JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's Thursday notes and observations as Jaguars prepare for the Dallas Cowboys: QB Blake Bortles, takeaways on defense and a new-look Jaguars offense
1.Nate Hackett's not worried about Blake Bortles this week. "He knows there's going to be criticism," Hackett, the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, said Thursday as the Jaguars (3-2) prepared to play the Dallas Cowboys (2-3) at AT&T Stadium Sunday at 4:25 p.m. "He has the ability to brush it off. He's used to it. It has helped him." Bortles, the Jaguars' fifth-year quarterback, had one of his worst games in the last season and a half in a 30-14 loss to the Chiefs last Sunday. He threw five interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, while being pressured a season-high 11 times with five sacks. Bortles in the last season and a half often has responded with productive games after difficult games; the Jaguars are 8-1 under Head Coach Doug Marrone in weeks after losses and Bortles has thrown 11 touchdown passes with five interceptions in those nine games. "He switches it and it's something that makes him stronger," Hackett said. "That's something I really respect about him."
2.Takeaways have been a major topic around the Jaguars this week, with the defense forcing five in five games this season – 31st in the NFL – after finishing second in the league with 33 last season. "We're going to get them; we just have to make sure we catch them," defensive coordinator Todd Wash said, noting the Jaguars' five dropped interceptions in a 31-12 victory over the New York Jets in Week 4. "We didn't do it a couple of times already this season. When we have an opportunity to catch the football, we have to catch the football." The Jaguars also have 11 sacks this season after finishing second in the NFL in the category with 55 last season. Sacks and turnovers often come when defenses are leading and therefore mostly rushing the passer. The Jaguars trailed throughout both of their losses this season; they led the New England Patriots throughout a 31-20 Week 2 victory, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is known for passing quickly and therefore being difficult to sack. "If they're quick-timing and trying to hit Level 1 and 2, you're not going to get there consistently," Wash said. "When the quarterback's not sitting back there slinging it, it's a different game. Once you get ahead, the quarterback feels the rush and those defensive backs have a chance to make some interceptions."
3.This isn't the offense Hackett expected to run this season. Injuries to running backs Leonard Fournette and Corey Grant are two reasons. Injuries to left tackle Cam Robinson, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Marqise Lee are three more. What was expected to be a run-oriented team centered around a three-headed backfield of Fournette/Grant/T.J. Yeldon and a dominant offensive line now has Yeldon as the remaining healthy back from that group. It also features a line playing its third left tackle (Josh Walker), a receiving corps without its best blocker (Lee) and a tight-end group without a player in Seferian-Jenkins who was blocking at a high level early in the season. "That's part of the job, having all that change," Hackett said. "You have to always adjust. It's about trying to put everybody in the right position." Hackett was asked if that changed game planning. "Without a doubt," Hackett said. "If you look at us at this time last year, we looked like a completely different team on the field in terms of what we were doing. … You always have to be able to adjust to the guys you have in – what they do good. You have to be multiple enough in your system to be able to do different things."
4.Whatever the personnel, Hackett said the Jaguars must run. "That's something we definitely want to do, and we want to emphasize," Hackett said. The Jaguars, after leading the NFL in rushing last season, rank 15th this season. Fournette has 71 yards on 20 carries while playing parts of two games, with Yeldon leading the Jaguars with 258 yards and a touchdown on 59 carries. The Jaguars called just 14 rushing plays in a 30-14 loss to Kansas City Sunday, a number Hackett on Thursday attributed in part to the Jaguars trailing by 20 at halftime and in part to Grant's first-half departure leaving Yeldon and Brandon Wilds available at the position. The Jaguars revamped the position this week, releasing Wilds and signing four-time Pro Bowl selection and 11-year veteran Jamaal Charles and rookie Dave Williams. With Fournette ruled out, Yeldon is expected to start Sunday with Charles and Williams available. "It's always something I want to do, and push on everybody," Hackett said, adding of Charles: "He has a lot of speed. You can tell he's done it a couple of times, so that's something that makes you feel good."
5.The Jaguars got positive injury news Thursday, with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Malik Jackson working full after practicing limited and missing practice, respectively, Wednesday. Six players worked limited, with right tackle Jeremy Parnell (knee) and defensive end Calais Campbell (ankle) working limited a second consecutive day and cornerback Jalen Ramsey and long-snapper Carson Tinker added to the injury report with knee injuries. Center Brandon Linder (knee) and left guard Andrew Norwell (foot) worked limited after missing practice Wednesday. Four players missed practice for a second consecutive day: Fournette, left tackle Josh Wells (groin), cornerback D.J. Hayden (toe) and cornerback Tre Herndon (hamstring). Fournette, Wells and Hayden have been ruled out for Sunday.