It's their bye week, but if what Jack Del Rio told reporters on Monday is any indication of what will transpire this week, Jaguars players shouldn't plan on taking it easy. In fact, the coach may have some nine-on-seven drills planned.
Del Rio provided a midseason report to the media today. He spoke of positives and negatives over the first half of the season, and he singled out failures in the team's run-offense and run-defense as needing bye-week attention.
"We'll take this bye-week time to go back and find some of the things we have to be better at. We recognize that we have to run the ball better," Del Rio said.
What is the mechanism for improving the running game? Del Rio was asked.
"Normally it entails some fundamental nine-on-seven drills, some middle drills; that we put the proper emphasis on being a physical team," he said.
Nine-one-seven is one of the training camp staples. It is the classic run-the-ball/stop-the-run drill; five interior offensive linemen, a tight end, a quarterback, fullback and running back against four defensive linemen and three linebackers. There is no threat of pass. Everyone's first move is forward; man on man to determine who controls the line of scrimmage.
In the second half of last year, the Jaguars established a reputation, an identity for being a physical team that controls the line of scrimmage. Through eight games of this season, the Jaguars have lost that identity.
"We have an identity. It's the 'Cardiac Cats.' We have an identity. It's just not the same identity we had last year. We're not operating in the run-the-ball/stop-the-run category as I'd like, and we'll continue to work on that," Del Rio said.
At the midpoint of the season, the Jaguars are 27th in the league in rushing and 14th against the run. They finished last season eighth and second in those two categories, despite a 5-11 record.
"I believe it's been proven that balance is a good thing. You've got to be able to do both (run and pass)," Del Rio said.
Following Sunday's loss in Houston, Del Rio was critical of his team's lack of balance on offense. The Jaguars attempted only 12 runs compared to 42 passes. The Texans were 32 runs and 35 passes.
"As coaches, we have to do a better job of preparing our guys. Clearly, we were outplayed and outcoached. As the head coach, I'll take responsibility," Del Rio said at Monday's press conference.
When asked why he didn't order offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to attempt more running plays in Sunday's game, Del Rio said: "We have our way of conducting business. It's important that I give the overall shape of how I want things to be done, but I'm not going to become the offensive coordinator."
During this bye week, Del Rio is likely to re-emphasize the shape of how he wants things done.
"The good part is we've found a way to be 5-3 and in first place in our division. I'm pleased with the overall direction of the program. I'm not pleased with (Sunday's) result," he said.
"I'm very pleased with special teams overall. It's been a lift for this team. Our coverage units are much improved over last year," Del Rio added as he gave a team-wide review of the first half of the season.
"If you look at our roster, you look at the number of guys participating. We've brought a lot of young guys in here. And you have to acknowledge that Jimmy Smith has had a terrific first half.
"On the flip side … we have not started well enough; one touchdown in the first quarter. Converting third downs remains an area. Just because you want to be better doesn't mean it's going to be better," Del Rio added.
The play of quarterback Byron Leftwich has clearly been a positive. Leftwich has the AFC's eighth-best passer rating, 85.3, though he took a step backward in Houston.
"I believe Byron is a good young quarterback and continues to make progress. You rarely see the same kind of mistake from him. I know he's going to play well and we're going to get better around him," Del Rio said.
The most major area of concern may be the Jaguars' pass-defense, which has allowed five consecutive passer ratings of 99.8 or better. The Jaguars are 24th in the league in pass-defense, but that's a statistic that's been in hard decline for five weeks. The Jaguars fell two spots based on their performance in Houston.
Pass-defense may be the most difficult area of concern to address because it includes a pass-rush that has only produced 12 sacks through eight games. That means the Jaguars are on pace to equal last year's 24 sacks, which was the fourth-worst total in the league. Del Rio, however, sees a ray of hope.
"I think our pass-rush is showing signs of life," he said. "We're around the quarterback and knocking the quarterback down more than you might think."
All of this leads to the burning midseason question: Does Del Rio think his team is a playoff contender?
"We get eight more opportunities to determine that," he said.