4.Time to hurry? We begin this pre-Texans Fabulous Four with a word on the Jaguars’ offense, and if the unit has struggled this season it also has shown signs of life in recent weeks. The progress has been in the passing game – namely, in the hurry-up offense. Head Coach Mike Mularkey long has used the no-huddle, dating to his time as Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator with Kordell Stewart at quarterback. The Falcons also used it with quarterback Matt Ryan when Mularkey was the offensive coordinator there the past four seasons. The Jaguars have used the hurry-up more in recent weeks, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert has had the best statistical stretch of his career the last four games, throwing for 842 yards and four touchdowns, including a 110-yard performance at Oakland in which he left after a quarter and a half. Gabbert this week sounded very much like a fan of the system, saying he is extremely comfortable in it. “I think the guys on the offense are comfortable and that’s just from the reps we take in practice on it,” he said. “It’s my job in the no-huddle to get the offense in the best play possible, whether it’s a run or a pass. I have the freedom to do that. We can use some different things to throw the defense off a little bit, but at the end of the day when you get the defense on their heels they’re going to show their hand earlier. It’s just easy for the quarterback to get the offense in the plays we can execute.” At the same time, Gabbert said it’s not a system to be used all of the time because the plays are simplified and personnel groups are limited. “We still have to be able to kind of go in and out of it and use it to our advantage throughout a football game,” he said. That may be a bit of a relief to Jaguars’ offensive linemen. Guard Uche Nwaneri was asked this week if the linemen liked the no-huddle. “No breathers? Just keep going? He asked, laughing. “We love it. We love it. Don’t breathe, just block.” Nwaneri on a serious note said the linemen practice the no-huddle enough to run it when needed, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the offense hurried up on a more consistent basis moving forward.
3.Missing piece. While the Jaguars have progressed at times throwing, the run offense remains an issue. The Jaguars rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the first three games, including 185 in a Week 3 victory over the Colts, but in six games since they have not rushed for more than 70 yards. The trend started with Maurice Jones-Drew healthy against Cincinnati and Chicago, and has continued since he sustained a sprained foot on the first play of a loss at Oakland. Including the Raiders game, the Jaguars have rushed for 217 yards on 78 carries in four games with Rashad Jennings playing for Jones-Drew, and while Mularkey said the area should be more productive he also said the team has to be more committed to the area. “It’s us calling more runs,” Mularkey said. “We have to sustain that. It helps the passing game if we can get the running game going.” Nwaneri said it doesn’t matter how many runs are called or who’s running. “That’s part of our identity, is being able to run the ball well,” Nwaneri said. “For a number of different reasons, we haven’t been able to do it as well as we have in the past. It’s always going to be important for us to establish that. That’s never going to change. As long as we can establish the run, it gives us an opportunity to be diverse and keep a defense on its heels. It will always hold a paramount importance for us.”
2.Plenty to play for. It’s become vogue in recent games to say the Jaguars have little left for which to play this season. The sentiment is understandable, considering the Jaguars are 1-8 and almost mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. But while understandable, it also is wrong. There are seven games remaining in the season – not two or three, but *seven.* That’s not just a game or two in mop-up time; rather, it’s just about half of the season. And it’s not just about pride, either. Seven games is enough for players or position groups to show they are strong and show they deserve to be here or held together in the future. Seven games are enough to show an area or a player is something that can be relied upon – and built upon moving forward. And as much as some fans hate to hear it, seven games is enough – more than enough – for the team as a whole to show whether it is moving in the right direction. Reeling off four or five victories would give the end of the season a dramatically different feel, particularly if the quarterback, the defensive front or the offensive line looks good in the process. Does a turnaround seem likely? No, at 1-8, turnarounds never do, but with seven games you darned sure don’t give up hope.
1.And finally, a word on the quarterback. We keep threatening to make this final entry of Fabulous Four about something other than Gabbert. But with such a varying public perception of the second-year quarterback the final spot always seems to merit his mention. Because Gabbert left the loss to the Colts early – and because backup quarterback Chad Henne played better against Indianapolis than he did a month earlier in Oakland – there is a gurgling among observers to put Henne in and “see what he can do.” This is not to say that Henne would do poorly; he very likely would play fine. But Gabbert in the last four games by any measure has played better than in any four-game stretch of his career. It’s not good enough yet, but at 1-8, there seems little point to making a quarterback change, and Mularkey this week sounded like a coach very much supporting his quarterback. “I’ve only been with him for nine games and an offseason,” Mularkey said. “I’m seeing progress from the time I’ve been with him. I can’t feel what you’re seeing because I haven’t been with him that long, but I know he’s progressed since we’ve been here. That’s all we’re looking for from all these guys.” What the Jaguars need in the final seven games is for Gabbert to stay healthy, take as many repetitions as possible, gain as much experience as possible and make as much progress as possible. The more information you have on Gabbert at season’s end, the more you know about the quarterback position going forward. No one knows for sure what the end game is in Gabbert and whether or not he will develop into a franchise quarterback, but you’re not going to find out if he’s not playing.