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Magnificent Seven IX


7)One of the Guys.Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the Jaguars' best player in 2011. In the not-too-distant future, if rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert doesn't take over that role, he needs to be close. Jones-Drew, who has spent a lot of time with Gabbert in recent weeks, is among those who believe Gabbert has a chance to be that. He particularly likes the rookie's approach. I asked Jones-Drew this week to give me one reason he thought Gabbert had a chance to be "the guy." Jones-Drew's answer: video games."He plays Call of Duty – it's as simple as that," Jones-Drew said. "He plays Call of Duty on Xbox Live." I told him my son did, too, sometimes to an extreme, and Jones-Drew said he was serious. "It shows he's human," Jones-Drew said of Gabbert. "In this league, there are two ways you can go. You can go the egotistical way and think you're better than everybody else, or you can just be yourself. When you're yourself, people respect you more. You don't have that front. People respect you more. Every quarterback we've had as been that way. For him to come in here and learn that speaks a lot, especially being highly-touted as he was. He was up there (among highly-rated draft prospects). With everyone telling him how good he was, for him to come in here and be the way he is says a lot. That's the big thing."

6)Looking for improvement.We've said it a few times the last few weeks, but entering the Saints game the Jaguars' special teams simply must improve. The kickoff coverage allowed two long returns to Antonio Cromartie against the Jets in Week 2, and although that was far from the only reason for a 32-3 loss (read: four interceptions), the early field position greatly hurt early in that one-sided loss. This past Sunday, punter Matt Turk – who has struggled in the first three games – battled difficult, rainy conditions and finished with a 31.0-yard net average. The Jaguars opted to not change punters this week, although head coach Jack Del Rio did not rule out the possibility if Turk does not improve. "We do have to be better in that particular area," Gene Smith said on his Monday radio show. Special teams is an important area for any team, but it's particularly important for the Jaguars, who emphasize the area and expect it to be a significant factor when they're playing well.  With a rookie quarterback, the Jaguars aren't likely to have a significant number of blowout victories. They need to win close games and that means taking advantage of every possible advantage, particularly those on special teams.

5)A word about the kicker.Before we're too hard on the special teams, it's important to mention Josh Scobee. There was some criticism/concern in the off-season among Jaguars followers about Scobee – not about his ability, but how he finished last season. He started last season as one of the NFL's best kickers, making his first 14 field goals, including eight from 44 or more yards. He missed 6 of 14 after that. Through three games this season, he is starting just as well as last year, possibly better. He is 5 of 5 on field goal attempts through three games, with four of the attempts from 45 or more yards. In the last two games, he has converted from 55 and 53 yards. With an offense that is struggling for touchdowns, Scobee has at least ensured that the Jaguars have gotten points from their productive drives and has given the Jaguars a chance to win two of their three games. "We've got jump over that slump that we had last year, and go all 16 games and hopefully more kicking at a very high level," Jaguars special teams coordinator Russ Purnell said.

4)D-fense. There has been a lot of praise for the Jaguars' defense thus far, and deservedly so, but before we get too deep into the season, let's say a word or two about statistics. The defense is doing its job and you can see that without looking at statistics. The statistics happen to say that the Jaguars rank fourth in the NFL in total defense, fifth against the run and seventh against the pass. In the coming weeks, Jacksonville will play significantly better offensive teams. In those games, while the objective will be to hold teams to a small number of yards, it is possible for the defense to do its job and still allow more yards than they are currently allowing. The Saints, for example, will probably rack up more yards than Tennessee or the New York Jets or Carolina. Better competition will change the circumstance and hurt the ranking, but it won't mean the defense isn't playing well. If the Jaguars can get a few turnovers, and make a few big plays – that's how you beat teams such as New Orleans and it was how the Jaguars often beat teams such as Indianapolis. That will be more critical in the coming weeks than total yardage and league rankings.

3)Speaking of which . . .A couple of more thoughts on the defense before we move on. The consensus among Jaguars players is there is still work to be done defensively. The tackling was solid the first two weeks, but not quite as good in the second half against Carolina. Then, there are the missed opportunities for big plays. Smith said this week on his radio show there were six opportunities Sunday when Jaguars defenders had two hands on the ball and the Jaguars failed to come away with a turnover. If the Jaguars had gotten two or even one of those turnovers, they're probably 2-1 and feeling relatively good. Had they gotten four or five, they're probably getting a little bit of all of that national recognition fans seem to crave. Bottom line: with the Jaguars' offense struggling, the defense needs to do more than just limit teams' yardage. They need to create some opportunities and big plays. It's a lot to ask, and it doesn't mean they're not playing good defense if it doesn't happen, but it will be key to getting through the next month.

2)Speaking of Jones-Drew. We'll move toward the end of this week's Magnificent Seven with a thought or two on Jones-Drew. Somewhat lost in the uproar over the play-calling and the 1-2 record and the lack of passing offense is that Jones-Drew is off to the best start of his career. He has rushed for 307 yards on 66 carries in three games, and what's impressive is he typically gets into a groove later in the season. On Jaguars This Week each Wednesday, Tony Boselli and Jeff Lageman talk a lot about Jones-Drew, emphasizing his competiveness and how hard he runs. It truly is something special, and for fans who appreciate great players, what Jones-Drew is doing now is something to savor. I am skeptical how long Jones-Drew can play at this level. Much of his game is built on running hard and initiating contact, which doesn't lend itself to long-term productivity, but that's not the issue in the short-term. In the short-term, the guy is a special player. So, as is the case with any running back: enjoy it while it's there because you just don't know how long it will last. It's not a running league anymore, and the value of a running back isn't what it was in the 70s, perhaps, but Jones-Drew could have been an elite player in any era.

1)Closing thought.Can the Jaguars beat the Saints? That is the question in any week, but there has been a tone in the in-box this week of this somehow being an unwinnable game. That's understandable, particularly considering the Jaguars have scored 29 points this season and the Saints have yet to score less than 30 in a game. There also is the much-publicized factor of Gabbert going against a Gregg Williams-coordinated Saints defense that blitzes effectively and has a history of confounding rookie quarterbacks. So, is there hope? There is, because the Jaguars at home, and somehow in the NFL, whenever everyone thinks the scales are tipped to one side it often doesn't work out that way. The Jaguars have a good defense, and while I expect them to throw more than they have the first three games, they still have an elite running game that can help counteract the Saints' defense. The Jaguars will need some breaks and they'll need to create momentum-changing, points-producing plays on defense and special teams. If they do those things, they can win. 

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