John McClain: Five plot lines for Texans-Jaguars

Oct 30, 2022; London, United Kingdom, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) drops back to pass against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter during an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

John McClain: Five plot lines for Texans-Jaguars

The Texans have two games remaining at home against Jacksonville and on the road against Indianapolis. They’re coming off their second victory of the season on the road against Tennessee. The Texans broke a nine-game losing streak in Nashville, and coach Lovie Smith’s goal is to close the season with a three-game winning streak and a 4-1-1 record in the AFC South. Based on how well the Texans have played in their last three games, winning out is possible. Here are five plot lines that could determine the outcome of Sunday’s game at NRG Stadium.


This game means nothing in the standings for the Jaguars, who have a three-game winning streak and a 5-2 record over their last seven games under first-year coach Doug Pederson. On the last weekend of the regular season, the Jaguars play at home against the Titans. The winner clinches the AFC South, secures the fourth seed in the AFC, and hosts a playoff game in the wild-card round. That would be a huge accomplishment for Jacksonville, a team that has a 22-58 record since 2017, the last season the Jaguars reached the playoffs.

Pederson said this week he wants to win to keep the momentum going. That’s understandable. The Jaguars are 7-8 after finishing 1-15 and 3-14 and earning the first pick in the draft in each of the last two seasons. Beating the Texans and Titans would give them a 9-8 record and their first winning season since 2017.

This would be the last weekend for the Jaguars to rest some players, especially second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He has 14 touchdown passes and one interception over the last seven games. The Jaguars have a nine-game losing streak against the Texans, and Lawrence is 0-3. Without Lawrence, the Texans would be expected to extend that streak to 10.


If Trevor Lawrence plays, as expected, he’ll be going against a Lovie Smith defense that’s allowed only 12 touchdown passes, fewest in the NFL. The defense has limited opposing quarterbacks to an 84.4 rating, eighth-best in the league.

The Texans are 30th in defense (381.1 yards), which shows opponents move the ball. They continue to be last against the run (168.6), but they’re 13th against the pass (212.5). The Jaguars should be able to move the ball between the 20s, but the Texans have been stingy in the red zone. They’re tied for 13th, allowing red zone touchdowns at a 54.2% rate.

Under Pederson and offensive coordinator Press Taylor, the Jaguars have shown monumental improvement over Lawrence’s rookie season, which began with Urban Meyer as his coach. They’re sixth in offense – 11th in rushing and 10th in passing. If they insist on running a lot, this game should be close. The Jaguars are favored by four.


Defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo signed a one-year contract to play for his hometown team, and he should get a lucrative new contract from general manager Nick Caserio. It took him a while to get Lovie Smith to move him into the starting lineup, and it’s paid off.

Okoronkwo has started the last six games across from Jerry Hughes, the team’s leader with eight sacks. In one of his starts, Okoronkwo didn’t register a statistic, but in his other five starts, he has four sacks, six quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss. He’s coming off a terrific performance in the victory at Tennessee, where he recorded two sacks, two hits on the quarterback, three tackles for loss, and five unassisted tackles.

If Okoronkwo continues at that pace, he can make life miserable in the last two games for Lawrence and the Colts’ Nick Foles. Of all the new veterans on the roster, he’s made the most improvement.


As a rookie last season, quarterback Davis Mills had an impressive closing run over his last five games. He hasn’t been able to duplicate that performance this season under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. The passing game has been a big disappointment.

As a rookie, Mills threw 16 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions and compiled an 88.8 rating. With two games remaining, he has 14 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions, and a 79.0 rating. Beginning with the Jaguars, he has a chance to produce another impressive closing stretch.

Over the last three games, Mills has three touchdowns and two interceptions. Over the last five games last season, he had nine touchdowns and two interceptions. His two-best ratings were 130.6 in a victory over the Chargers and 128.5 in a three-point loss to the Titans.

Mills, who continues to rotate with Jeff Driskel, is going against a Jacksonville defense that’s 26th, including 14th against the run and 29th against the pass. The Texans will have trouble running with Royce Freeman, Dare Ogunbowale, and Rex Burkhead. They rank 30th in rushing with only 88.9 yards a game.

The offense is going to need a lot of attention in the offseason. Sunday would be a good time to show some more improvement, especially with Mills and the passing game. It hasn’t helped that his starting receivers, Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, have spent much of the season injured. At least Chris Moore has stepped up to take some pressure off Mills.


As it stands today, the Texans would have the first overall pick in the draft. That could change if they win one or both of their last two games. Everyone knows the Texans desperately need a quarterback. The two-best prospects will be playing on Saturday, so fans should watch them carefully.

Bryce Young and Alabama take on Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl at 11 a.m. Young could have skipped the bowl because it means nothing as far as winning a national championship, but he and teammate Will Anderson Jr. earned a lot of respect this week when they announced they wouldn’t skip their bowl game as so many other prospects do. Hopefully, they won’t get injured even though they’re taking a huge risk.

The other top quarterback prospect, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, will be going against top-ranked Georgia in the Peach Bowl at 7 p.m. There’s a long way to go in the scouting process, and nobody knows today if it’ll be Young or Stroud rated No. 1 among the quarterbacks. After Saturday’s games, Texans’ fans will get a better idea of which quarterback they want Nick Caserio to draft. Assuming he has the first pick.

(John McClain writes four times a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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