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O-Zone: The next step

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … James from New York:
Hey Zone, I gotta say I'm not all that bent up over this loss. In fact, I'm relieved that we can hush up the playoff talk for now. The problems we had in this game are the same ones we have had all season; they were not going to magically go away. I want to keep focusing on the fact that we are improving in big ways. The red-zone scores will come. The pass rush will come. I still have faith that we are going in the right direction. Can we keep the faith?
John: I can't say I agree with the part about being relieved to hush up the playoff talk. Yes, the playoffs were probably a long shot all along, but postseason talk is fun. I like it. Covering meaningful games in November and December is fun, too – and while it's still not impossible for it to happen, it certainly is a far longer shot now. As for the overarching point of your email, though … I do agree. The issues that have plagued the Jaguars all season are probably not going away until next season, but the issues are a lot fewer and more identifiable now. The Jaguars need to close drives better and they need to pressure the passer. The first should come with experience, and the second should come with the return of Dante Fowler Jr. and the likely offseason addition of more pass rush. So, keep the faith? Absolutely, although I wouldn't have minded talking about the postseason for at least a few more weeks while keeping it.
Jordan from Joplin:
I really do think that regardless of San Diego's record going into the game, they're the type of offense that is the Jaguars' weakness. Not trying to be too obvious, but a high-powered passing offense is what we struggle with.
John: True. The Jaguars in the last three seasons have struggled against a lot of different types of teams, but they particularly have struggled against teams with good quarterbacks. Some people have pointed to this as evidence that the build isn't working, etc., etc. I see it more as evidence that the Jaguars have yet to build a defense that can consistently pressure the passer without blitzing. When you can't pressure good quarterbacks, they tend to play well enough to beat you. That's why they're good.
DUVAL DOOM from Section 217:
John: It's pretty easy to figure out. Doing it consistently? A little tougher. You're not going to hit enough big plays for touchdowns to win consistently only doing that. But as well as the Jaguars move offensively, you are going to be in the red zone a lot; the difference in touchdowns and field goals there often is the difference between winning and losing. Particularly when Philip Rivers is on the other team.
Jason from Yomitan, Okinawa:
Most teams drop eight men in the box to stop the run. Against the Jags, they drop eight into coverage with no fear of giving up a big run. The Jags' O-line is the softest in the league at this time. They get some traction running to the right, but man …
John: The Jaguars absolutely have not run as effectively as they wanted this season, and that showed up Sunday. I thought the Jaguars perhaps got away from the run a bit early against the Chargers. There was a stretch in the first half – after an early seven-yard run by T.J. Yeldon – where the running game produced just eight yards on six carries. The Jaguars mixed in an occasional run after that, but for the most part were dependent on the passing game. Still, it was clear Sunday they didn't have confidence in the running game – and that's a problem for a team that entered the season wanting to be a running team.
Royce from Jacksonville:
Mr. O, you have told us over the past few weeks how well "the o-line" is blocking for the run, yet the Jags throw more than forty times. It seems those in charge of play-calling don't agree. Will Yeldon ever get a chance inside the 20?
John: I don't recall banging the table on the issue of how well the offensive line is run-blocking. I have said at times it appears the line has created some holes, and that the area has shown flashes. Overall, I'd say the run-blocking has been "OK" at best. As far as Yeldon … I was as surprised as anyone he didn't get touches in the red zone on Sunday. If the Jaguars had been in obvious short-yardage situations I believe he would have gotten said touches. As it was, the Jaguars were in more run-pass situations where Blake Bortles had options. He opted into pass plays at least twice in those situations. Can an argument be made to commit to running Yeldon from time to time in the red zone? Yes, I think it can.
Shawn from Here:
I wouldn't like to read and respond or be you today, or any day for that matter. Just kidding. Fans gonna fan?
John: Yeah, and trust me: you wouldn't want to be me any day. That has nothing to do with my inbox, by the way.
Mike from Jacksonville:
Where has McCray been? I'm tired of seeing Gratz out of position, being called for a foul, or giving up a big play.
John: I empathize. I do. But the same issues that hurt Gratz – not making plays on the ball enough – has been the issue around pretty much any Jaguars corner that hasn't been consistently in the starting lineup this season. That's a list that includes both Gratz and McCray.
Phil from Belleville:
Could have sworn you said this secondary was improving? Boy was that hard to see in this game...
John: It is improving. It's not perfect. It's particularly not perfect when the pass rush isn't getting home.
Will from Orlando, FL:
I have a feeling the players are not the only ones learning. The coaches still seem to be learning that the red zone needs to be addressed if this team wants to be taken seriously in talks in November and December. This team has come a long way; things just need to be less messy and more crisp both on the sideline and on the field.
John: Everyone knows the red zone must be addressed. That includes players and coaches. Knowing this and improving in this area, however, are two different things. Red-zone effectiveness is about experience, as well as about play-calling and execution. When the Jaguars struggle as they have there this season, it's safe to say all three need to improve.
Dave from St. Augustine Shores, FL:
Our starting defensive ends are a joke, but I'm not laughing. No sacks – just offsides penalties. Why not give Chris Smith and Ryan Davis a try? Playoffs are a bust so try something different; it couldn't get any worse.
John: Chris Clemons and Andre Branch haven't gotten nearly the production the Jaguars need from the Leo pass-rushing position. The Jaguars' defense depends on the Leo to pressure the quarterback, and there's no doubt that's an area that must improve moving forward. The offsides penalties were hurtful Sunday because you can't give any quarterback free yards, particularly one as good as Philip Rivers. But the reason you don't give players "a try" is because the players playing are better than the ones not playing as much. Also, I'm always skeptical when people say something couldn't get worse. It's usually not true.
Kevin from Jacksonville:
Four hundred-plus yards offense and one touchdown. To me, that's the telling statistic of the game. It tells me that we're hard to stop between the 20s, but we sputter in the red zone. We all know that at this point, but it also tells me that while Blake Bortles has not been good enough, he belongs in this league. Not sure how fun this fact is after a loss, but we had a total of 12 possessions, and scored in seven of them. That tells me we're close.
John: That's indeed the telling statistic of the game, and it is the offense's overarching storyline for the season. What had been an issue all season showed up in glaring clarity Sunday. The reality of the Jaguars' offense is we are seeing up close and in focus the second step of what the Jaguars hope will be a multi-step process. The first step was the nearly complete ineffectiveness of last season. The second step is production between the 20s and a lot of potential, both of which the offense has shown this season. Production in the red zone should be the next step, and getting really good in the red zone should come later. What we're seeing isn't as unusual as it is frustrating. It must improve and time will tell if that happens.

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