Quick thoughts: Bye week

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (7) during an NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Tom DiPace via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (7) during an NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Tom DiPace via AP)

JACKSONVILLE -- Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts as the Jaguars enter their 2019 bye weekend …

Oehser …

1.It should be Foles. Did Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone make the right decision this week by naming Nick Foles the starting quarterback over rookie Gardner Minshew II? The thought here is yes, and here’s why. While Minshew played well for six of eight games as the starter, he also appeared over the last month to struggle at times with Cover-2 defenses playing a safety over the top – and his tendency to move from pressure in the pocket too quickly showed itself Sunday. Minshew can improve upon those issues, but the Jaguars at 4-5 must focus on winning now – and Foles has shown the last two seasons he can function in the must-win, late-season pressurized circumstance now facing the Jaguars. Remember, too: The Jaguars signed Foles as an unrestricted free agent in March. You don’t play him because of that money, but you do play him because you believed in something about him enough to pay him that money. You don’t abandon that because he sustained a Week 1 injury.

2.This truly isn’t over. The Jaguars at 4-5 face a very difficult path to the postseason. That’s the penalty for a bad loss to the Houston Texans Sunday in what felt like a must-win game, and it’s the price for not winning one or two of three winnable games – read: New Orleans, at Houston, at Carolina -- through the first nine weeks. But remember? When the Jaguars were 0-1 having lost Foles for eight weeks? If someone had told you then that Minshew would go 4-4 and give Foles a fighting chance over the last seven weeks, you – as a Jaguars observer/fan – would have taken that. The Jaguars over the next four weeks play at Indianapolis, at Tennessee, home against the Los Angeles Chargers and home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those are winnable games, particularly with an injury to Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and the Jaguars have fared well this season in winnable games. With Foles playing quarterback, and with a healthier cornerback D.J. Hayden and wide receiver Dede Westbrook, there won’t be a game in the next month the Jaguars can’t stay in and win. Stay tuned.

3.The pass rush is still the key. This area played OK against the Texans and is capable of being effective moving forward. The Jaguars had at least five opportunities for sacks against Houston, with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson’s mobility being the difference that gave the Texans the advantage they eventually parlayed into controlling the second half. Ends Calais Campbell, Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue still represent the Jaguars’ best defensive playmakers and are still capable of changing games. They’ll need to play to that level in the last seven games. If they can, and if an offense led by Foles can get the defense leads, a pressuring defense remains the Jaguars’ best formula for winning.

Sexton…

1.The decision to go with Nick Foles is the right call. The Jaguars built their entire plan for the 2019 season on the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player’s shoulders. Since they’re still alive in the playoff chase, they shouldn’t abandon those plans. Minshew was electric and is the reason the Jaguars are still able to work towards the postseason. He also gave the club a look at its future. He was fun and will be again for the Jaguars. However, Foles is the better quarterback overall and is a guy whose track record shows late-season playoff runs with the Eagles. Opposing defenses won’t confuse him with different looks; with his understanding of the offense and big arm he’ll be able to quickly decipher and deliver the ball to wide open receivers where Minshew could not in London. It’s not only the right call. It’s an absolute no-brainer.

2.The running game must deliver. The running game was a big lift for Minshew and must continue to be for Foles. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is on pace for a huge season, but the Texans’ approach of crowding the line of scrimmage clogged holes and confused the young quarterback. Foles’ big-game experience should back safeties off the line and give Fournette room to run. One area that could further help: a strong effort to get rookie tight end Josh Oliver involved in the middle of the field. That would at least force opponents to account for him and give the running game more room near the line of scrimmage. This team can control the line of scrimmage and tempo of the game, which would play to Foles’ strengths to an even greater degree. The Jaguars can’t forget their football DNA just because Foles is on the field for the first time since Week 1.

3.The defense must be more consistent against the run. The Jaguars were gashed by Christian McCaffrey of Carolina in early October, then completely shut down Alvin Kamara of the Saints, Joe Mixon of the Bengals and Le’Veon Bell of the Jets. Last Sunday in London, Texans running back Carlos Hyde ran for 160 yards against them and looked like the reincarnation of Jim Brown with his big frame running by linebackers and safeties. The Jaguars ’ability to control the line of scrimmage and force opponents into obvious passing situations unleashes a pass rush that notched nine sacks against the Titans and eight against the Jets. In the next few weeks they’ll face the Colts running back Marlon Mack (averaging 4.3 yards per carry), Titans running back Derrick Henry (239 yards rushing against the Jaguars in Nashville last season) and Chargers running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, the latter of whom seemed unstoppable when the Jaguars last saw him in 2017. The Jaguars’ lineup has been jumbled with injuries to tackle Marcell Dareus and seemingly the entire linebacker corps. They better find a plan that works because any hope of getting into the playoffs will rest with their ability to stop the run and get teams off the field on third down.

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