JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Detroit Lions at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
1.The offensive line continues to be an overlooked story. Positives are scarce during four-game losing streaks, but the Jaguars' offensive line deserves praise. Twenty sacks allowed through five games is deceiving; the Jaguars have thrown more than 40 passes in each of the last four games. When you throw that often – and when you trail throughout every second half – it's all-but impossible not to allow sacks. Also, quarterback Gardner Minshew II has held the ball too long at times and run into multiple sacks this season. The line has run-blocked well, and the offensive staff must figure a way – somehow, some way – to feature a strong running game more into the offense. The Jaguars drew a lot of offseason criticism for returning last season's starting line – left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jawaan Taylor – intact. The group has proved a lot of "observers" wrong so far this season.
1.Big moments will be critical moments. That has been true so far this season, and figures to remain that way. The Jaguars have fewer experienced, big-time players than most opponents, particularly on defense at tackle and in the secondary. When they get opportunities to take control of games, they must take advantage. This was evident Sunday in Houston. The defense twice created opportunities with turnovers, particularly Jarrod Wilson's third-quarter interception return to the Texans 27. When running back James Robinson's fumble ended that drive and prevented the Jaguars from taking the lead, the Texans drove easily and pushed to a double-digit lead that felt insurmountable – and proved to be just that. This defense hasn't shown it can stop teams consistently, but it showed Sunday it can create opportunities. If the Jaguars can take advantage when they're there, they'll have a chance. But this team's margin for error is too small to let opportunities pass.
3.Sidney Jones IV could be a find. The Jaguars need defensive playmakers; perhaps they found one in unlikely fashion during Sunday's loss to the Texans when cornerback Sidney Jones intercepted a pass and defensed three others. Jones, who signed to the Jaguars' practice squad September 8, was playing outside corner opposite rookie Chris Claybrooks when outside starter Tre Herndon moved inside to nickel in passing situations. This approach was necessary with rookie CJ Henderson out with a shoulder injury and nickel DJ Hayden on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. One game – even one as impressive as Jones' against Houston – wouldn't normally be enough to juggle the starting lineup permanently, but Jones' resume suggests it could be the right move. He was originally projected as a first-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, with the Philadelphia Eagles selecting him in Round 2 after he sustained a torn Achilles during his Pro Day. The Achilles injury limited him as a rookie and hamstring issues hampered him in 2018, with the Eagles releasing him following this year's preseason. If Jones' health has improved to pre-injury status, there's a possibility he could be a long-term starter. Could the Jaguars start him opposite Henderson and move Herndon to nickel, a position where they long have liked the former undrafted free agent? Don't rule it out.
1.Quarterback Gardner Minshew II reminds me of Blake Bortles. It's clear that the "formula" for the Jaguars to win with Minshew is a carbon copy of how the Jaguars used to work with Bortles. Bortles was efficient when he had a running game to set up play action. If you asked him to throw more than 40 times, or if you needed 300 passing yards from him, it usually meant the Jaguars were behind. If you need proof, go back and look at Bortles' 2015 season. Both men lack ideal arm talent, but both worked to overcome it with intellect, intangibles and over-the-top effort. Maybe Minshew can do what Bortles did with an overpowering defense and a dedicated running game, which is take them on a memorable playoff run. That would be a huge bonus from a guy they could never have expected to be their starting quarterback when they drafted him in 2019.
2.Give Minshew the running game on Sunday. Head Coach Doug Marrone isn't married to a particular style of offense. Recall that he was with Head Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans, but he is very comfortable with a run-first mentality. The Jaguars have a bright young prospect in rookie running back James Robinson, who hasn't carried the ball enough. I'm told there is also a high degree of confidence in running back Devine Ozigbo, who was designated this week to return from injured reserve. The Jaguars' offensive line has played at a higher level than it did in 2019 and there has been plenty of room to run. On Sunday, against the Lions, the Jaguars must return to the 2017 style of football. And the defense must give the Jaguars a couple of turnovers and short fields as it did last week in Houston. The Jaguars also must get the offense firing on all cylinders by playing to the play-action skills that Minshew has used so well in seven wins as the starting quarterback.
3.Beware of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. I get that he has been less than the elite quarterback Lions fans expected when he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. He's still a mobile, strong-armed quarterback who has completed 70 percent of his passes for 285 yards in two games against the Jaguars. The Jaguars have five sacks in five games this season and I've never felt as if they were harassing the quarterback this season. Somehow, they must make Stafford feel pressure and uncomfortable in the pocket. If defensive end Josh Allen plays, that's easier. It's more likely if rookie defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson can come to life, which would let Allen run more freely.