O-Zone: No illusions

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Marcus from Jacksonville:
I think I've got this NFL thing figured out ... The Jags beat the Steelers by 21, then the Steelers beat the Titans by 23. So, when the Jags play the Titans at the end of the year they should beat them by at least 44, right?
John: I (think) get your point, but this actually is an often-misunderstood part of the NFL. People (and analysts) look at NFL margins of victory or results each week, then marvel and say, "Wow, what a zany year! What a zany week! Can you believe it?!" The reality is "struggling" teams beat "good" teams almost every week of every NFL season, and the other reality is that most games – even games with wide margins of victory – are decided on a few critical plays going one direction or the other; and upon reflection, wide margins of victory often could have been much smaller. Remember, for instance: the Jaguars' one-sided victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette scored on a 90-yard run late in that game and Jacksonville's 30-9 victory felt – and looked – like a blowout. But had the Steelers stopped Fournette there, and gotten a mop-up score on the next possession, it would have been 23-16 and had a different postgame feel. Or had the Steelers scored a touchdown or two on earlier possessions that ended in a field goal? The game might have been dramatically different. The lesson: Don't worry about margins of victory in the NFL. Worry about who won – and if one team was able to dictate play more often than not. The former is what matters, and the latter is what dictates future results more often than not.
Drew from Atlanta, GA:
This week should be a true test of how far this team has come. In the past, the Jags have struggled in games they should have won, and many are expecting them to not take the Browns seriously and be given a major challenge – if not lose. If they come out with a balanced and dominant performance, it will further verify this team is legit and maturing. When was the last time we were leading the division after 10 games?
John: I understand that this is a theme people can't help but emphasize this week – I really do. But the Jaguars absolutely will take this game seriously. It's not a trap game – or any other phrase people like to use to describe what happens when a team with a good record plays a struggling team. Bottom line? I believe the Jaguars will win Sunday; if they don't, it will because teams with good records sometimes lose to teams with bad records. It won't be because the Jaguars think the Browns are bad. And it won't be an indictment on the franchise, or necessarily a precursor of things to come.
David from Charleston, SC:
What would you consider a "good win" this Sunday, Mr. O? With the talk coming from our side, I'd think they'd have to back it up. Maybe not "hang 40 on 'em," but I'd hope for a two-score win for sure. If the Jags only win by one-to-three points Sunday does that mean they're not the contender they appear to be?
John: A good victory in the NFL is a victory – and to teams, there's no such thing as "only winning" by a certain margin. That's not Coach Speak, or me being vague – or anything of the kind. If the Jaguars win, they will be 7-3. They will be in first place in the AFC South by a full game. They will have a four-game winning streak. That's what will matter. What won't matter is margin of victory, or if the Jaguars had to come from behind. This isn't college football. There are no style points. There is no voting at the end of the season about one team or another. All of the players playing are good enough to be paid a lot of money to play. If you win, it's good. Period.
Robert from Fernandina Beach, FL:
It is always said that offensive lines need time to gel; there are a lot of communications issues, etc. How does that work with the defensive line? What I am getting at is do you think the defensive line will improve as Marcell Dareus plays longer with the line due to issues such as this, or are there other issues that come in to play with the defensive line?
John: Cohesion and gelling matter for defensive linemen, as they do with linebackers, defensive backs, offensive linemen, etc. But to your point: it doesn't matter nearly as much for defensive linemen as it does for offensive linemen. I do think the Jaguars' defensive line should improve in the coming weeks, though – and I think that because of Dareus. He is having a major impact on the Jaguars' run defense, and he likely will be playing more and more as the season continues. That's because he will play more. The more he plays, the better the line.
Dylan from Tulsa, OK:
I totally agree with Telvin Smith when he says he and Myles Jack are the best linebacker pair in the league. I wish they would have included Poz, because he deserves to be included for sure. But I also cannot think of a better pair of nickel-set, Cover-2 linebackers.
John: Me, either.
Martin from Glasgow:
I know you won't post this, because there's no point!
John: Good question.
Mark from Jacksonville:
Would the Jags rest some offensive linemen and Leonard Fournette against Cleveland even though they could possibly play? Do teams do that or is it, "Play no matter what – if you can?"
John: Right tackle Jermey Parnell and left guard Patrick Omameh did not travel to Cleveland due to injuries. Now, it is entirely possible Fournette could be held out of the game because of injury – and it's possible that those players might be able to play if it was a playoff game. That scenario isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Nathan from Yulee, FL:
It has been a long time since I have felt this weekly anxiety building up to each game. It is a negative feeling that is a positive sign that our team is finally out of the deep dark hole of losing. So regardless if we make the actual playoffs or not this season, it is great to feel like each weekend is a playoff game.
John: Welcome back to competitive football, Nathan.
Bruce from Green Cove Springs, FL:
I know there are many reasons the Jaguars are improving. Many moving parts. Many contributors. It's complicated. But if I had to choose one factor – if you threatened to drop Shadrick on my head unless I chose one factor – I would choose Calais Campbell. It's not just his skill set, which is impressive. It's his leadership. He seems to be constantly encouraging, supporting, coaching, motivating. And the guy just seems to love what he's doing, on the field and off. From your perspective, John, do the players really respond to Calais as positively as they appear to in the media?
John: Yes.
Nick from Annapolis, MD:
I'm confused why there is so much talk about the Jaguars' running game being a weakness. Yes, it had a couple rough games in a row, but we are still the No. 1 rush offense in the NFL by a wide margin in total yards, and tied for first in yards per carry. I'm not worried quite yet.
John: Weaknesses and strengths in the NFL tend to ebb and flow, sometimes from week to week. The Jaguars' run offense has ebbed and flowed a bit this season, too. The Jaguars are indeed by far the NFL's No. 1 running team, but remember: a good chunk of the team's rushing yards came on 75- and 90-yard runs by Fournette and 56- and 58-yard fake-punt runs by running back Corey Grant. The Jaguars are averaging 132 yards per game without those runs. That would be third in the NFL – still good, but perhaps not quite the dominant running game the No. 1-ranking would indicate. The truth? It's probably wise to worry about the Jaguars' running game this week. Fournette is questionable and Omameh and Parnell were downgraded to out after not traveling to Cleveland. That's concerning.
Josh from Harrisburg, PA:
With the Steelers thrashing on Tennessee, this team is very much in control of its own destiny... much like my wife controls my destiny. But not my playoff beard. She can't control that. No person can. It's wild and free.
John: The Jaguars controlled their destiny with or without the Steelers victory over the Titans Thursday night – though the Steelers victory certainly doesn't hurt the Jaguars' divisional hopes. As for your beard, yes, Josh … be free. Be free.
Mark from Archer, FL:
So my big question is. Do the Browns actually have a good run defense? Or is it just that teams are able to throw so well against them they just do not run and thus giving the Browns the illusion of a good run defense?
John: The Browns have a good run defense.

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