4. On the verge. We begin this pre-Bears Fabulous Four with a word on Derek Cox, and if you’ve been watching or listening to anyone talk about the Jaguars the last two weeks, you know Cox is playing at a very high level. Cox, in his fourth NFL season, has been criticized in the past for being injured too often, but what Cox does deserve credit for is improving steadily each season and offseason of his NFL career. That doesn’t always happen, but the players who do are the ones who develop into elite players – and it appears Cox is on the verge of that. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said this week he has been pleasantly surprised with Cox this season, that Cox has been effective against the run and pass, and that he has been particularly effective in tight press coverage. “Some of the shorter routes that the quarterbacks are trying to get the ball out, he’s done a good job with some very tight coverage,” Mularkey said. “He obviously had some passes defended there. He’s made some plays for us and made a difference out there. You can really feel his presence out there.” Mularkey said what has been particularly notable about Cox is that he played at a high level immediately after returning from a hamstring injury that kept him out six weeks from the preseason opener to Week 3. The Jaguars waited a long time to get Cox back this season. So far, it has been worth the wait.
3. Shadow dancing? Speaking of Cox, we’ll transition now into one of the most-asked questions of the week, which is whether or not the Jaguars might have Cox cover Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall exclusively Sunday. Marshall is a physical receiver and as capable as any NFL player at his position of dominating a game, and Cox said while he has nothing to do with the decision be believes it’s certainly in his skill set to cover a receiver all over the field. He also said there were times early in his career he did just that. The Jaguars opted against such an approach against Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green last week, and while matched up against cornerback Rashean Mathis, Green hurt the Jaguars by setting up one touchdown and scoring another. Mularkey said while such a scheme is often a good scheme against wide receivers such as Marshall, it also often forces a defense to be in man-to-man coverage, which isn’t always ideal on an every-snap basis. “One thing it does do is it automatically dictates the coverage when you do things like that,” Mularkey said. “It forces your hand a little bit to say, ‘We’re in man coverage.’ That easily gives the quarterback the progression of where to go. If that’s what you have to do to show your hand to be effective, then that’s what you do. But that can definitely be an advantage.” It hasn’t typically been the Jaguars’ approach to have a corner shadow a receiver the entire game. Usually Cox plays the right side with Mathis on the left, but considering Cox’s level of play, it may be something they employ more moving forward. His performance in Weeks 3 and 4 certainly makes it a more tempting option.
2. No Island Policy. Much has been made of the Jaguars’ pass rush this season. That’s understandable, because the team has two sacks this season and none in the last three games. Mularkey this week said one issue has been pass rushers not winning one-on-one matchups, and Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny agreed, saying that the Jaguars’ pass-rushing approach is based on getting players in one-on-one situations and having players create pressure. What Posluszny said you won’t see is a major shift toward a more blitz-heavy scheme. The more you blitz, the more defensive backs are covering receivers one-on-one with no chance for help. That’s counter to the Jaguars’ defensive approach. “We’ll make adjustments, but our philosophy is we do not want to put guys on islands,” Posluszny said. “We don’t believe in putting the entire result of the defense on one guy. We’re going to blitz. We’re going to bring pressure, but we want one-on-one matchups. We’re going to bring enough so we get one-on-one matchups with the offensive line and running backs and somebody has to win. We’re not going to overload one side, because then you’re deficient in coverage on the other side. That’s huge risks and huge reward. That’s not our deal. We want to say, ‘The guys we bring will do a better job than the offense does protecting and we’re going to get home that way.’’’
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. The primary topic around the Jaguars and quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been the number of downfield throws. While Gabbert’s mechanics, pocket presence – and, yes, his consistency at times – has improved, the Jaguars’ offense has taken relatively few shots downfield. With the passing offense ranked No. 31 in the NFL, some of speculated the reason is play-calling and some have said Gabbert is missing receivers. Mularkey said as is often the case in the NFL there isn’t a clear-cut answer. “We’re trying to get the ball down the field,” Mularkey said. “We’ve got to block better for him. I think that if we protect better his numbers will increase. We really have not protected like we have liked to get some of those throws down the field.” Mularkey said more often than not it’s a small issue going wrong. Sometimes, he said, protection breaks down and other times Gabbert senses protection breaking down when it’s not. “A lot of that is from prior history of his time clock going off faster than it should go off, because that’s something he has got to get better at,” Mularkey said, early this week citing a play against the Bengals on which Cincinnati played “zero coverage” with no free safety helping. “They’re all coming and there’s going to be one guy unblocked,” Mularkey said. He knows it’s zero and he’s still got to be able to step up and throw down there in the red zone and get Kevin Elliott on stride. That’s a process he’s going to learn every game, every time something comes up, that’s something he’s going to get better at.” The Jaguars’ receiver also aren’t getting open downfield as consistently as would be ideal, but Mularkey may have summed up the biggest issue entering the Chicago game when he said, “It’s hard to step into a throw and throw it down the field with somebody in your face.”