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Magnificent Seven VII


7.A decent matchup.Let's say this up front: almost no one is going to pick the Jaguars to beat the New York Jets this week, and it's hard to blame them. The Jets came within a game of going to the Super Bowl each of the last two seasons and even with the victory over the Tennessee Titans in the season opener, the Jaguars to many still don't have the look of a team that's going to contend for a conference title. That said, of all of the games on the Jaguars' schedule that at first glance seem very, very difficult matchups, Sunday's game in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. appears to be among the most winnable. One reason is the Jets' strength defensively is the secondary, and while the Jaguars almost certainly will have to pass more than they did last week to win, they don't seem likely to emphasize the pass for four quarters Sunday. But the biggest reason is the Jets' style offensively. You don't make the playoffs in back-to-back years if you're not a capable offense, but the teams that figure to give the Jaguars the most trouble are teams such as the Saints, Packers and Patriots, teams that are capable of running away and hiding in the first half because of an assaulting passing game. The Jets usually aren't that. They're better when they run and often aren't effective when they try to pass the entire game. That plays to the Jaguars' strength defensively. If the Jaguars can run effectively and avoid turnovers, they should have a chance at the end.

6.Long-term issues.An overriding theme among fans this week has been concern over the offensive approach against Tennessee. Too much run. Not enough aggressiveness in the passing game. That was fine against Tennessee, the theory went, but will mean trouble against teams with higher-octane offenses. All of which is probably true. Don't expect to see the Jaguars come out in five-receiver sets against the Jets or at any point this season, but don't rule out a bit more aggressiveness in the passing game, either. The Jaguars against Tennessee executed a game plan designed to beat the Titans, and to win a game that they expected to be a low-scoring, hand-to-hand combat game. They ran early, got the edge, and were able to hold on against a team still relatively limited offensively. That made them not look particularly impressive to many, but here's the thing about the NFL: as often as not, the teams that contend for the conference titles don't look like contenders early in the season, particularly after one or two games. Last week, the Jaguars had a quarterback starting for the first time in four seasons, and doing so five days after getting the starting job. If the Jaguars never open up the offense this season more than they did against Tennessee, it could be cause for concern. The guess here is they'll open it up as needed, even if not enough to satisfy some people.

5.Tyson and Terrance.Before we get too deep into the season, let's clarify something about the strength of the Jaguars' defense. First off, that strength is without question Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton, a pair of defensive tackles as good as any in the AFC. What needs clarifying is exactly what those two must do in a given game for it to be considered that they have played well. We mention this topic because there were those who wondered if the pair perhaps had a subpar game against the Titans in the regular-season opener because they finished as a tandem with four tackles (each had two). Hear this and hear it now: tackles are not the measure of effectiveness for defensive tackles. Knighton, in particular, likely will rarely have more than a few tackles in a game. Alualu, because of his penetration and quickness, could get more if teams are trying to run outside. But for the most part, their value is in their ability to disrupt and to force offenses to do things they don't want to do. On that front, the tandem was critical to the Jaguars being in control defensively much of the game Sunday. One stat that is notable for the tandem: Each had three quarterback pressures. That's big-time stuff from the defensive interior.

4. Not a tutor, but . . .One of the most overrated themes around any NFL team is that of the veterans mentoring the up-and-coming rookies. Most veterans are willing to help younger teammates, so it's a dog-bite-man story when they do it, and the truth is, the tutoring most players get from teammates isn't often all that extensive. Where there is value, though, is in having experienced veterans who approach the game the right way at a position where there are younger players developing. Rookies can learn from older players by watching and emulating, and that's where the Jaguars believe there will be value in having rookie Blaine Gabbert around Luke McCown while the latter remains the starting quarterback. McCown won't be the long-term starter here, and isn't likely headed for a Pro Bowl. What he is is a guy who has carved out an NFL career with a professional approach to preparation and practice. That's a huge reason he's the starter right now. The Jaguars believe they know week to week what they'll get from him and they believe what they get will be consistent and reliable. They also believe that his work ethic and preparation are of a high enough level that Gabbert can emulate them and know how to approach the game as he develops.

*3. On the road again. *Magnificent Seven won't usually be a numbers-based experience, but there are a couple of significant numbers as the Jaguars prepare to travel to New York. One is that the Jaguars haven't been 2-0 since 2006 and another is they haven't won their first road game of the season since 2007. The numbers are obviously intertwined, and while they obviously don't entirely explain the Jaguars' absence from the playoffs since 2007, it's tough to make the postseason if you start slow and it's real hard if you can't function on the road. It has been trendy among Jaguars fans to worry about their difficult schedule this season, and I've filled a lot of O-Zones with posts about how there's no reason to worry about the schedule until October, but the Jaguars did get a break by not having to go West this season. Most teams have difficulty playing three time zones away and anyone who has followed the Jaguars knows well their experiences west of the Rockies of late. Still, it's important the Jaguars take advantage of the relatively short flights this season and learn to win on the road. With the defense as improved as it is, that could help, and if the Jaguars want to make the playoffs, they'll need to function better away from home.

2.Into his own.The Jaguars registered two sacks against the Titans, with each coming from a newcomer (Matt Roth and Drew Coleman). And while it was a positive sign that the Jaguars' free agent class contributed in a big way Sunday, another good sign was a solid performance from Jeremy Mincey. A defensive end now in his fifth season, Mincey had a couple of solid performances in the preseason and is often lauded around the Jaguars for having one of the best "motors" on the team. On Sunday, he registered four quarterback pressures and very nearly had multiple sacks. Mincey often is overlooked when discussing the Jaguars' defensive line, so good are the defensive tackles and Aaron Kampman. But Mincey's development and consistency is a reason the Jaguars feel they're improved dramatically on the defensive front.

1.A week for the run.OK, when is it not a week for the run around the Jaguars? I get that, but the truth is the Jaguars' proficiency in the run game gives them a chance against the Jets. The Jets are built to stop the run, and get a team into passing situations, with the idea to blitz and create sacks and turnovers once they get into those situations. You beat that kind of team one of two ways – either by having a quarterback that can read the blitz and hit big plays against it or by running and keeping the defense out of those situations. Given his relative inexperience it may be a bit much to ask McCown to beat the Jets' exotic blitzes, but the Jaguars' offense is built around a belief that they can run on anyone. That belief will be tested this week, but if they're right, they have a chance to pull the upset. 

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