Game day. Lambeau Field. Chill in the air. Aaaaaah, we're right in the heart of football season.
Let's get to it . . . William from Jacksonville:
John, having elite players and star-level players doesn't guarantee anything, but having mediocre players and a mediocre general manager does.
John: We'll kick off with this email, and it's fitting because there's a general chippy, mean feeling in the inbox this morning. I don't know if that's because the Green Bay Packers are the Jaguars' opponent today, or if it's because the Jaguars have lost three consecutive games. Probably, it's a combination. Whatever, the fans seem predisposed to the negative right now, and understandably so – and saying all of that, your point is well-taken. Right now, the Jaguars have looked mediocre this season at times and worse at other times. Right now, though, we're six games into a 16-game season. No question the Jaguars have to finish the season far better than they have started. It's hard for people to imagine progress when you're 1-5 and hard for people to think a team can get better. But teams can. Now, the Jaguars must do that.
Paul from Jacksonville:
Sounds like you want to hit the pro napping circuit, and by circuit, I mean bed.
John: That's right, and by that's right, I mean I already have.
Jonathan from Lawrence, KS:
I don't get why people are calling the throw to Shorts last Sunday horrible. Gabbert knew he was under pressure and that he just had to get it in the area around the goal line for a touchdown. So he did that. Had he tried to be pinpoint accurate with the pressure on him, he probably misses that throw, as almost every quarterback would.
John: People have called the throw to Shorts horrible all week because they're in the mindset to criticize whatever Gabbert does. That's fine. That's where we are right now in the Gabbert conversation, and he hasn't been productive enough consistently enough to change the conversation. That doesn't mean the criticism is correct, and in the case of this particular play, Gabbert made the necessary throw. When you're struggling, even your best plays get criticized. That's the way of the NFL, and it's just one more thing Gabbert must play through.
Marko from Washington, DC:
I read The O-zone every day. Smart questions get smart answers. With the production of Shorts and Elliot someone needs to be cut: No. 80.
John: Why does someone always need to be cut? Thomas isn't playing as much as Shorts right now, but the Jaguars have been carrying five wide receivers this season. That's about the norm for the NFL, and Thomas also can return punts and kickoffs if needed, which makes him versatile. So even though Thomas isn't contributing as much as expected, there's not much point in releasing him right now.
Robert from Jacksonville:
In April, I can see this panning out: With the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft the Jacksonville Jaguars select . . . I will go with an unknown from Arkansas State. What is your take?
John: First, you're assuming the Jaguars get the No. 1 overall selection in next April's draft, and I don't see that happening. A lot of people disagree and that's OK. Putting that disagreement aside, believe me: I get the whole Gene-Smith-takes-small-school-unknown-player thing. And I get that at 1-5, it's the fans' right to make the joke. The reality is Smith – despite all the criticism – never has gone small school in Round One. Eugene Monroe, Tyson Alualu, Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon – Smith's first-round selections as general manager – went to Virginia, California, Missouri and Oklahoma State, respectively. All were widely considered first-round selections except Alualu, and while it has become vogue to bash the Alualu pick, there were teams ready to take Alualu in the first round. So, that's my take. Criticize Smith's drafts all you want, but the small-school thing doesn't work if you're talking about first-round selections.
Robert from Moorpark, CA:
Can you teach footwork? Or is that God given?
John: Talented feet are often God-Given, but the fundamentals of footwork can be taught. I don't know that a quarterback with less-than-nimble feet can ever have great footwork in terms of speed and making plays, but he can certainly have good enough footwork to play the position at a high level.
Nichols from Anchorage, AK:
Wow. Our tight end is the leading receiver with 17 catches for 136 yards and is tied for second with two touchdown catches. Seems like good teams (Green Bay) with good receivers can put up numbers like that on a weekly basis. This has a potential to be a slaughterfest with the Jaguars' unproven secondary of no names. Oh yea – don't forget that our best pass rusher has only two sacks. Against Aaron Rodgers that simply won't do.
John: Well, the chippy email theme goes on. Yes, teams such as Green Bay typically put up really good passing numbers, while the Jaguars generally have not in recent seasons. And yes, Green Bay has the potential to get ahead and win big on Sunday. The Jaguars will be in better shape if Derek Cox and/or Rashean Mathis can play, and though each is listed as questionable I'd argue that if Cox plays, the secondary is pretty proven, at least at corner. You did sort of touch on something that's important, though. The Jaguars must get pressure on Rodgers. They improved their pass rush against Oakland last week. They sacked Carson Palmer twice and pressured him 12 other times. The Jaguars may have to get at least that much pressure against Green Bay to have a chance. In fact, they definitely have to get that much pressure.
Joe from Jefferson City, MO:
As someone who has played receiver I can tell you I would much rather have my quarterback throw one a little short if I'm as wide open as Shorts was on Sunday. Can you imagine the outcry there would be if he overthrew Shorts on that play? One last thing, Gabbert was at the 50-yard line when he let that one go and it came down about the one yard line. I guarantee almost everyone that criticized that throw couldn't even come close. That takes some arm strength.
John: Yes, it does.
John from Jacksonville:
O man, how far away are the Jags from even having a competing team on the field that is not going to get embarrassed at home? Honestly are the Colts farther along on their rebuilding then we are? It seems like it to me and it is just sad.
John: We'll find out next week how close the Jaguars are to competing at home. And while it looks early on like the Colts' rebuilding process is going well, we again need to let the season play out. Around this time last year, Cam Newton looked like a future Pro Bowl player and while he still may be that, the jury absolutely is still out. I think Luck is going to be very, very good and that bodes well for the Colts. I also think the time is approaching that Gabbert needs to take serious strides. That, as much as anything, appears to be the storyline going forward this season.
Nate from York, PA:
Marcus from Jacksonville pointed out that Gabbert has done better when MoJo is out or limited. Do you think it might have to do with Gabbert having more opportunities without having Jones-Drew running the ball and the Jags trying to rely more on the passing game? I'm liking the connection Gabbert and Cecil Shorts are starting to have. I believe if Gabbert can have the faith and trust his offensive line to hold their blocks and the other receivers can get open to provide more options Gabbert can start to emerge as the quarterback we are looking for.
John: I like this theory a bit better than one that was getting kicked around earlier this week. That theory was that there was somehow a power struggle of some kind between Gabbert and Jones-Drew. I don't see that as an issue, but could Gabbert benefit from being able to just focus on the passing game? I guess the answer there is, "We'll see." Gabbert did look very good in the preseason when Jones-Drew was holding out and he looked good in the regular-season opener. I still believe the sample size is too small to say that Gabbert is a better quarterback without Jones-Drew. One thing we do know. We're going to get a chance to find out.
Buddy from Jacksonville:
Any chance? Any chance at all? On paper, this just doesn't look good.
John: Yes, there's a chance. I'll be anxious late Sunday morning to see if Cox and Mathis are active. If either of those two players, particularly Cox, isn't playing, this game gets a lot tougher. I'd say the Jaguars need to find a way to get a lead, and get some turnovers and extend that lead. If you do that, you can pass rush all day and have a chance to force a few mistakes. That seems like a long shot, and the odds don't favor the Jaguars, but that's the Jaguars' best scenario.