JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines the day that was around EverBank Field Thursday as the Jaguars prepared to play the Denver Broncos Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Denver Broncos' defense is good – any time any place.
But while that is true, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said the Broncos' defense is particularly good in a particularly important situation.
"When you put on their third-down tape, it's very impressive," Bradley said as the Jaguars (2-9) prepared to play the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (7-4) Sunday at EverBank Field.
That puts strain on offensive tackles Kelvin Beachum and Jermey Parnell, and it also increases the importance of the offense performing well – and specifically, running well – on early downs.
That could be difficult. While the running offense under new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has improved the past four weeks, the Jaguars' two primary running backs – Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon – are both on the injury report this week.
Ivory, who ran effectively early in a loss to Buffalo Sunday before leaving with a first-quarter hamstring injury, missed a second consecutive practice Thursday. Bradley on Thursday said Ivory "seems to be day-to-day."
"You talk to him and he says it feels better," Bradley said. "How far along he is, how much time he has left, we'll leave that up to the trainers."
Yeldon played at about 75 percent with an ankle issue Sunday. Bradley said the second-year veteran appears ahead of where he was last week.
"That was good to see him back," Bradley said. "I think that will be another one that'll be day-to-day, but obviously a lot different situation than Chris'."
Yeldon and Ivory have rushed for 668 of the Jaguars' 742 rushing yards from backs this season. The Broncos are the NFL's fourth-ranked defense, ranking fifth in the NFL in third-down defense and leading the league with 35 sacks. Their 93 points off turnovers ranks first in the NFL.
Linebacker Von Miller, who leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks, may be the NFL's best edge rusher. Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said while teams have tried chipping with a back, spreading the offense and even utilizing empty backfield sets to counter Miller, "I don't think there is a perfect way to contain him."
"I think you just have to understand where he is and everybody has to make a conscious effort to try to affect him some way or the other," Hackett said.
Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray have combined for 20.5 sacks, with Ray registering five and Ware adding three. The trio's presence makes staying out of third-long situations against Denver – and therefore, running effectively on early downs – key.
"To not put us in [third]-and-long situations is important," Bradley said. "It's not going to keep us from taking shots or doing the things that we do as well – but yeah, I think that's the goal as a team: you don't want to be in third-and-long versus any team."
BACK AT IT
Jaguars offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum worked full Thursday after being limited with a knee issue Wednesday. Yeldon worked limited Thursday after missing practice Wednesday, as did defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (ankle).
Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns missed a second consecutive day with the hamstring injury that forced him out of last Sunday's game against Buffalo. Other Jaguars players not practicing Thursday: wide receiver Rashad Greene Sr. (Achilles), Ivory, defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) and tight end Julius Thomas (back).
Bradley said wide receiver Bryan Walters appears likely to return punts Sunday. He replaced Greene in the role Sunday after Greene muffed the first two Buffalo punts.
Quarterback Blake Bortles practiced full with a right shoulder issue Thursday, and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (shoulder), center Brandon Linder (ankle), Otto linebacker Dan Skuta (back) and defensive end Chris Smith (eye) also worked full.
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson (back), safety Peyton Thompson (ankle) and defensive tackle Abry Jones (ankle) worked limited Thursday for a second consecutive day.
"You want to attack them and attack them with the things you are good at. I don't want them [the Jaguars' offensive players] to go, 'Oh gosh it is a really good defense, let's not go play football.' I want them to get excited for the opportunity to measure themselves with the Super Bowl Champs – with some of the best players we have seen across the board. It is an exciting opportunity."
--Hackett on facing the Broncos' defense
"You should be able to say it at the beginning of the season: 'All right, these games at home, we can take care of business and then the challenge is on the road.' That's why it's so important to win at home."
--Bradley on the Jaguars' 0-4 record at EverBank Field this season