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O-Zone: The first flashes

JACKSONVILLE – Last day to talk Chargers.

Let's get to it … Stephen from Glorieta, NM:
You nailed it, John. You said we'd see some "Wow" moments from Blake Bortles and also some "Uh-Oh" moments. I came away from this game feeling much more hopeful. Fix a few leaks and we have a nice team. Question is, "Can the secondary improve enough to allow that to happen?"
John: I may have nailed it, but it wasn't as if I was reaching terribly far with that projection. The wow/uh-oh equation is a pretty easy one to project. The uh-oh moments are going to happen to all young quarterbacks. When you use "Wows" early you get optimistic because smart players can reduce the uh-ohs. And yeah, I sort of agree with you on fixing a few leaks. It looks like a huge "if," but "if" the Jaguars can cut out the one or two long, inexcusable plays each game then you're right that they have an improving team. Can the secondary improve enough? You would think so, because this is largely the same group of players that performed better than this a lot last season. But right now, I just don't know.
Jerell from Columbia, SC:
Cardwell needs to be called to the carpet. His drafted corners are bad and not in a good way.
John: Dwayne Gratz has struggled. No doubt. I'm surprised with that, because all signs in the offseason and preseason pointed to him taking a step this season. I don't know that any of the other corners David Caldwell has drafted has played enough to know whether they are bad or good in any way.
Jeremy from Wise, VA:
I felt like the Jags ran the ball better and protected the quarterback better Sunday. The defense outside the front four is not playing well at all. Do you see this as being a problem with depth, the personnel, the play calling or all of the above?
John: So far this season, all of the above. That's usually the case when that much goes wrong.
Devin from Charleston, SC:
Tippy-toeing to the hole on fourth down … go Toby, way to make up for that fumble. Go Jaguars.
John: I heard this enough Sunday evening that I made it a point to watch the final fourth-and-1 play again. I can't say that Gerhart is the quickest back to the hole in the NFL and this is an area he could improve. But on that play, it's hard to argue that Gerhart had anywhere to run no matter how hard he did or didn't hit the hole.
Brett from Ridgeland, MS:
Bortles looks to be a major hit from all angles. I am also very encouraged by what I have seen from Linder, Bowanko, Robinson and Hurns on the offense. Think next year's draft might favor the defensive side quite a bit, though.
John: Yes. Yes. And yes.
Matt from Orlando, FL:
Ryan Davis seems to be one of the Jaguars' most consistent pass rushers. Why doesn't he get more snaps?
John: The biggest reason is that Davis' role is as an inside pass rusher in the team's three-Leo lightning package. In that package, he lines up over an interior offensive lineman and uses his quickness to his advantage. He hasn't been effective enough as an outside rusher to merit taking Chris Clemons or Andre Branch out in other situations.
Ryan from Boynton Beach, FL:
The Jags in the first half versus the Eagles had three turnovers; since then, we have ZERO. This defense needs to start creating turnovers and shift that momentum.
John: That sure wouldn't hurt.
Chad from Jacksonville:
Even though we lost, and some of our weaknesses continue to persist, I thought the team was improving. At the beginning of the season, we wanted to be more competitive. To still be in the game in the fourth quarter. With eight minutes remaining, we had the ball and were down by two scores. We failed to convert, then couldn't regain our momentum. We made our mistakes, but we also were still within reach. Our losses may statistically be worse than they were this time last year, but it still feels different to me.
John: There may be some merit to your point. There's part of me that looks at the Chargers loss and realizes that if you look at it by itself – in a vacuum – that's probably what you expected. Decent offense early, a strong stretch by Philip Rivers at some point to put the game away, a struggling offense with a rookie unable to do much in the second half. All of that is pretty normal for a young team heading West. The problem is the Jaguars have looked worrisomely bad on defense for much of the last 14 quarters and the group hasn't given people much reason to believe they'll improve.
Will from Jacksonville:
It seems to me like Luke Joeckel has made little to no progress this year. He seems to get pushed into the backfield almost every play. What's your assessment of his play thus far?
John: I think he's been OK. He hasn't shown to be playing at an elite level, and he struggled at times Sunday with Chargers linebacker Dwight Freeney, but a lot of tackles over the last decade and a half can say that. Joeckel needs to improve, but there's no panic around here over his play. He's a player still learning his way in the NFL, and as he learns he should improve.
Scott from Honolulu, HI:
Cris Collinsworth said it best on Sunday Night Football, "Give me a line that blocks and opens big holes and I can find a thousand guys to run thru it." Sorry, John, but Gerhart is just one of those thousand guys. You've said yourself he needs good blocking and I agree; the special ones though, they at times, make something out of nothing. I'm not saying I don't like him, but he is just a guy.
John: You have no need to apologize. I never wrote that Gerhart was special on the level of one of the elite running backs. If that were the case he wouldn't have been available as an unrestricted free agent. Most running backs need blocking to be effective; Gerhart is one of those guys.
Jonathan from Jacksonville:
C'mon John … You're saying this defense was better Sunday than against Indianapolis? Everyone was wide open Sunday – just like the Indianapolis game. We are giving up 38 points a game and we are worse than last year! Enough with the excuses John, this team is lucky if they win two games this year with that putrid, horrible defense. Mike Mularkey was let go in 1 season with 2-14 record. If this team ended up 1-15 or 2-14, worse than last year, then this coaching staff needs to go!!!
John: First off, I'm getting a lot of emails about your final sentiment. I understand that sort of thing is being said, and I understand those sorts of things get said when you're struggling. That said, we're not going to turn the O-Zone into a daily Coaching Staff Job Security debate. We're not there yet, not by a long shot. As for me saying the defense played better than against Indianapolis, I thought during the game that the unit was playing at least marginally better. The Jaguars played the run pretty well and had a few really good moments early. I also thought overall the wheels didn't come off the way they did the previous week. Players and coaches afterward thought pretty much the same thing – that while what happened wasn't satisfactory, there were things that happened that could be built upon. That was different than the previous week. At the same time, you can't give up 40-yard touchdown passes routinely and you can't keep saying, 'Well, take away these plays and you'd be OK.'
Michael from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Was that first interception a bad throw or should the receiver have done more to help out the quarterback? It looked like Shorts was not expecting the ball to be thrown his direction.
John: It probably wasn't Bortles' best decision. Bortles had to throw the ball a long way for a short gain and there was a San Diego defender in good position. At the same time, Shorts had sustained a hamstring injury on the previous play and didn't make a hard charge back toward the ball, so it's difficult to pin the entire interception on Bortles.
Tim from Crescent City:
Help us understand how receivers can be wide open when there are only four defensive linemen rushing the passer and seven dropping in pass coverage!!!
John: I wish I could, Tim. I wish I could. It has been a combination of missed assignments, poor execution and in some cases, an odd defensive choice given the circumstance. The back seven is scrambling right now, but it needs to get unscrambled in a hurry.
Brian from Mandarin, FL:
The offensive line started opening some running lanes; very good. Still having trouble with blitzes, stunts and short yardage. More gelling; must have more gelling.
John: There's a chance there's some truth in this. The line has shown the first flashes of opening up some running holes in recent weeks. It hasn't been enough, but it takes a while for a line to develop cohesion on the running game, so early progress can lead to more. It also has been a more functional group pass blocking since Bortles and his accompanying pocket presence has entered the lineup. I don't want to make too much of this point, because the line hasn't played well, but for a young group that struggled mightily early, a little progress could be a good sign.

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