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O-Zone: Bringing down the house

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Mike from Navarre, OH:
Usually at this point in the season I'd have my pitchfork out and be ready to join the crowds of angry fans. Something about this defense and the potential of all these young players keeps me from giving up too soon on this team. Who is the biggest surprise to you so far this season and who is the biggest upset based on your expectations for this team?
John: I'm surprised Yannick Ngakoue has been as effective as he has been through four games. I'm not surprised he has shown ability, but I expect rookie pass rushers to have a long acclimation process – and Ngakoue appears strikingly well-adapted at this stage of his rookie season. That plays into my biggest overall surprise: the effectiveness of the Jaguars' rookie class. If you consider Dante Fowler Jr. part of that class, you have five players – cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, Fowler, Ngakoue and defensive tackle Sheldon Day – who are showing the potential to form the core of the defense. That's an unreal amount of production from five players who never had played an NFL snap before this season. I'm also surprised Blake Bortles struggled to the extent he did in Weeks 2 and 3. I wrote often throughout the offseason that I believed Bortles had some significant steps to take this season, so I wasn't surprised there were struggles. I was surprised they were so pronounced and so damaging to the Jaguars' chances to win those two games.
Chris from Section 437:
I know turnovers are a big concern with Blake Bortles moving forward. One guy that turned the ball over a lot during his career was Brett Favre. A lot of his turnovers were deep balls, however, and he was able to still win a lot by continuing to go downfield. I would like to see this with Bortles: even if he turns it over deep, keep throwing long. What do you think?
John: There's no question Bortles needs to take shots deep. The Jaguars want him to do this when the time is appropriate – and I've never sensed any concern around the Jaguars that Bortles will become too cautious. That's not his nature. The biggest concern with Bortles' interceptions this season came from forcing plays too early in games. It's not so much the long, chance throws down the field that hurt quarterbacks; it's the sack/fumbles and the interceptions that give opponents possession in plus territory. Those are the tougher turnovers to overcome.
Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
The last win against the Colts was without question a must-win game. That's the difference between this year and seasons past. They had to have it and so did the Colts – and the Jags won. They know they can do it now and I think they will and win the division.
John: OK.
Johnathan from Virginia:
I am tired of reading, "Fire the coaching staff." Excluding interim coaches, all of the Jaguars' previous head coaches went on to be head coaches for other NFL teams. Two are still in the league and we get to play against them, while one retired with some rings. Can we move away from this topic until Bill Cowher wants to coach again?
John: The easiest thing to do when teams lose is to blame coaching, and coaching does matter in the NFL. It's just almost never the only reason a team is struggling. It's often not even the primary reason, and there are plenty of situations in which perfectly capable coaches are in a situation beyond their control. John Fox has coached in Super Bowls with two different teams. He's 1-4 with the Bears this season. I suppose it's possible that he suddenly became a horrible coach just as I suppose it's possible Bill Belichick was an idiot in Cleveland and suddenly a genius in Foxboro, Massachusetts. But while I suppose those things are possible I also suppose that's probably not the case.
Brian from Dunwoody, GA:
I told you this when we signed him, and I'll say it again: [Patrick] Omameh is going to play well and be deserving of his starting spot.
John: OK.
Dave from Orlando, FL:
Johnny-O, after four games, Yannick Ngakoue has three sacks, Dante Fowler Jr. has two. Olivier Vernon has one. So far, that's $17 million a sack for the Giants. A few months ago, not signing Olivier Vernon was a major fail; now, thanks to Ngakoue and Fowler, we are better off.
John: Ngakoue and Fowler appear on their way to being high-level defensive ends. They also appear to have a chance to be part of a young, ascending defense. That's what matters far more than Vernon's average earnings per sack.
Bill from Hammock, FL:
O, there has been a lot of discussion of an ascending defense with the statistical information confirming this. It seems to me that this is even more evident based on the exceptional quarterbacks faced in the first four games. Do you believe this is true?
John: The Jaguars for the most part played well defensively through the first four games of the season. That's tougher to do against elite quarterbacks, so that's a good thing. The key for this "ascending" defense is to continue the "ascending" part. While there have been good signs and improved statistics on that side of the ball, there also have been too many points allowed – and the performances have not yet been dominant. If that side of the ball does not improve from this point then the Jaguars won't be much better off than they are right now. If that side of the ball does improve and fulfill the potential it's showing … well, from that sort of stuff long-term sustained success often is built.
James from Socorro, NM:
EVERY team in the NFL is one or two plays away from a couple of more wins. That's life in the NFL, and it's disingenuous to say the Jaguars could be 3-1. For example, all of the Chargers (1-4) losses have been by less than a touchdown (a team that blew out the Jaguars, by the way). What separates good teams from mediocre teams is winning games in the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars have not shown themselves to be anything other than mediocre.
John: You are correct. That's why pass rush, quarterback play and the ability to run are so important. With most games decided by one or two plays, the quarterback must minimize mistakes and maximize impact plays. With most games decided by one or two plays, the pass rush must pressure the passer in late-game situations. With most games decided by one or two plays, the running game must be effective late. The Jaguars this season haven't had enough of all of those things operating at a high level enough to win more games. That needs to change.
Richard from Myrtle Beach, FL:
I'm a huge Jaguars fan and love Bortles. My concern is that in interviews he is constantly scratching, fidgety and moving his jaw. Is he really that nervous or is there any other issue going on?
John: You're overthinking this one, Richard.
John from Nowheresville:
I am really beginning to question whether Gus is the man. You stated that the first two years shouldn't count toward his record due to the absence of quality players, which I can agree with. So, last year he ended the year at 5-11 in a year that we should have won more games based on our schedule and the quarterback issues in Indy and Houston. This year, we are 1-3 so far. I have serious doubts about his ability to put the team in a position to win each week. Not playing Myles Jack the first couple of weeks really makes no sense, not adjusting scheme to have the right players on the field is coaching. What say you? Go Jaguars! DTWD
John: We can discuss all we want about who should be blamed for what records in what seasons. I'm not sure the Jaguars underachieved all that much a year ago – mainly because you had a young offense and a defense that in retrospect was not strong … but whatever. So far this season the Jaguars' season has been defined by an awful overall game and struggling quarterback play in two others. Throw penalties in there and trouble running the ball and you have a 1-3 record. Some of that is on coaching and some of that is on players. If the Jaguars turn this season around and push toward .500 I think Bradley and this coaching staff will have done a good job. If that doesn't happen then I doubt they return. We'll see.
Limo Bob from Neptune Beach, FL:
Just got back from London trip and wanted all your readers to know what a fantastic trip it was. One of the highlights was the Jag Party at the Finery Tavern. The dance you, J.P. and Lageman did with the Roar was fantastic; when the three of you took your shirts off it brought the house down! Where would you like me to send the pictures?
John: Just send it to this email. I'll print them out and put them in the room where I have the TV that's playing the video of the night in a constant loop.

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