JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Azcardinals.com senior manager Darren Urban on the Cardinals as they enter Sunday's game against the Jaguars at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
*Question: The Cardinals are 4-6 having lost to Houston Sunday. That's not what the Cardinals expected, but where are they entering Sunday? *
Answer: There's disappointment because there were high hopes about this season – and you had your legs taken out from under you when you lose your best offensive player (running back David Johnson) in the first game because of an injury. It has been rocky since then. They weren't playing well early in the season, anyway, but you add in Johnson getting hurt and [quarterback] Carson Palmer breaking his arm and their left tackle (D.J. Humphries) has only played in a few games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. They're missing their top sack guy (linebacker Markus Golden) from a year ago. None of those things help. Except for a couple of games with [veteran running back] Adrian Peterson, they've had trouble running the ball all season; that makes it very difficult. Now, you're playing a third quarterback. These are things that are tough for teams to overcome. At 4-6 in a pretty strong NFC, they're not in a very good place right now. They wanted this upcoming three-game home stand to mean something. It's going to be tough for it to mean anything at this point.
Q: Between losing Johnson and Palmer, is it fair to ask which hurt more? Or do they just both hurt in major different ways?
A: The offense was built on Johnson; he had over 2,000 total yards last season. They had big plans for him; not only can he hurt you running the ball, he can really hurt you as a pass receiver. He splits out and runs routes; he went to college as a receiver. The matchup problems that you cause with him are pretty significant and you lose all of that. All of that being said, quarterbacks are at a premium in this league – and there's a reason Carson Palmer is starting. He was just starting to play well; he had a rough first couple of games and a half, but he was playing well when he got hurt. I think his injury changed a lot. Both [backup quarterback] Drew Stanton and [third-team quarterback/current starter] Blaine Gabbert have been OK, but that's a great impact. In this league, you really don't want to lose your quarterback. As bad as losing David Johnson was, you just don't want to lose your quarterback.
Q: Jaguars fans obviously are curious about Gabbert, who played with the Jaguars from 2011-2013. How is he doing?
A: He has just played the one game, which was Sunday (when he threw for a career-high three touchdowns). They signed him in May, which is relatively late in the offseason and well past free agency and the draft. They wanted to take a look at him. [Cardinals Head Coach] Bruce Arians has body types and physical tools that he loves in quarterbacks – and Gabbert has all of that. They wanted to take a look at him, they kept him around and he was clearly the No. 3 guy. When Carson Palmer was healthy, it really didn't matter. Obviously when Carson Palmer got hurt, a lot of fans wanted to see Gabbert. Fans feel like, 'We've seen Drew Stanton play on and off since 2013 and we know what he's about; we want to see Blaine Gabbert play.' There was a lot of excitement with how he played most of the game Sunday. He didn't prove himself as any kind of a world-beater [in a 31-21 loss to the Houston Texans] but he did play pretty good football. He suffered the same things that Drew Stanton and even Carson Palmer suffered – that if you can't run the ball, it's really tough to be a passing team. They've had issues with the receivers of late; all of a sudden some of these guys can't catch, and that has been a problem. But overall, for one game, everybody's happy with Gabbert. What that means going forward, we'll see.
Q:How is the Cardinals' defense holding up?
A: It has been a give-and-take. You can argue both ways. Early in the season, when things were sputtering a lot, I think the defense was getting a little bit frustrated and there were a couple of breakdowns. Then you have situations like Sunday, when a couple of times Gabbert and the offense got the defense a lead, and the defense immediately gave it back. I think they had hoped for bigger things out of this defense, overall. They're starting to get some turnovers, which is helpful. They lost Golden, so they lost half of a really good pass rush from a year ago. [Linebacker] Chandler Jones has had a really nice season, but he's all by himself. The defensive line has not been as good as they had hoped. A lot of people, especially this week, are going to talk about losing [current Jaguars and former Cardinals defensive end] Calais Campbell – and that makes a difference. That doesn't help, either.
Q: The Cardinals obviously have been through a lot and their personnel losses have been major. How do they have to play to win games right now? What's their formula?
A: They've done it a couple of times. They're in a position sort of like the Jaguars. Clearly, the Jaguars want to play great defense, run the ball and basically limit [quarterback] Blake Bortles. What Gabbert did Sunday was great, but he's not going to throw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, and he's not going to win the game by himself with the way the receivers are playing. So, the Cardinals have to get a run game going. The couple of times they have won since acquiring Peterson, they've gotten the run game going. They just have to have some semblance of a run game, and this defense has to find a way to get off the field on third down. They don't get enough pressure on the quarterback, and they don't get enough internal pressure from the defensive line – again, something they used to have with Campbell. And the edge rushers have been hit and miss since Golden went down. It's basic football: run the ball, get pressure on the quarterback and have a couple of turnovers. But it has been a real struggle in that regard.
Q: Is this a team that still has fight?
A: You can question all the other stuff, but the effort has been there. They have played better at home in that regard; this crowd usually gets them jacked up. I do think the fight is there. You're not talking about a team that's just going to tick off the weeks until the end of the season, not at this point. We might get there, but I don't think we're there yet.