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Fabulous Four: Jaguars-Colts

Posted Sep 26, 2013

Senior writer John Oehser examines four key issues as the Jaguars prepare to play host to the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 NFL Week 4.

4. Better, faster . . . now. We begin this Back Home at EverBank Field Fabulous Four on an area that has become a focus this week – that is, slow starts by the offense. The Jaguars have five first-half points this season, leading to halftime deficits of 21-2 to Kansas City, 10-3 to Oakland and 24-0 to Seattle. A statistic perhaps more notable in this area than many others: the lack of production on first down. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said this week that first-down struggles have hurt the Jaguars whatever the quarter, noting that the team averages facing second-and-8 on its 106 second downs. “That’s where things have to change for us,” Fisch said. “We have to get better on first down. If we get better on first down, good things will start coming our way.” The first-down issues have been have been particularly glaring during the first quarter. The Jaguars have nine yards total offense on 11 first-quarter first-down plays. That has led to the team having four first-quarter first downs, 41 yards total offense and two points. “It all goes to starting fast,” Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. “We’ve gotten better throughout the game, but the focus this week is to try to start fast and stay consistent on first down and we’ll see how it goes from there. We just haven’t been getting positive gains on first down, so we want to work to do that and continue that going.”

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify. The Jaguars’ struggles have caused questions about change – not only in personnel, but scheme. That’s typically the reaction when a team struggles, but the Jaguars are responding with a more tested approach, with an emphasis on simplifying the scheme and an objective of figuring out what the players do best. Jones-Drew said Wednesday that has been made necessary by inexperience and injuries to players such as quarterback Blaine Gabbert and tight end Marcedes Lewis. “We had to cut a couple of things down because of the youth of our team and some of the injuries we’ve had in the spots where there’s not as much depth because of some of the new guys,” Jones-Drew said. While there is experience on offense, the team is relying on backup running backs Jordan Todman and Justin Forsett, wide receivers Ace Sanders and Stephen Burton and tight ends Clay Harbor and Allen Reisner. None were on the roster midway through last season. The offensive line also is adjusting to a new zone-blocking scheme, and while there was speculation early in the week that the team could move to more gap-blocking, Bradley and Fisch each said to expect a mix. “Over three games, we’re exactly where we want to be in terms of percentages and how much zone, how much gap, how much outside zone, how much inside zone, how much gap,” Fisch said. “I think the benefit to what we do in terms of where we plan to go with our running game is we want to be balanced on all three phases. We think that gives us the best opportunity – with inside-zone, outside-zone and power – to move the ball.”

2. Statistically speaking. The Jaguars continue to rank statistically among the league’s struggling teams, and at 0-3, it’s tough to find areas grading well early. One interesting note is despite allowing 15 sacks, the Jaguars, according to Pro Football Focus, grade around the middle of the league, No. 15, in the NFL in pass blocking. Also, although guard Will Rackley has graded negatively thus far, guard Uche Nwaneri is the 12th-rated guard in the NFL and the second-highest ranked pass-blocking guard. He has allowed no sacks, three pressures and is the Jaguars’ highest-rated offensive player. Harbor also has graded highly and is the NFL’s seventh-highest graded tight end. Defensively, tackles Brandon Deaderick and Sen’Derrick Marks continue to grade positively, and while a rough game Sunday against the run hurt outside linebacker Geno Hayes’ season grade in that area, he is positive for the season against the pass. Safety Johnathan Cyprien struggled in the analytics in Seattle, but the rookie continues to show promise, registering forced fumbles in each of the last two games. Defensive end Andre Branch, though oft-criticized by fans and observers early this season, had a positive pass-rush grade Sunday according to PFF and was the team’s highest-graded defensive player.

1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. Gabbert is back as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback Sunday, and the opinion of many observers is this could be the third-year veteran’s final opportunity to prove he can be a franchise-type quarterback. Maybe, maybe not, but there seemed little doubt this week Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley remains much open to the idea Gabbert can develop. That makes sense. Remember, Bradley’s frame of reference when evaluating Gabbert is this season, and thus far this season, Gabbert has played just one regular-season game. He completed 16 of 35 passes with two interceptions in against the Chiefs, but was sacked seven times and got little help from receivers. Bradley seemed genuinely optimistic this week when he discussed the need for Gabbert to play with “freedom,” and to not worry as much about trying to be perfect. Bradley hopes playing looser and freer will allow that talent to shine, and Fisch is taking the same approach – that Gabbert needs to play more relaxed. The Jaguars believe Gabbert is the team’s best option to win now, and it’s no exaggeration that he threw well when running the scout team in a practice Friday in Seattle. The move to start him is met by many with understandable skepticism, but it’s a possibility that Bradley is right. There often is an emphasis with young players to not make mistakes – and the staff last season emphasized that with Gabbert. Did that hurt Gabbert? Again, maybe, maybe not, but either way, Gabbert’s going to get a chance in the coming weeks. We don’t know if it will be his final chance, but whether it is or not could depend on how well he is able to relax and how free he is able to play.

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