4. Back on stride. We begin this pre-Denver Broncos Fabulous Four with a word on Maurice Jones-Drew. The three-time Pro Bowl selection rushed for 138 yards on 57 carries in the first four games of the regular season, a 2.42-yards-per-carry average that was more than two yards below his 4.5-yard career average. The Jaguars’ line was struggling enough that it was difficult to tell how much Jones-Drew had recovered from a foot injury that cost him the final 10 games of last season. The Jaguars’ line run-blocked better Sunday despite the absence of traded left tackle Eugene Monroe and rookie Luke Joeckel, who missed the last three quarters after a season-ending ankle injury. But Jones-Drew performed even above the improvement on the line. He rushed for a season-high 70 yards on 17 carries for a season-high 4.1-yards-per-carry average, and his 1.8 grade by Pro Football Focus was the second-best among running backs in the NFL and his best of the season. Jones-Drew’s elusive rating from PFF of 126.3 was second in Week Five only to Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. The elusive rating measures a back’s effectiveness beyond the point of help from blockers. “I feel better than I have the past couple of weeks,” Jones-Drew said. “My main focus obviously now has been to do what I can to help our offense. I thought we played much better this last week. …. We’ve got to get guys back and get guys that are out there healthier and we’ll be able to roll.” Sixty-eight of Jones-Drew’s 70 yards Sunday came after contact. “Runs are set up for you to beat one guy and now the guys have been a little bit lower in the box than before,” he said. “You’ve just got to be ready for that. With (wide receiver) Justin (Blackmon) back, we’ll see different boxes now, not as much eight, nine guys in the box. We’ll probably see more seven, eight guys, so I think we’ll be alright.”
3. Perfect fit. If there has been an unrestricted free agent signee that has stood out for the Jaguars this season, it has been and continues to be defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks. Overshadowed by defensive tackle Roy Miller among the Jaguars’ offseason acquisitions, it has been Marks who has made the biggest impact, providing pressure and making plays more consistently than any other player on the defense. Marks is one of three Jaguars defensive players grading positively for the season according to PFF, and he is by far the highest-graded pass rusher on the defensive line with a sack and a team-high eight quarterback hits and seven hurries. He has graded positively in four of five games, and had a sack, two pressures and a forced fumble against the Rams this past week. Marks started 26 games in four seasons with Tennessee, and said he never found the ideal role. He said early in the season the Jaguars ended up being the perfect fit, and five games in that appears remarkably true. “I knew the defensive scheme was a good fit, but more than that, it was the staff,” Marks said. “I knew immediately upon talking to (Head Coach) Gus (Bradley) it was going to be a good fit for me. The fit was an attacking three-technique, so it fit into the way I liked to play.” Marks also thought he and Miler would work well together. “A lot of people in free agency look from a money standpoint,” he said. “When you base everything off that, it usually doesn’t pan out the way you want. I went with my faith and I made my decision. I thought it was going to be a good fit, and I stuck with it.”
2. Analytically speaking. The Jaguars played their best game of the season this past week in 34-20 loss to the Rams, playing competitively for a quarter and cutting the lead to seven early in the fourth quarter. It was the Jaguars’ best game on tape, too, with three offensive players – wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, right tackle Austin Pasztor and Jones-Drew – registering positive grades. The offensive line, even without Monroe and Joeckel, was 11th in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency, its highest rating of the season. Pasztor graded as the ninth-best pass blocker in the league. Cecil Shorts III was the second-highest rated receiver in the league, with Pasztor grading 11th at tackle. Linebacker Russell Allen graded as the fourth linebacker in the NFL Sunday. Rookie safety Josh Evans, who graded negatively in his first two games as a starter, had his first positive-grade game Sunday.
1. And finally . . . a word on the quarterback. The Jaguars likely will have a quarterback change for the fifth time since the third week of the preseason, with Chad Henne expected to start for Blaine Gabbert, who is expected to miss the game with a hamstring injury. There are those who wonder if this change will be permanent, an understandable sentiment considering Gabbert has thrown one touchdown with seven interceptions this season. He also has a league-low 36.0 passer rating, and aside from several solid throws on Sunday, he struggled as much against St. Louis as he has in any game in recent memory. Bradley has remained positive regarding Gabbert, but while he spoke strongly in support of Gabbert after a Week Four loss to the Colts, that support was not quite as adamant this week, with Bradley saying too many opportunities had been missed against St. Louis. In that same Monday press conference Bradley said that Henne missed opportunities, too, and said that at that moment, his thought was that Gabbert would start when he is healthy. Bradley has done nothing this season to indicate he doesn’t say what he means in press conferences, and in fact, he has been notable for transparency and trying to be as up-front as possible. So, unless Henne and the Jaguars’ offense play significantly better than they have in the first part of the season, it appears Gabbert will get another chance to start. At that point, it’s evident improvement needs to be significant and rapid.