Because of a large number of banged-up players, coach Gus Bradley decided to forgo the normal full-pads practice and instead the players worked in shells. Nwaneri said the lighter day helped the offensive line get a better grasp on the game plan and Houston's defensive front and that was the main reason the Jaguars ran for a season-high 118 yards against the Texans.
Maurice Jones-Drew had his best rushing day of the season with 84 yards on 14 carries.
"Being able to see what was going on at a slower pace, being able to read what was going on with the defense in practice at a slower pace actually allowed us to be a little bit more aware on game day," Nwaneri said shortly after the Jaguars' 13-6 victory at Reliant Stadium. "It just helped our preparation being able to kind of back off a little bit on the physicality and be able to really get the game locked in from a mental standpoint."
That may sound a little hokey, but you can't argue with the results. Bradley said the offensive line, which has struggled all season with the transition from a gap-blocking scheme to a zone-blocking scheme, had its most consistent day -- and because of that Maurice Jones-Drew had his best day of the season. He ran for a season-high 84 yards and one touchdown and added six catches for 60 yards for a season-high 144 total yards.
"Blocking was phenomenal," Jones-Drew said. "First couple of weeks we were having trouble kind of getting it right and this new running scheme was a little different. As the weeks went on, we're getting better. Right now we're playing our highest in the run game."
That might be a bit of hyperbole considering the Jaguars (2-9) ran for just 32 yards in a loss to Arizona last week, but a big difference from the previous 10 games was the fact that they were finally able to produce a big run. The Jaguars had just three runs of 20 or more yards, including a long of 30, but Jones-Drew busted a 44-yarder in the second quarter on Sunday to kick-start a drive that ended with Josh Scobee's 30-yard field goal to put the Jaguars ahead 10-0.
"That's the key," center Brad Meester said. "We look at that every week. You look at a lot of the teams out there that rush for a lot of yards, most of them are only one-, two-yard gains, it's just you're able to get those explosive runs and we had just kind of missed that in the last few weeks. We were able to get some more explosive this week."
The Jaguars also mixed up the run game against the Texas, partly to run away from defensive end J.J. Watt. They ran the ball outside more than in previous weeks (Jones-Drew's long run came off left tackle). Jordan Todman was also involved, carrying the ball a career-high 11 times for 31 yards. He had 20 carries in the first 10 games.
"Mixing up inside zone, outside zone, our gap scheme ... our offensive line is doing a great job," Jones-Drew said. "I think there was one run where I didn't get touched until I got tackled."
That was his 44-yard run, and Nwaneri said it felt for a moment like 2011, when Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing.
"It was that old familiar feeling seeing him get to the edge and get up field and pick up 30, 40 yards running on one play," Nwaneri said. "That's what he does and I think we were able to do some more things coming downhill at them and that opened up some more lanes for us and other plays. It was just a good group effort."