JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One of the least encouraging aspects of Blake Bortles' tenure with the Jaguars has been his inability to lead Jacksonville to victory over the Houston Texans.
Since he was named the starting quarterback in Week 4 of the 2014 season, Bortles and the Jaguars are 0-6 against their divisional rivals in Houston.
The fourth-year quarterback will look to start a new streak with a win on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
"It’s an awesome opportunity for us to start out on the right foot," Bortles said. "You always play meaningful games, but obviously divisional games there’s a little extra juice there. I think it’s good. I know we’re excited for it.”
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The Texans are the favorites to win the matchup between the AFC South foes. Set to play in their first home game since Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, the Texans have history, emotion and a talented defense on their side.
Bortles has completed 125-of-234 passes for 1,249 passing yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions against the Texans during his career.
The quarterback's 53.4 completion percentage has been less than ideal. He has also been sacked 24 times in six games.
"I think first and foremost is we’ve got to be able to handle their front," Bortles said.
"It’s not just the offensive line, it’s up front, it’s me, it’s the backs helping, it’s the tight ends helping, it’s the receivers winning and getting open. So it’s a group effort because they are extremely good, you know? I think the rest of the league struggles with that a little as well, so we’ve got to find ways to handle that and do different things there.”
Former head coach Gus Bradley was fired following the latest loss to the Texans in Week 15 of last season.
The 21-20 failure featured the Jaguars giving up a 12-point second-half lead to Houston. When the Jaguars returned to Jacksonville from Houston, Bradley was relieved of his duties.
Current head coach, Doug Marrone, took over as the interim boss after Bradley was let go. He coached the Jaguars to a 1-1 record to end the season.
Marrone has yet to face the Texans as the Jaguars' head coach but he did serve as Jacksonville's offensive line coach in the last four meetings between the two teams. In those meetings, Marrone's unit gave up 15 sacks.
"It’s very difficult," Marrone said about blocking the Texans' defensive front. "I think they do a great job of scheming, they have great players on [the defensive] side of the ball and you got to make quick decisions."
The Jaguars' coaching staff knows that in order for them to be successful, the team will need to protect Bortles from the Texans' dominant pass rush.
J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus have assaulted Bortles with consistent pressure over the years. Jadeveon Clowney has added another dimension to that attack when healthy.
With uncertainty still surrounding the Jaguars' offensive line, there is an even more pressing need to be creative with protection.
"There’s a lot of things that go into it, but, again, it’s a lot about matchups," Marrone said. "They do a hell of a job matching people up and, at the end of the day, someone is going to have to step up and perform against probably a couple of the best players in the league.”
The Texans matchup is the first of two back-to-back AFC South encounters to start the season for Jacksonville. The Jaguars are set to host the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field in Week 2.
A win over the Texans would not only break a six-game losing streak but also propel the Jaguars into prime position within the division to start the season.
"It’s huge," Bortles said. "Anytime you get the chance with a divisional opponent and then follow that up, like you said, with another one, it’s huge."
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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