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O-Zone: Seven more days

JACKSONVILLE – Well, no sense putting off the inevitable.

Let's get to it … Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, it goes without saying the Jaguars' defense is not good, and every draft pick and every dime of free-agency money will be spent on the defense. But the way this defense played against the Saints, is it because they learned before the game they were eliminated from the playoffs? Did they throw in the towel knowing they are to be overhauled in the offseason so no sense killing themselves?
John: This is a logical question. The Jaguars' defense during a 38-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday – a game that wasn't as close as the score – was bad enough it was easy to think they had "thrown in the towel." But let's not hang Sunday's performance on a lack of motivation. It's not as if the defense's performance – or the performance as a whole – was all that out of character. This is a team that has struggled all season to rush the passer. When you don't pressure Saints quarterback Drew Brees, he's going to make you look really, really bad. That's true even if you're a good defense and the Jaguars are not a good defense. But players in the NFL rarely if ever throw in the towel – and if they did, it wouldn't be because they knew they were going to be overhauled. If anything, that's a bigger reason to try to play well. I have no doubt that the Jaguars' defense is frustrated, but I also have no doubt there are places such as free safety, Leo pass rusher and nickel corner – and perhaps a few more – where they just aren't good enough no matter how well they are motivated.
Andy from St. Johns, FL:
Why did Gus Bradley decide the fourth quarter was a good time to establish the run with Jonas Gray?
John: That's more Greg Olson than Bradley, but yeah … I get your point.
Mike from Navarre, OH:
It's hard imagining the ceiling for the Allens. This is real. They are THAT good. The new Thunder and Lightning have arrived. What say you, O?
John: I say Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are good, and I say what makes it even more intriguing is Marqise Lee is starting to show signs of being good, too. If Lee is what he has shown in glimpses in recent weeks, that's huge because the Jaguars clearly need a weapon or two more on offense to become more reliable. That's what it's going to take to stop the droughts and the slow starts. Add a maturing Lee, an improved Rashad Greene and a stronger interior line to this offense and suddenly you might have something really good. Really, really good.
Andrew from Panama City, FL:
Could you be more vague, please?
John: I'm not sure. Maybe. No. Yes.
James from Upper Marlboro, MD:
OK, knowing offensively we have just about all pieces in place – and even on special teams we look good – what do we need on defense to get over the hump, Mr. Great O?
John: Pass rush. Pass rush. Safety. Speed. Speed. Speed.
Dave from Jacksonville:
Bortles has 35 passing touchdowns, which is best in the league only behind Tom Brady. The offense of the future is most definitely here with the A-Team both above 1,000 receiving yards on the year. However, the defense: it has to be both the scheme of Bob Babich and the players, right?! What do you think the BIGGEST problem is out of those two? Also, how long will it take to build an average defense? Could we do it this offseason? Thanks!
John: A couple of thoughts on your question. One is while the offense indeed has a lot of solid pieces in place – and while I agree it has a bright future – the unit has not played well enough the last two weeks. The defense struggled in the first half Sunday, but the offense's recent trend of slow starts really showed up – as it did against the Falcons and Colts. While the unit has been productive it also has been streaky and inconsistent, and it's that inconsistency that must be Priority One offensively in the offseason. As far as the defense, it's Head Coach Gus Bradley's scheme not Bob Babich's – and to break down the issues will take longer than we have in one O-Zone answer. Generally speaking, the unit really, really lacks effective Leo pass rushers and effective safety play. It also needs to get faster. That has made the scheme look deficient this season. It didn't look nearly as deficient last season when the pass rush was a bit better. The argument many will make is the team should have changed scheme this season, but I don't know how effective that would have been with the personnel built to play this defense. Debate that if you will – and considering the results this season, it's an understandable debate.
B Hutch from Seattle, WA:
Terrible defensive play, botched snaps, missed kicks all on a regular basis ... since it looks like no one wants to make any changes, we should just get used to it?
John: The offseason is fast approaching. I think you'll see a lot of changes.
Jeremy from Wise, VA:
I don't see any way Bob Babich is the defensive coordinator next year. None. They changed the offensive coordinator after the offense struggled. Makes sense, right? But he isn't the only problem, is he?
John: I don't know what the future holds for the defensive staff. Those are decisions that will be made after the season. Remember, though, Babich is running Bradley's defensive scheme and the two see eye to eye philosophically. I can't see Bradley changing his scheme or defensive approach.
Tim from Winston-Salem, NC:
Still a believer in Dave and Gus and want them back next year, but we really, really, really need some playmakers on defense.
John: Yep.
Tommy from Jacksonville:
While the pass rush Sunday was as bad as it has been all year, the loss of Telvin Smith wasn't just noticeable – it was glaring. The amount of tackles missed that Telvin always makes was shocking. Tim Hightower likely has half the yardage with him in the game.
John: The absence of Smith Sunday hurt. The absence of Jared Odrick hurt, too. Their absence hurt marginally against the pass, though I won't say that Drew Brees wouldn't have thrown for many, many yards with them in the game. But against the run … yes, the absence of Odrick and Smith was glaring.
Chris from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada:
Gus can be the best motivator and positive reinforcement guy in the world, but if he is not a hard ass like Zimmer in Minnesota and Conlin in New York you not going to go anywhere!
John: I don't know who this Conlin guy is, but no … you don't have to be a hard ass to be a good coach.
Brian from Section 238:
This team is bad, not pathetic; at least they try. They're just bad. We're two years away at least. I agree we have taken a step forward from last year and the year before, but this product still has too many holes that another offseason will not be able to fill. Let's hear your thoughts.
John: My thoughts will annoy people, because people don't want to hear after ugly losses that teams are not as far away as they seem. Remember, all teams have holes – even good teams. Playmakers tend to cover up a lot of holes around them. On offense, good quarterback play covers up a lot of holes. On defense, a quality pass rush can cover up a lot of holes. The Jaguars are getting better quarterback play this season, although Bortles must become more efficient and reduce mistakes. That's paramount at this point. On defense, I expect the Jaguars to heavily address pass rush; that, coupled with the return of defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. should theoretically improve that area.
Michael from Kent, England:
How long do you think it will be until we get this pass rush sorted?
John: When does free agency start? Then, when is the draft?
Mark from College Park, MD:
How much stock can we put in Blake's possible record-breaking passing yards this year? Seven out of the Top 10 leaders in passing yards this year are from teams that are at or below .500. Is this just becoming a more pass-happy league?
John: There's no question Bortles' numbers must be kept in perspective. It's a different league now than 10 years ago, and 30-odd touchdowns is a bit more the norm now. At the same time, Bortles' improvement – and that of the offense – has been marked. Don't pay much attention to the records. Pay attention to the progress. If he keeps making that, then the Jaguars are in good shape.
Daniel Since Day One:
Thank you, John, for letting us vent all season. So can we talk draft picks now?
John: Gimme seven days.

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