NEW ORLEANS – Senior writer John Oehser's five takeaways from the Jaguars' 38-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.
1.Decidely unprecise.We begin this game-day takeaways on the Jaguars' defense, and Head Coach Gus Bradley knew immediately what bothered him the most after the unit allowed the most yards of his three-year tenure: precision, or more precisely, a lack thereof. "The effort, the toughness and all of the grit – it's there," Bradley said after Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 25 of 36 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. "But this is precision now. It's not just, 'Go out there and study film, line up and play our techniques.' You have to be on it. When you have the opportunity to make a play, you have to make a play.'' Bradley cited a cornerback swatting at a ball rather than deflecting it and a defensive back not dropping correctly as examples. "It's that type of detail when you face a quarterback of this caliber than you have to play with," Bradley said, with middle linebacker Paul Posluszny adding, "When you make mistakes against an elite quarterback, he takes full advantage of it. To play at a high level, and be a great defense, you have to be on point all the time. When you're not this is what happens." Posluszny summed up a defense that has struggled in recent weeks and that allowed 537 total yards Sunday: "We want as the season goes on to be better and better each week. We're not playing as well as we should."
2.Oh, those slow starts.The Jaguars knew they couldn't start slow offensively Sunday – not against Brees and one of the league's best offenses; by the time the Jaguars scored their first touchdown – a two-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Blake Bortles to wide receiver Marqise Lee – they trailed 24-0. "It's tough," Bortles said. "You get behind like that, and you have to do some different things game-plan wise, but I thought the guys did a good job from a mentality standpoint. From a will and a passion and fight – they had that the whole game. We have to continue to find ways to start faster." Lee's touchdown came with 1:23 remaining in the first half, and while the Jaguars cut the lead to 11 on Bortles' six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Allen Hurns early in the second half, Jacksonville cut the lead no further. "It just didn't go the way we had it planned," Bradley said. "Sometimes, it doesn't. The way we wanted to come out in the first half and execute … it just didn't come out the way we wanted to. We were forced to battle back. We battled back, but just not enough."
Images from the Jaguars Week-16 matchup at the New Orleans Saints.
3.Milestone achieved.Hurns was in little mood to celebrate Sunday – not after a fourth loss in the last five games. But his accomplishment mattered to him – and deservedly so. Hurns, who signed with the Jaguars as a rookie free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft, caught eight passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, giving him 61 receptions for 1,013 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He joined Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson surpassing 1,000 yards receiving this season. Prior to this season, no Jaguars wide receiver had surpassed 1,000 yards since Jimmy Smith in 2005. "Right now, the goal is to get the wins, but it's an accomplishment for both of us – and how far we've come," Hurns said. "It means a lot. Coming into this year the talk was, 'You need to draft a receiver … you need a veteran receiver.' We took that personal. Week in and week out, we remind ourselves what the talk was coming into the season."
4.Changes on the way?Bradley typically is reluctant publicly discuss personnel changes, and he didn't offer specifics Sunday. But when pressed about a defense that has struggled in several areas throughout the season – pass rush, red zone and third-down conversions in particular – he did discuss changes needing to be made. "As you go back and look at it, you find out the guys who when their numbers are called are making plays," he said. "Then you find out what we're asking out of that position and are we getting what we're asking? If not, then hard decisions have to be made. You have to look at it across the board. Guys have roles and guys have certain traits. We have to utilize those strengths. It's on us as coaches, too. The players, when we ask them do something and they line up and they understand it … then they have to perform." Bradley added, "It's on me as a coach. We have to demand to execute better and we'll see from there. … It is on me and us as coaches. We have to challenge these guys and hold them accountable to that."
5.Missing piece.The Jaguars' run defense typically has been a strength this season. That wasn't the case Sunday, and the absence of strong-side defensive end Jared Odrick was a season. Odrick sustained a knee injury on the final play of the Saints' first series – a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brees to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. "That's challenging," Bradley said. "You saw it: they were able to run the ball a little bit better on us because of that. They ran some heavy personnel and we like to have Jared in there. We weren't able to get as big as we wanted to." Odrick and Otto linebacker Dan Skuta typically set the edge of the Jaguars' defense. In Odrick's absence, Saints running back Tim Hightower rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, his first 100-yard game since he played for Denver in 2010. "Having him not in there changes things," Posluszny said. "It shows you how important he is to our front." Odrick spent much of the first half on a stationary bike and behind the Jaguars' bench attempting to return the game but could not. "We did everything we could have done at that moment to try to make it feel better," Odrick said. "Sometimes, you can't make things feel better. That's what sucks about it, because I haven't watched a game from the sidelines in five years."