perform on Sunday. Words aren’t going to fix it.”

–TE Julius Thomas saw some good coming out of Sunday’s 11-point loss to the Texans. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles passed for a season-high 331 yards while the 394 yards of total offense were topped only by a 431 total against Indianapolis. The team scored twice (in three opportunities) in the red zone and converted on both of their goal to go opportunities. The game marked Thomas’ first extensive action of the season after missing the team’s opening four contests. When asked what good things he saw come from this game, Thomas replied, “We saw a team that continued to battle regardless of the situation. You see that we can move the ball. We can make plays. I don’t know if I’ve seen a lot of teams that are able to complete as many passes as we do down the field. The ball didn’t bounce the couple ways we needed to have a win.”


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