JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien continues to emphasize the importance of creating more turnovers.
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is having many of the same conversations with his team.
Entering the teams' first matchup of the season, the Texans and Jaguars are each eager to generate more takeaways on defense to support sputtering offenses as the race for the AFC South continues Sunday at EverBank Field.
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“The past two years, we've been pretty good,” O'Brien said. “The first year, we were real good at it. Last year, the second half of the year, it picked up for us. … This year, we are obviously behind the eight ball.”
Houston hit the midway point of the season 1 1/2 games ahead of Indianapolis and Tennessee in the division despite forcing just six turnovers (three interceptions and three fumble recoveries). Only Jacksonville's five takeaways (three interceptions and two fumble recoveries) are fewer this season.
Unsurprisingly, each team is near the bottom of the league in turnover differential. The Texans (5-3) are tied for 29th at minus-7; the Jaguars (2-6) are last at minus-12.
Houston's low total is uncharacteristic for a franchise that usually feasts on turnovers. The Texans led the league with 34 two years ago and still finished a respectable 12th with 25 last season.
But the most glaring issue has been their inability to make plays on the road. The Texans are 0-3 this season away from Houston and have yet to cause a turnover in games against New England, Minnesota and Denver while totaling a minus-6 turnover differential.
They are hopeful a trip to Jacksonville will change that.
“In the past couple years that we've been here, we've been able to turn that around,” said O'Brien, whose team has alternated wins and losses for the past six weeks, “because that stat right there points right toward the won/loss record.”
Jacksonville is experiencing the same problem right now.
The defense was overhauled during the offseason and has performed mostly as expected aside from embarrassing blowout losses at San Diego and at Tennessee. But a stunning lack of takeaways has everyone perplexed.
Jacksonville hasn't forced a turnover in 19 quarters going back to an interception of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck during a Week 4 game in London.
That deficiency was made obvious during a 19-14 loss at Kansas City last week. The Jaguars had 15 more first downs and 218 more yards of offense than the Chiefs but were undone by four turnovers that led to their third straight loss.
Jacksonville had a prime opportunity to snap their takeaway drought last week when a pass by Chiefs quarterback Nick Foles was overthrown and headed straight toward Jaguars cornerback Prince Amukamara. However, Amukamara collided with free safety Tashaun Gipson at the last second and the pass fell to the turf.
That's how it has seemed to go for the Jaguars all season.
“What you saw is probably the same feeling I had,” Bradley said of the play. “We've got to have those. You have a chance to go back there and make a play and you get one thrown up to you, I don't know what to say on that one other than catch the ones thrown to you.”
Each team should enter Sunday relatively healthy.
Jaguars defensive end Jared Odrick has missed the past two games with a foot injury and was limited in practice Wednesday. Five Jaguars did not practice, headlined by receivers Allen Hurns and Bryan Walters (concussions), along with right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee), linebacker Myles Jack (hip) and strong safety Johnathan Cyprien (leg).
For Houston, nose tackle Vince Wilfork (groin), receiver Jaelen Strong (ankle), linebacker Brian Peters (quad) and safety Lonnie Ballentine (groin/ankle/knee) did not practice and should be monitored as the week goes on.
But the story of the game will be which team can create takeaways, and there could finally be some opportunities for each defense.
Jacksonville quarterback Blakes Bortles is third in the league with 10 interceptions and Houston's Brock Osweiler has nine of his own. Behind their inconsistent play, the Jaguars are 28th in scoring (19.1 points per game). The Texans are 30th (17.1 points per game).
That makes creating takeaways critically important for both teams.
“I feel like they're going to come,” Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye said. “We haven't been getting as many as we wanted, but we just have to keep pounding and eventually they're going to come.”