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O-Zone: Not yet elite

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Tres from Denver, CO:
Preseason: The losses feel like wins and the wins feel like losses.
John: I was thinking the same thing late Sunday night sitting in the EverBank Field press box, because it's absolutely true: trying to analyze and write about preseason games is as maddening for those of us who do such things as it is for fans watching it. What's real? What matters? What translates into the regular season? Honestly, probably not much – and that's even true of the all-important Preseason Week 3. It has become vogue to say the third preseason game is the best preseason gauge of an NFL team because starters play into the second half or through halftime. I have written this often, and Preseason Week 3 in fact probably is the closest thing to the regular season that the NFL preseason offers. At the same time, it's not the regular season – and considering the NFL varies widely from week to week even in the regular season, it's difficult to gauge anything specific from the results of any particular preseason game. So, why play them? For evaluation more than anything. General managers need the games to determine rosters – and coaches need them to determine what looks and schemes will work in the regular season. Why analyze them? Because it's all we have to analyze – and we have to analyze something, right? The more I thought about the Jaguars' victory over the Bengals Sunday – the one that felt like a loss – the more I realized I don't feel all the much different about the Jaguars than I did the week before. I expect them to be improved this season. I expect them to win four or so more games than last season. I don't expect them to go to the Super Bowl and I don't expect them to be elite. I expect them to have a handful of games in which they look great and a handful of games in which they look bad. That's what developing teams do, and I think that's what the Jaguars will be this season.
Mike from Jacksonville:
O, does the 25-yard start on touchbacks apply to only kickoffs? Does it also apply to punts and turnover touchbacks as well?
John: It's just kickoffs.
Matt from Easton, PA:
Starting units still have quite a bit of work ahead of them. With that said, the second and third team essentially dominated the second half. I'm optimistic about that, and will chalk up the embarrassment of the first half as something that shouldn't happen again. Sound fair?
John: Just as I don't remotely believe Sunday's performance will define this season, I can't rightfully say that I believe the Jaguars' second-half performance means the Jaguars are a deeper team than the Bengals. Also, no … the Jaguars are probably going to have some bad halves this season. It's professional football. Most teams don't play well all of the time.
Dave from Jacksonville:
Thirty-six penalties in three preseason games. How can you defend that coaching job? Please don't tell me that everything will be OK because they haven't been heavily penalized in past seasons. You have repeatedly said that Bortles and the team's previous seasons don't count toward their evaluations.
John: I don't worry about the Jaguars being overly penalized this season because I haven't seen that as a major, unfixable issue in past seasons. Many people feel differently. Maybe I'll be wrong. I've been wrong before. We'll see.
John from Clearwater, FL:
It's not the poor performance by the ones. The worry for me is both lines were physically beaten badly. Luke Joeckel was just bull-rushed to his butt three times and the defensive line was pushed right out of the middle. You can fix mental mistakes and clean things up. There's no getting physically better with the offseason over.
John: The interior of the Jaguars' defensive line needs Roy Miller. It's not ideal to be dependent on one player, but this has been a better run defense with him than without him. As for Joeckel … no, he didn't look good against Geno Atkins Sunday. There's a drop-off between Atkins and a lot of other players Joeckel will face and I believe Joeckel will get better at the guard position with time, but no … he didn't look good against Atkins Sunday.
Bruce from Green Cove Springs, FL:
Much of the talk has been about how much the defense will improve in 2016. But like you, John, I try to stay grounded in reality. In 2015, our defense ended up 31st in points allowed, 30th in passing yards allowed, and 27th in takeaways. The only defensive bright spot was ending the year at 15th in rushing yards allowed. Dave and Gus have absolutely improved the roster, and that will translate to better performance. The question is how much. We can't expect this unit to go from near-worst to near-first, but perhaps a top-15 defense isn't out of the question. Is this why you are more cautious in your predictions than many of your colleagues?
John: Yes.
Arianna from Pooler, GA:
So, you ready to throttle back on your nine-win prediction, O'knowing?
John: You can look bad against a very good team and still be good enough to beat a lot of NFL teams. The Bengals are a very good team.
Dane from Jacksonville:
With four-receiver sets becoming a common look in today's NFL, how well-equipped is the Jags' secondary to handle that type of look? With guys like Ramsey, Jack and Colvin able to fit into that tweener, linebacker / slot corner role pretty well, at least on paper, how are we looking on that front?
John: The Jaguars have at least four cornerbacks about whom they feel very, very good – Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara, Aaron Colvin and Davon House. Tashaun Gipson also is a significant upgrade at safety. That's five players in the secondary who are good in pass defense. That's a good number when game planning to defend four-receiver sets.
Dane from Jacksonville:
Well, here we go picking up right where we left off. Same old losing culture around Jacksonville.
John: Preseason Week 3 is The Closest Thing the Preseason Offers to the Regular Season. It is not The Regular Season.
Mark from Coughlin:
The commentators kept bringing up Blake Bortles' mechanics during the game. Is Bortles starting to lose the mechanics he's been working on or am I freaking out over a bad game?
John: Commentators are always going commentate on Bortles' mechanics. He was very good in the first two preseason games. His mechanics did not deteriorate in eight days.
Mike from Des Moines, IA:
That didn't inspire confidence. Some old themes reemerged. The offense started very slowly. The defense couldn't get off the field. Obvious lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback. It was a preseason game, so I'll keep it in perspective, but they weren't in 'mid-season form'.
John: No, they weren't.
Mark from Jacksonville:
Same ol' Jags! Tons of talent this year same ol' results. At some point you have to look at the coaches and their schemes! It's painfully obvious to me Gus Bradley is not a head coach in this league. This team is going to continue along this dismal path until they stop trying to hire the "next up and comer" and spend the money to bring in a proven winner to head up this team! Here's to another 5-11 season and that's being generous!
John: I included this email because I got a lot of emails like this Sunday. Clearly, there are people who believe this. I believe we'll find out a lot about Bradley this season because I believe there were very few coaches who could have done significantly more with this team in his first three seasons. That was absolutely true in the first two seasons. One preseason loss is way too early to say the Jaguars aren't utilizing their talent – and remember … a lot of this talent remains young and hasn't played together much, especially on defense. If there's no improvement this season, I doubt Bradley is the coach moving forward. But we're not where we know that. Not yet.
Marcus from Jacksonville:
You know that sound when you let all the air out of a balloon? That.
John: I get that this is the major takeaway people have from Sunday. I also understand the tendency to jump to conclusions based on one game. But remember: the Jaguars are an improving young team that has yet to reach an elite level. Teams at that stage don't go 16-0. They don't go 13-3. They have games throughout the course of seasons on the way to elite that are sometimes ugly. This is not the 3-13 and 4-12 Jaguars teams of 2014 and 2013. This team appears to be improved, but it's not going to win every game comfortably and it's going to lay some eggs. It laid one in the first half Sunday. It will lay a few more this season, but here's guessing they're fewer and farther between than past seasons.

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