JACKSONVILLE – Here’s what we learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 37-13 loss to the New York Jets Saturday in the second game of the 2013 preseason . . .
1. The quarterback issue isn’t decided . . . yet. Head Coach Gus Bradley didn’t name Blaine Gabbert the starting quarterback in Saturday’s post-game, but after Gabbert’s performance against the Jets, it’s increasingly hard to see him not being the starter Week 1. The sprained thumb he sustained won’t help the decision, but Gabbert looked efficient and confident early. He looked in command. Combine that with him starting the first two preseason games . . . again, it’s just hard to see him not starting the regular-season opener.
2. Gabbert may be OK after all. Yes, it was just preseason, but fair’s fair – and Gabbert played maybe his best stretch of his Jaguars career. He looked, frankly, like a different player than he has in the past. He was decisive, accurate and poised throughout his first two drives. The Jaguars drove for two scores on those two drives and Gabbert was 10 of 12 for 133 yards.
3. Justin Blackmon matters. He matters in this offense. A lot. Blackmon caught four passes for 46 yards, and when he was in the game, he made things much easier for Gabbert. He turned two short passes into first-down producing plays, and his ability to run after the catch gives the Jaguars an element it lacks when he and Cecil Shorts III aren’t playing.
4. The offense has a chance to be productive. Speaking of Shorts, the third-year wide receiver wasn’t the only key piece missing on Saturday. Blackmon didn’t play the first series, and right tackle Luke Joeckel was out. So was tight end Marcedes Lewis. The offense frustrated many observers in Week 1, but with those skill players and an improved offensive line, the offense has a chance to be far more productive than the last two seasons.
5. The pass rush is still a work in progress. This was a strong area in the preseason opener, but it was in no way a finished product. That was clear Saturday, when the Jaguars struggled to get pressure on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. That wasn’t shocking. The team is still looking for a player they can rely upon to provide pressure opposite Jason Babin, and the preseason will be spent continuing that process.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew is in pretty good shape . . . The three-time Pro Bowl running back hadn’t played yet this preseason, having missed the first preseason game while the team was being cautious with his conditioning. He has appeared fully recovered throughout training camp from the sprained foot that cost him the last 10 games of last season, and on Saturday, he looked pretty close to regular-season shape. The Jaguars wanted him to play about 8-to-10 plays. He played seven, and touched the ball four times. That was a good start, and it was all the eighth-year veteran needed.
7. . . . and yes, Jones-Drew matters in the offense. Jones-Drew turned a short pass into a 20-yard gain on the first series, and when he did, you remembered why he was one of the best running backs in the NFL. His presence will make the Jaguars’ offense better, and if the line continues to block well, a running game that struggled last season could be effective again.
8. The Jaguars’ depth needs to be deeper. Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell have promised competition, and each has said the team will bring in players throughout training camp and into the regular season to continue improving the bottom of the roster. The depth beyond the second team could be better, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jaguars signing waiver-wire players when teams start cutting players the next two weeks.
9. Johnathan Cyprien was ready. OK, maybe the rookie safety was a little too ready. He committed a couple of penalties early and appeared to misplay a tackle on a long early run. But the second-round selection will be fine. His aggressiveness is something the Jaguars like, and with repetitions he should improve quickly.
10. Penalties are still an issue . . . The Jaguars had 12 penalties for 100 yards on Saturday. Bradley said that was an emphasis this week, and will be again this week. Few teams are good enough to overcome that much penalty yardage and win, and the Jaguars certainly aren’t. Not yet.
11.. . . and so are turnovers. The Jaguars committed three turnovers after committing four in the preseason opener. Again, few teams are good enough to overcome so many. The Jaguars can’t. At total of 17 Miami points came off turnovers in the preseason opener and 14 Jets points came off turnovers Saturday. The Jaguars won’t be able to win in the regular season doing that.
12. Progress was made. People will remember the score, and 37-13 is far from ideal. But a closer look will reveal that the Jaguars were ahead, 13-10, at halftime, and that was improvement from Week 1. This was a tight game until second-half mistakes, and some of those mistakes came from players who won’t be starting or on the team. The mistakes must be reduced, but the Jaguars may have found the beginnings of what they’ll be offensively on Saturday. They’ll take that.