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O-Zone: Digging deep

JACKSONVILLE – Let’s get to it …

Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

We still have the defense. If they are healthy and if the offense can somehow find a running game, they still have a chance. They were roughed up pretty good the last few weeks.

This encapsulates the rest of the Jaguars’ regular season. They still have a defense capable of playing well enough to win. It hasn’t been the dominant, turnover-creating unit of last season, but it is healthy and talented enough to perform well. That’s a shred of hope. Another shred is running back Leonard Fournette might play Sunday, which could mean at least a bump in productivity for a struggling offense. Yes, this team was roughed up pretty good the last few weeks. Yes, the season is teetering on the brink. Can the Jaguars save it? They must win Sunday. The most intriguing aspect of Sunday is how the Jaguars will handle adversity. They didn’t handle it for the first three games of this four-game losing streak. They handled it better against Philadelphia the week before the bye, showing heart and guts. At some point, you must do more than show fight. You must win.

Kyle from Palm Harbor, FL

Wow, John! The Jags’ Sunday night game gets flexed to 1 p.m. It feels a little disrespectful to the team and its fans. Last season is long gone, but that team – that wasn't even allowed to show their faces in a Thursday night game – earned a prime-time game for this season, in my opinion. Do you know what the basis of this decision is? This should be a bowl of salsa to go with all the chips on the players' shoulders.

The Jaguars’ November 18 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday indeed was flexed from 8:20 p.m. on NBC to 1 p.m. on CBS. The decision was simple: The Jaguars are 3-5. NBC had a chance to flex the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings to the prime-time slot that evening. It was a pretty obvious decision. As far as this being a “chip” on the players’ collective shoulders … I suppose. But if the Jaguars were, say, 5-3 or 6-2 – as many expected them to be – they would be playing in prime time in a week and a half. The Jaguars deserve no sympathy on this one. They brought this “disrespect” on themselves.

Steve from Nashville, TN

How many prime-time games do we have now (not counting Thursdays)?

The Jaguars’ Week 14 Thursday game at Tennessee now is their only prime-time game this season.

Travis from High Springs, FL

If Bortles’ injury keeps him from playing Sunday or he were to get injured during the game, Cody Kessler would be the backup quarterback, right? Because he's been here longer and knows the offense better than Jones?

Kessler will enter Sunday’s game as the backup to Jaguars starting quarterback Blake Bortles. If Bortles doesn’t play or is injured, Kessler will be the quarterback.

Mike from Atlanta, GA

A.J. Cann at left tackle? Hard times indeed. I imagine they would be more stout in the run on that side but I would worry about him one-on-one with speed rushers.

When asked recently what changes the Jaguars might make on the line over the bye week, I mentioned moving Cann from guard to left tackle. I mentioned far more prominently Ereck Flowers possibly moving into the starting lineup after a month on the roster. I consider the latter a far greater possibility than the former.

BDN from Jacksonville

John: I appreciate the candid answers over the past few weeks. It has been tough and everyone wants a single explanation for the current slide that is due to multiple reasons. I appreciate it because at times this is where I go for all things Jags. So, thank you for not being as sarcastic to fans like me who probably deserve and instead biting your tongue and giving a candid answer. The honesty and candor have been refreshing, so thank you.

I always strive to be as honest as possible with O-Zone answers. That honestly doesn’t change whether the Jaguars are winning or losing.

Joshua from West Palm Beach, FL

Hi John, if you take a look at past Jaguars teams, this situation reminds me a lot of the 1996 team. They went into the Week 10 bye week 3-6 and they looked bad really, really bad in the first part of the season. With big wins piling up you could see that the team was starting to mesh. Being that our bye week this season is one week earlier, a healthy start to the second half could see a team start to really put some games together and put it into the playoffs just as the 1996 team did! The pieces are there, I think! What do you think? Could it happen?

I suppose, though honestly the story of the first nine games of the ’96 season was more about near-misses and a team not quite putting it together as opposed to this season’s October Story of a stunning degree of non-competitiveness. That team also wasn’t nearly as deficient offensively as this one. Still, this team does have the advantages of a very good defense and postseason experience. Those elements give them at least a glimmer of hope.

James from Socorro, NM

The 2008 Jaguars entered the season with high expectations, thanks to a trip to the playoffs the previous year where they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and lost to the New England Patriots. They drafted a defensive lineman out of Florida. However, a rash of injuries along the offensive line lead to a 5-11 season. Sounds eerily familiar.

True.

Nathan from St. Augustine, FL

I know it’s not the only reason the running game is in failure, but do you think the Jags should have kept Marcedes Lewis on the roster? He was one of the best in run blocking and had more production as a receiver than any tight end on the team this season.

Two areas in particular look like misses for the Jaguars this past offseason. One was not signing another “every-down” back following the release of running back Chris Ivory in the offseason. That left the Jaguars shockingly thin when Fournette’s hamstring became an issue. Another was releasing Lewis; while the 13-year veteran is no longer in his prime, his absence left the Jaguars without anything close to a versatile receiving/blocking option when Austin Seferian-Jenkins was injured. For a that wanted its identity to be as a dominant, run-first team, those were curious moves.

Red from Jacksonville

Hi John, when can we start discussing the 2019 NFL Draft?

Discuss it when you want. I typically don’t jump heavy into the draft until January around the time of the Senior Bowl.

Mason from Palm Bay, FL

Do you believe quarterback will be addressed in the offseason if we miss the playoffs? If yes, do you believe the current decision makers should be the ones evaluating quarterbacks/making a decision?

Yes. Yes.

Wade from the Westside

So, is next season a rebuild of sorts with the expected departure of some big-salaried players and some much-needed improvement on the offensive side of the ball?

There will be change, and some familiar defensive names will be gone. The offense obviously will be addressed.

Nick from Phoenix, AZ

The Landry Jones signing …. the Steelers are one of the toughest teams we play for the rest of the season. Could we – finally - be pulling a Know-Your-Competitor move?? The great teams usually do. I always wish that we could get into the legal-but-sneaky game. Hire a man that knows all of their plays? Watch for their signs? Make hard-count and 12-men-bring-the-team advantage – like the best do? I hope this is more intel than a sub-par third stringer... thoughts, O?

While I don’t want to dampen your giddiness, the know-your-competitor move is more of thing that commentators like to discuss than it is a competitive reality. The Jaguars signed Jones to be the backup in the event of an injury to Bortles. Will coaches ask him about the Steelers? If he’s on the roster next week, sure. Will it be a big deal in the game? Meh.

Mark from High springs, FL

Marrone is sounding like he doesn’t want to be here anymore. I’ve heard coaches go negative as a means for motivation, but his press conference Monday was simply apathetic. I’m getting the impression he may leave before he’s asked to go. Is there any gas left in the tank, or are we already beginning another rebuild?

Don’t overthink it. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone is rarely giddy in press conferences. He was perhaps a bit less giddy than usual Monday, but remember: The man had just spent the better part of a week on a deep dig into what is ailing a team failing by a wide margin to fulfill expectations. You wouldn’t be cartwheeling down Bay Street, either.

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