JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines four Jacksonville Jaguars-related topics as the team prepares to play the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday
4. Share and share alike.We begin this Thanksgiving Fabulous Four on a familiar subject in a new situation. The subject is running back Maurice Jones-Drew, with his situation that he is sharing carries with second-year running back Jordan Todman. Jones-Drew last week rushed 14 times for 84 yards against Houston while Todman carried 11 times for 31 yards. That's more sharing than Jones-Drew has done in more than a half-decade, and Head Coach Gus Bradley lauded him for his handling of the situation Monday. Jones-Drew downplayed it Wednesday, saying while it was difficult he still had 20 overall touches. Still, that Jones-Drew accepted fewer carries without incident or public complaint was a positive for Bradley and a first-year coaching staff. It also speaks to the respect Jones-Drew has for Bradley and the team Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell are building. The significance was hardly lost on Bradley. "That's hard to do now," Bradley said. "Here's a guy that's taken all the carries I don't know how many years and MoJo has a lot of pride. It was a genuine gift to the team and I told him after the game sometimes when it's genuine like that sometimes it comes back two-fold. Those are the messages we're trying to send to our team and to make sure we capture them when something like that happens, but that's tough. It benefited the team and it benefited him."
3. Defensive improvement.If any area has improved notably on the Jaguars in recent weeks, it has been the defense. The unit struggled entering the bye, and a third consecutive solid performance Sunday against Houston shows this is more trend than aberration. After a 42-10 loss to San Francisco in London, defensive leaders spoke of getting simpler and focusing on what they could do well, and Bradley said this week that without question has had an impact. "I think it was really pointed out clearly by the coaches exactly what we're looking for," Bradley said. "We refocused on the fundamentals and I think it became clearer for them. Then, to go out there and play like we did in the Tennessee game – that built confidence. I think they said,'It's helping, it's working, we're getting less explosive plays, I understand this now, I'm getting a better feel,' and because of that they gained confidence." Bradley said it wasn't surprising players would take time to adjust to a new defense. "I knew it was going to be some time," Bradley said. "I know when we did this in Seattle, you're asking them to do different things. They have different things that the linebackers, especially what we're asking them to do. I think the more they play it the more they get a feel for how they take care of their run responsibilities and the pass. … I knew it was going to take some time for them to get a feel of just how to play the position. It's taking some time but we're moving definitely in the right direction."
2. Analytically speaking.With Jones-Drew rushing for a season-high 84 yards in Houston Sunday, and with the defense playing perhaps its game of the season, it's not surprising the Jaguars graded out well in those areas. Jones-Drew, who also had 60 yards receiving, had his best grade of the season from Pro Football Focus, and quarterback Chad Henne – who completed 23 of 32 passes with no interceptions – also had his highest grade of the season. The Jaguars' offensive line continued to struggle in the PFF grades, but the defense again graded well. Cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball each graded positively against the Texans, as did defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. Jones-Drew through 11 games is the Jaguars' highest-rated offensive player, with wide receiver Cecil Shorts III the other positively graded offensive player for the season. Marks and cornerback Will Blackmon are the two highest-rated defensive players for the season, with cornerbacks Ball, Mike Harris and Gratz grading positively as well as defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey.
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback.We close Fabulous Four, as always, with quarterback – and with five games remaining, Blaine Gabbert getting another chance to start remains a pressing issue among many observers. It is equally apparent from listening to Bradley that that chance likely isn't going to happen this season. Bradley, in the wake of what was perhaps Henne's best game of the season, was asked Monday if that game against Houston meant that the team had pretty much settled on Henne as the starter. Bradley indicated that it did, saying that while Gabbert has practiced well and that while he would not hesitate to play Gabbert if there was an injury, "It's not, 'Let's go in there thinking let's get Blaine some reps in the game." Bradley said Gabbert has been impressive in practice, and that he "is taking charge" of the scout team. He also said he believes it has been important to continue communicating well with Gabbert because Gabbert's approach has been positive and that he deserves to keep "his spirit going as well." But as for Gabbert getting another chance to start . . . barring injury, that still doesn't appear likely.