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O-Zone: Deep in thought

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Robert from Moorpark, CA:
Why does it feel like the run game has not been able to get going recently? That really worries me with next week's game and playoffs right around the corner. Is it Leonard Fournette? The offensive line? What gives?
John: It feels like the Jaguars' run game hasn't been able to get going recently because the Jaguars' run game … wait for it … hasn't been able to get going recently. But the run game in fact is not dramatically different right now than it has been much of the season. While the Jaguars rank first in the NFL in rushing, the run offense has not been dominant as much as it has been one that has been effective in fits and starts. Look at the first four games; a healthy Fournette didn't reach four yards a carry in any game until Week 5 at Pittsburgh. He did it again the following week against the Los Angeles Rams, but needed 90- and 75-yard runs in those games to raise his yards per carry. The Jaguars often this season have not been able to run when they have wanted or needed to run. Notable exceptions included Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and at home against Seattle. What's the reason? Well, Fournette has struggled with injuries in the second half of the season; that has contributed to the issues in recent weeks. But mostly this hasn't been a consistently great run-blocking line. The Jaguars lead the NFL in rushing because their defense is good enough to allow the offense to stick with the run game deeper into games than was the case in recent seasons. That has allowed a good run offense to be ranked No. 1 all season. But your bigger point is well taken: the Jaguars need to get the run game closer to its peak levels. If it can do this, this team can go far in the postseason. If it can't …
Tim from Atlantic Beach, FL:
What happened to the discipline? That last game wasn't "Jaguars Football." They've always been a class act. I would sooner be losing every game compared to this past attitude on the field. Don't get me wrong: I love winning, but do these guys have to act out? I mean, the ridiculous penalties …
John: I don't think you would sooner be losing every game.
JT from Rosamond, CA:
Cheers to the fans for selling out in an hour.
John: The first-round playoff game on January 6-7 indeed sold out in 61 minutes Wednesday. This follows back-to-back sellouts in the final two 2017 regular-season games. I guess people like to see teams that win. Who knew?
George from Harrisburg, PA:
John, a couple of years ago, you stated in the O-Zone that you thought it was realistically possible that the Jaguars would play a home playoff game within five years. Manny thought you were off your rocker, including me. Congratulations and I'll never doubt you again.
John: Who the hell cares what Manny thought? He's a clown.
Bruce from Gotham:
The 2018 season looks like a tough schedule Mr. O, with the possibility of a few prime-time games, don't you think?
John: Absolutely. The Jaguars because they won the AFC South in 2017 will play the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers at home and the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs on the road in 2018. They also will play the AFC East Champion New England Patriots and NFC East Champion Philadelphia Eagles at home. To the victors go the spoils? Yes, but in the NFL the victors of divisions also get a tougher schedule.
John from Starke, FL:
Well, we got our wake-up call Christmas Eve. But think positive: Our glass is half-full, not half-empty. Now we know what Steelers fans and Ravens fans felt like after we got to them, yet Steelers are in the playoffs and the Ravens will be in. So let our team go to Tennessee and win big. Fill the 'Bank the next week. Your thoughts.
John: OK.
Nick from Annapolis, MD:
I don't envy the position the coaching staff is in this week. Although they can't improve their playoff position, they have a division opponent they obviously want to beat. And if they don't win they have to play them the following week (right?). My gut tells me I would rest players as much as possible and have a very minimal game plan, but does that approach really fit in with the tone of the coaching staff the whole season? Weird spot the Jaguars are in.
John: The Jaguars are in a weird spot – and frankly, I've never covered a spot quite like this. We have covered the weirdness and scenarios ad nauseam on this site and will continue to do so, but what we apparently know is that the Jaguars are going to go all in to beat the Tennessee Titans Sunday. Head Coach Doug Marrone said he feels like that's the right decision for this team. I'm usually a big proponent of rest at the end of the season. This isn't because of fear of injury as much as getting players' rested and revived for the playoffs. Fresh legs and speed can be huge factors in the postseason. But this is a young team that has played fast all season. It also is a team that plays on adrenaline and emotion. I don't see the Jaguars running out of either any time soon. Marrone has told this team it's about winning now all season, and he doesn't want to stop now. I don't think that will mean the Jaguars winning Sunday because it's tough for a team playing for nothing to beat a team playing for everything, but I do think it's probably the right approach for this team this season.
Richard from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
John, like you I was there in 1999. I did not expect it would be so long since that era, and then behind Peyton Manning's Colts that we would finally host a playoff game again. Yay, but I have a fear; I'll be sad losing to the Bills, Chargers, or Ravens. The fear is losing to the Titans. I want the Titans OUT of the playoff picture. What are your thoughts about how hard the Jaguars will play in Week 17 at the Titans? On December 31, please remember to Win Today. Go Jags since 95.
John: Ah, Titan Angst indeed is real this week. I personally don't feel it; more importantly, I don't get the sense players and coaches are attaching any undue significance to the Titans. Here's how I see it playing out: I figure the Titans win Sunday because they're desperate and it's a have-to game. The Jaguars will play hard and want to win, but won't "have to," because they've already clinched the No. 3 seed. That said, I think the Jaguars are the better team right now and I think they would beat Tennessee in a playoff game at EverBank Field. The fans would have to go through a week of Titan Angst to get there, but most would survive it and I bet they would find it worth it.
John from Jacksonville:
Hi, John. With the No. 3 seed and a home game a lock for Wild Card weekend, is there anything the Jags or the fans should be hoping for this weekend with regards to the outcome of the race for the sixth seed on who we want to play? Also, assuming we win that game, we would play the second seed team. I'm guessing our preference is the Steelers over the Patriots for our away game that following weekend, which is likely unless the Patriots slip up this weekend. Any reason to hope for this to happen?
John: I suppose you can hope for the Steelers to maintain the No. 2 seed, and I guess you can hope the Jaguars avoid playing the Chargers in the first round. But here's the bottom line: the Jaguars are going to have to go to Foxboro or Pittsburgh to advance to the Super Bowl, and they're going to have to beat a good team to have the chance to go either place. The Jaguars can win in either place or they can lose in the first round. Why is there no clear answer here? Because there's no answer to the question. Nothing will be easy. Everything will be a heavy lift on an epic scale. It's the playoffs. It's supposed to be hard.
Travis from Winter Garden, FL:
O, I wrote to you last week about the offense being worse with LF27 on the field. I am not suggesting that he is not our best player on offense; I simply am saying it appears the defense knows we are going to him on first down and it is leading to us being behind the sticks. When he is out, we turn to a more "pass-first" team, which has appeared to work out well. What say you?
John: I'm thinking. I'M THINKING!!!!

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