JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's Wednesday notes and observations: On the Jaguars' pass rush, quarterback Blake Bortles' two-game turnover-free stretch and an opportunity for center Tyler Shatley …
1.A Jaguars focus this week: revitalizing the pass rush. "That is the one thing we're trying to emphasize," Head Coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday as the Jaguars (3-6) prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. The Jaguars through nine games rank 27th in the NFL with 19 sacks after finishing last season second in the league with 55. Opponents have emphasized quarterbacks releasing the ball quicker this season compared to last. The defense's opportunities for sacks also have been reduced because the Jaguars have trailed throughout five of six losses, meaning opposing offenses have faced fewer must-pass situations. Still, the inability to pressure quarterbacks into mistakes has contributed to a reduction in takeaways. The Jaguars were second in the NFL with 33 takeaways last season. They are 26th with eight this season. "We were talking about it, trying to create that pressure," Marrone said. "We have the same guys basically in there that we have had before. We just have to get after the quarterback. We haven't done a good of a job as we have in the past and it is something we are working on and trying to get more pressure. That is the one thing that really helped us last year and that is the one thing that causes a lot of turnovers."
2. To Blake Bortles, he is turnover-free in recent weeks for a simple reason. "Throwing it to our team," the Jaguars' quarterback said with a smile. Bortles in two games since being benched following two lost fumbles in a Week 7 loss to the Houston Texans has played the last two games without an interception or lost fumble. He has thrown for 606 yards and two touchdowns in that span – and though the Jaguars lost both games, they averaged 375 yards a game offensively the last two weeks after producing 204 and 259 yards in losses to Dallas and Houston in Weeks 6 and 7. "The focus is always on taking care of the ball," Bortles said. "Obviously, the Kansas City game was a big one throwing four dingers (four interceptions in a Week 5 loss). You try to avoid that at all costs. I wouldn't say my awareness of it has changed at all; it's always high. I know that if I protect the ball we're going to have a chance to win, regardless of anything else, as long as we don't turn it over. It's always the plan going into the game."
3.Consider this a very real opportunity for Tyler Shatley – and a very important time. Shatley, a fifth-year veteran who signed with the Jaguars as a rookie free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft, will start at center Sunday after starter Brandon Linder's season-ending knee injury Sunday in Indianapolis. Shatley started eight games in four NFL seasons – four at center last season, two at center in 2016 and two at left guard in 2016 – but the upcoming seven-game stretch could represent the longest starting stint of his career. "It's good to get those games in a row," Shatley said. "I was talking about it with some of the guys: the quickest way to get better is to have those games in a row where you can mesh with the guys up front. There's no experience like game experience. It's a great opportunity for me. It's one thing to get four or five sporadically through the season – one at left guard, one at right guard, one at center – but seven in a row is different."
4.Marrone on Wednesday was asked if his Monday morning conversations with former Jaguars Head Coach and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin have been difficult during a five-game losing streak because of Coughlin's competitive nature. His reply: "I consider myself an ultimate competitor also. I would hope as an organization we are all like that. It is always tough. For me, what's tough is for the people on the outside, the people that want voice their frustration: They are angry. I understand that. I take that. … I feel like I'm letting them down. That's how I look at it. I always have. It's not about me going out there and winning a game and, 'Hey look at me.' It's about doing it for the fans, the people in the organization. … I'm at the back of that line. For me, my job is to lead, to coach and to win football games. It is very clear what my job is, and I have no issues with that. But the sense of disappointment with people around … That's what hurts me more than anything else. … At the same point, when you are dealing with this type of adversity and you can pull everyone together and fight through it, then it's going to be a pretty decent foundation for what's going to happen next week, the following weeks and down the road. That's the challenge I have and that's the one I readily accept and I'm actually excited for."