7)A significant week.Know how we've said throughout the 2011 preseason scores don't matter? They still don't, but in Week 3, they maybe matter a bit more than other preseason weeks. That's absolutely true in most preseasons, and while the circumstances are a little different this preseason, Week 3 still has importance. This is the week most NFL coaches try to structure as close to a game week as possible. This is the preseason week they spend more time game planning than any other. And this is the week starters will play deeper into the game than any other. Teams still don't worry too much about the final score, but you want to have been efficient and productive by the time you pull the starters out, usually in the mid-to-late third quarter. Most preseasons, you won't see many starters after the third preseason game until the regular-season opener. That's not quite as true this preseason, because with the truncated off-season a lot of front-line guys will get some action in the fourth week. But in terms of simulating something close to regular-season intensity, this week still matters the most. Watch the first half closely, and look particularly for offensive line and defensive line matchups. You never want to see either group getting manhandled, but particularly not this week.
6)Defending the run.The more you watch the Jaguars in training camp and preseason, the more you get an idea the defense will be very, very good against the run. Defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton were dominant at times in this area a year ago, and with the addition of Paul Posluszny, Clint Session and Dawan Landry, the middle of the defense looks drastically improved. There were times early against Atlanta this past week the run defense was stifling, and while there likely will be hiccups as the defense continues to learn to play with one another, this should be one of the strongest areas of the team. This is significant not necessarily because you have to be a great run defense to win in the NFL, but you do need the ability to make teams one-dimensional. The more one-dimensional the Jaguars can make opponents, and the more they force them to throw, the better the pass rush becomes. Because of that, teams likely will test the Jaguars' pass defense early and often this season, but you have to stop something first, and it appears the Jaguars have gone a long way to getting that done.
5)Non-story.A preseason focus continues to be Maurice Jones-Drew and Aaron Kampman – i.e., when and if either player will play. Jones-Drew is a two-time Pro Bowl running back and Kampman is a defensive end who is critical to the team's pass rush, so it's logical their return from knee injuries that ended their 2010 season would be major storylines – and the plots continue to dangle. Neither has played yet this preseason and neither will play against the Bills, but Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said this week he expects each likely will play against St. Louis in the preseason finale. The Jaguars would like them to return in as low-risk an environment as possible and the thinking is that playing on the home turf in the fourth preseason game is about the least-risky scenario. If that happens and the veterans play a series or two, fine. But really, there's no cause for concern if they don't. These guys know how to prepare for a season and the Jaguars know what they can do. They'll be ready for the opener whether they play the preseason or not.
4)Pressure packed.Talk about your misleading statistics. The Jaguars' defensive line hasn't had a sack in either of the first two games, but that hardly could be less reflective of the group's play. The line was effective throughout the Week 2 victory over the Falcons this past Friday, and that was critical to holding the Falcons to one touchdown. Most significantly, the Jaguars' defense did a solid job getting the Falcons off the field on third down. On more than one occasion in the first half, the Falcons seemed to have momentum and seemed close to putting together a drive only to be forced to throw incomplete on third down. That's important because with the Jaguars seeming certain to be improved against the run this season, they're going to force teams into more obvious passing situations. That's where sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles most often occur, and if you're an intimidating team on third downs, you have a very good chance to make game-turning, momentum-altering plays. Significant, too, is the team is generating pressure without Kampman in the lineup and with Matt Roth still not completely integrated into the defense. These are good signs, and the focus for the Jaguars now is to build on the steps that have been taken.
3)Time to gel.With the defensive line getting significant pressure Friday, the play of the offensive line became the focus for many observers. The unit hasn't been stellar early, and that has been partly to blame for the lack of production from the first-team offense. While the group has run-blocked well at times, the quarterbacks have been under too much pressure far too quickly. While that's true, it's equally the case that of any position group in football, the offensive line needs cohesion and communication and those things take time. The Jaguars are trying to work Will Rackley – who coaches will tell you didn't play poorly Friday, contrary to the opinion of many – into the lineup, while at the same time playing Guy Whimper in place of a recovering Eben Britton. The group needs to play better, and that's particularly true of Eugene Monroe and Rackley on the left side; the team needs them to develop into a formidable duo about which there's no need to worry. The O-line as a whole bears watching in the coming weeks, but it deserves some patience. What the group is trying to do takes time, and the lockout didn't make things easier.
2)Touchdown needed.Yes, it's only preseason, and yes, you've read that on jaguars.com a lot more than once in the last couple of weeks. It's also fair to point out that the Jaguars' offense has been without its best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, throughout the preseason while at the same time trying to get extensive work for two quarterbacks, David Garrard and Blaine Gabbert. Still, there's something to be said for confidence and momentum entering a season, and for the sake of confidence and momentum you'd really like to see the Jaguars get a touchdown or two during the significant period of the Buffalo game – i.e., the first two and a half quarters. The ideal would be to have an efficient, extended possession or two capped by a touchdown, preferably a red-zone touchdown. Not saying the Jaguars' offense won't be efficient this season if that doesn't happen. There's every reason to believe it will be fine whatever the outcome of a preseason game. But it would make the next week or so a lot more enjoyable for the first-team offense if it can leave the game with double digits on the scoreboard.
1)A word on the quarterbacks.You can't have a Magnificent Seven without talking about quarterbacks. At least not this preseason. There was a bit of a media stir this week when Del Rio was asked about Garrard being the opening-day starter. Del Rio replied, "Yeah, David's our starter. I said that all spring." The reality was little changed with this statement. The Jaguars never have wavered from Garrard being the team's starter, but the idea during training camp clearly has been to allow each player opportunity to take repetitions with the starting lineup. Gabbert and Garrard each took first-team reps in practice last week and did so again against Atlanta. Neither player particularly stood out in the game, and it certainly appears that for now, the best option for the Jaguars to win early in the season remains Garrard. The quarterback situation essentially remains what it has been for some time – that Garrard will remain the starter until Gabbert is ready for the job. How soon that will happen depends on Gabbert. Anyone who offers a timetable is doing more guessing than anything else.