HOUSTON, Texas – Game-day O-Zone.
This is Year 23 for me covering the NFL. I don't remember as odd a pregame feeling. What happens here Sunday will matter a great deal within the context of the Jaguars and the NFL.
That context matters enough that we are here.
Yet, that context matters little compared to what's going on in Florida and Northeast Florida. So while we are here, our minds are there. Stay safe.
Let's get to it …
Edward from Los Angeles, CA:
Why was Dede Westbrook playing in a meaningless fourth preseason game while injured? Now, he's on injured reserve. I loved the Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone hires, but the team hasn't played a game that matters and it already appears to be dysfunctional.
John: This is unsurprisingly the Pregame Topic of the Weekend and it's fair to say perspective is needed here. The Jaguars indeed played fourth-round wide receiver Dede Westbrook in Preseason Week 4, then placed him on injured reserve Friday. That means he is out for at least the first half of the regular season. And it's true that he was dealing with a core muscle injury during preseason. Why was he playing in the preseason finale? Because Marrone believed Westbrook needed to play. That's because while Westbrook was putting up impressive preseason numbers he also had not yet worked his way into playing with the first unit. There were still things he needed to do – including improving getting off press coverage – to work his way into being among the front-line receivers. That's difficult to grasp because he led the NFL in preseason receiving, but the difficulty of the grasping doesn't mean it's not true. Perhaps in retrospect the Jaguars should have rested Westbrook – and perhaps playing him in Week 4 set him back; that seems unlikely because he played well during that game and it didn't seem to affect him, but it's possible. We're unlikely to know that because it's not something the team is likely to discuss. Either way, the sense here is while this indeed is the Pregame Topic of the Weekend it's not something that will hurt the Jaguars early as much as many fear. Westbrook wasn't going to play extensively over Allen Robinson or Marqise Lee on the outside. He wasn't playing ahead of Allen Hurns in the slot. Given the fact that his preseason work came with the second and third team – and given the fact that Keelan Cole's work was coming with the starters, I'm not convinced Westbrook was going to play over Cole early. This is not a knock on Westbrook's long-term prospects, but I do wonder at the extent of his short-term role if he hadn't gone on injured reserve.
J. Hooks from Orange Park, FL:
I really appreciated the response Blake Bortles gave to a press question the other day. They asked something in reference to the hurricane affecting the game. Blake was sharp on his response: "Which one? The one in Texas or in Florida?" I'm sure that's not a direct quote, but that's a one fer, fo sho!
John: Yes. One fer Bortles – and one fer everyone in Northeast Florida … and everyone in Florida, for that matter.
Jared from Jacksonville:
Why did we cut Brandon Allen? What will we do now that we are down to just two quarterbacks?
John: The Jaguars waived Allen because they didn't believe he would help them this season, and because they didn't believe he would develop into a starter. As for what the Jaguars will do being down to just two quarterbacks, I imagine they'll start one and have the other be the backup. That's what I would do.
John from Jacksonville:
When the team does not sign a player like Alex Boone, we understand they do not think he can help but we think it lends credence that maybe your readers are smarter than the decision makers. Certainly could not be worse. We sign an offensive lineman who was let go by the Texans and they have as bad an offensive as we do. BE SAFE TRAVEL SAFE.
John: I am reminded every day with nearly every email I receive that readers are smarter than the decision-makers. One of my great regrets is that the great majority of my readers didn't have the foresight to work in the NFL. We are all lesser for it.
Jon from Brentwood:
John, disappointing to see Dede Westbrook out of action and a bit surprised by the Earl Watford decision. I look forward to seeing you in London in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, thoughts and prayers are with all our friends in Florida and especially JAX.
John: I was more surprised with Watford being released than with Westbrook going on injured reserve. While Westbrook's news was surprising, he had been in and out of practice enough that I wondered how many games he would play early in the season. I thought Watford had played well enough in Preseason Week 4 that he could get a look over Patrick Omameh at left guard. As it is, left guard still remains fluid and the Jaguars need someone to make it solid. It's not ideal. It's a long way from ideal. We'll see how it goes.
Bruce from Jacksonville:
Zone, I think Sunday's game is the most important game of the season so far. Don't you agree?
John: True that.
TJ from Jacksonville:
I, personally, was a huge fan of Calvin Pryor coming out of the draft … he seems to hit so hard and feels like a true, passionate defender. What do you think we picked up from him? I know our defense is already set on paper, but can you see him making any impact plays this year?
John: I think Pryor feels like the kind of pickup that carries risk countered by a lot of upside. He has the skills to start in the NFL, and it's hard to argue that he doesn't upgrade the overall safety position. I'm a little jealous, though. I've always thought of myself as a "true, passionate defender" – a super hero, if you will … a man to be admired by all. And yet, no one's ever called me that. Pryor just got here and he gets the moniker. What about me?, I ask. What about me? #Truepassionatedefender #whataboutme?
Tony from the Land of Confusion:
Given Calvin Pryor's reputation for being an off-field issue, who among the veterans is most likely the one designated to lay down the law? I'd think it'd be Poz (and as an aside, I am SO glad he's still with the team; I think we're really going to need his professionalism in the locker room this year) or will it be Campbell or TSmith (someone I hope will still be around next year)?
John: The sort of law-laying to which you're referring is best done by a group. Calais Campbell, Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith absolutely are players who won't tolerate off-field brush-ups, and my early impression is that players such as Barry Church and A.J. Bouye have little time for such things, either. Off-field distractions are fairly easily handled when brought in at this time of year. Players either fit in/contribute or they are released. There's little contractual commitment to have it be otherwise.
Rob from Duval:
You, Sexton and Shadrick... "experts" ? Really?
Josh from Pensacola, FL:
For the first time in years, I actually feel confident that the Jags will win their opening game. We have considerably more talent on the offensive side and a comparable defense – aside from pass rush. I think the Jags will completely shut down Houston's offense. All our offense has to do is not get completely shut down.
John: I can't say I share your giddy optimism, though I agree the Jaguars have a chance Sunday. I've said all week that I remember few games when the key pregame matchup was quite so obvious, which is why I snickered (yes, I've been known to "snicker") when I read "aside pass rush." That's a little like saying a team has a comparable offense with the Green Bay Packers – aside from Aaron Rodgers. The Texans' pass rush can overwhelm a game – and the Jaguars' offensive line struggled enough during the preseason that it's fair to have serious doubts about its ability to run or pass protect Sunday. If the Jaguars can run effectively enough to keep momentum balanced, and if Bortles can manage the game without field-flipping mistakes, then the Jaguars indeed have a very good chance. That's what I'll be watching early.
Mike from St. Louis, MO:
The crowd in Houston and the fact that Bortles is still our quarterback means we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning. This season is off the rails already. Great … another Top 3 pick.
John: Speaking of giddy optimism …
Josiah from Jacksonville:
Jags will win if: The offense stays in max protection with only two-to-three routes run on all passing plays. Use the run unpredictably, and not always on first downs. The Texans win if: Jags don't do above.
John: Pretty spot on. I agree that while the Jaguars must stick with the run, they must mix first-half passes on first down. And if they don't, those early runs better work for three or four yards. It's really hard to throw successfully into the teeth of the Texans' pass rush. And if you're playing behind the chains, you're going to see teeth.
Jerell from Columbia, SC:
John, the time is now!!!
John: Jerell's ready.