ATLANTA, Ga. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 24-12 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday
1.The Jaguars couldn't overcome this slow start. The Jaguars on Sunday did exactly what anyone observing this team knew they couldn't do and expect to win. They started slowly – again – and gave the Falcons' potent offense and improved defense a 14-0 lead a little more than five minutes into the game. The game at halftime felt a lot like last week in Oakland, with the difference Sunday being the Falcons managed a key fourth-quarter score and didn't allow Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II the chance to rally late. The Jaguars managed just three first-half points Sunday, and have scored 22 first-half points in their last seven games. They have lost six of those seven games, with the lone victory coming last week when they rallied from a 16-3 first-half deficit to beat the Raiders. Defense, special teams and offense all contributed to Sunday's slow start, but overall this offense's early-game struggles have given the team little-to-no chance during the season-wrecking slide. It remains the team's weak run defense that has truly defined this Jaguars season, but the inability to control games early has been a defining characteristic, too. And was again Sunday.
2.Minshew remains the Great Mystery. Another week, another week trying to analyze Minshew. The reality remains the same as it has been in recent weeks – while the excitement and energy he brought early in the season was real, that magic with one exception hasn't been there in his last four starts. That exception was the memorable come-from-behind victory at Oakland last week, but he and the Jaguars' offense have struggled mightily except for the final three quarters of that game. Minshew on Sunday completed three of 10 passes for 21 yards in the first half. That's sub-par and doesn't bode well for him being the long-term starter. At the same time, the offensive line struggled to protect, and receivers got little-to-no-separation on most plays Sunday—particularly early. The end result is that the Jaguars' quarterback situation is unsettled entering the offseason. That's only one area of the roster that's unsettled, but it's obviously the most important.
3.The defense needs a talent infusion. Yes, the same can be said of the Jaguars' receiving corps and tight ends, but we'll focus on defense for this third quick thought. Whatever Jaguars Owner Shad Khan decides next week on the direction of the franchise, the Jaguars' defense must add talent in a hurry. Only two of the team's starters in the back seven on defense Sunday were drafted. That's not to say former undrafted players are necessarily liabilities – that's not the case – but the defensive talent has fallen off significantly in the last two seasons. Credit the Jaguars' defense for fighting and scrapping Sunday. They allowed a long touchdown drive on the opening series and a point-blank touchdown after a fumbled kickoff on the ensuing series, but they held the Falcons without another touchdown until the fourth quarter. The fight was there throughout the second half, particularly on defense. But the talent isn't there and that has to start changing fast.
1. I'd like to see Nick Foles once more before the season ends. I doubt that happens, but I've seen enough of Gardner Minshew and what he is to know how I need to draft and how I need to work with him in the off-season if he is going to be an option. I'm not blind to the fact that he was down 14-0 before he even took the field, but the kid had 21 passing yards and 3 completions at the half and looked every bit of a sixth-round pick while doing it. I'm far from sold that he is the guy though I admit he intrigues me enough to let him prove it next summer. But if I'm Shad Khan, I wrote a big check in March and before I think about a big write down on my salary cap next season or hope like hell someone throws me a lifeline with an unforeseeable trade, I want to know what I've got. Foles' has a $33.5 million dead cap hit and his $22.5 million 2020 salary is unpalatable to me on the bench and I'm not entirely sure how he's going to deal with it. Give him one more game to play and me one more game to think about how I'm going to figure out a really complex issue.
2. There isn't an easy answer for Julio Jones. The Jaguars didn't have one. I'm not sure anyone in the NFL has it for the guy who became the fastest receiver to 12-thousand yards in pro football history on Sunday. I thought AJ Bouyeplayed as well as can be expected, he was always in a good spot to make a play on the ball, but Jones and Matt Ryan are as good a quarterback receiver tandem as there is in the league Ryan targeted him 15 times and he made 10 for 166 yards. The truth is that unless the pass rush can get to Ryan there is no stopping Jones and today the pass rush was never an issue for the Falcons quarterback.
3. Leonard Fournette is my offensive player of the year.This one is easy. He was on track for the franchise record for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage when we went to London at the end of October. The wheels fell off the run defense that day and the Jaguars formula for winning with the run game and the defense went away fast. The final numbers won't be record setting, but they'll be really good and perhaps the most impressive thing is something he didn't do this season. Fournette's name never appeared on the weekly injury report in 2019, not once and for a guy who runs like Earl Campbell that's not just remarkable it's amazing. I, for one, didn't think it was possible and said it repeatedly since they drafted him. Fournette is the feel-good story of the Jaguars season for what he did on the field and how he transformed himself from a guy whose actions made him look selfish and moody last season to man who became a go to guy for his teammates, the coaching staff and the media.