JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Houston Texans at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.Quarterback's going to stay interesting. It's not fair to say the Jaguars' quarterback situation is getting interesting; the position has been a focus throughout the 2020 season. But with Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II out this week because of reported multiple fractures and an injured thumb ligament, the position gets interesting in a new way. Rookie Jake Luton will start Sunday and will take his first NFL snap in the game. That's interesting, but so is what Luton may bring to the offense. He's a prototypical, strong-armed quarterback and a sixth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft from Oregon State. He has the arm to make the throws downfield that Minshew seemed hesitant to make in recent weeks – and throughout much of his time as the Jaguars' starter. It's not a given that Minshew will return to the starting lineup this season should Luton play well. Heck, at 1-6 nothing's a given. The guess here is the Jaguars will enter the 2021 offseason looking at quarterback in the draft, but Luton's potential could make the rest of the season … interesting.
2.This is a chance to break the streak. Don't confuse this as saying the Jaguars should win Sunday; the Jaguars haven't played well enough since a Week 1 victory over Indianapolis to say they should beat anyone. And the thought here is that because of quarterback Deshaun Watson, and because of a brutal early schedule, the Texans are better than their 1-6 record indicates. But a couple of factors could give the Jaguars a chance to break their current six-game losing streak. One is the quarterback change; whoever starts for the Jaguars, the Texans won't have seen offensive coordinator Jay Gruden game plan with this quarterback – and they won't be able to sit in the soft zone/contain-based rush that they have used in winning the teams' last two meetings. Also: The Jaguars figure to be close to full health defensively after a bye this past week. Those admittedly aren't the most rock-solid reasons for optimism, but they're factors that play at least somewhat into the Jaguars' favor – and not much has played into their favor lately.
3.If the defense doesn't improve, quarterback won't matter. Here's the bottom line on the Jaguars' chances in the final nine games: Whoever plays quarterback situation, the defense must hold opponents to a touchdown or so less than they did in the final six games before the bye. The Jaguars allowed 33.3 points a game during that span, struggling to generate pass rush and having varied success stopping the run. As mentioned in the above quick thought, health could give the Jaguars a shred of hope on this front. Safety Jarrod Wilson missed four of the first seven games, and weak-side linebacker Myles Jack missed two of the last three game before the bye; Wilson is the leader of the secondary and Jack was the Jaguars' best player when healthy early in the season. If that duo – particularly Jack – can stay healthy, then getting another stop and turnover per game is possible. If the Jaguars can do that, perhaps they can play one-score games instead of being down double digits in the fourth quarter. If they can do that, they'll have a chance. If they can't, nothing else – including quarterback – will matter much.
1.Luton is the right call at quarterback. The rookie from Oregon State has never taken an NFL snap thanks to the loss of the preseason, but he's a big kid with a strong arm and plenty of upside. He's overmatched against the upcoming quarterbacks on the Jaguars' 2020 schedule -- Aaron Rogers of Green Bay, Ben Roethlisberger if Pittsburgh, Lamar Jackson of Baltimore, etc. – but we're at the point of the season where the final record doesn't matter as much as positioning for the quarterback of the future. We know who and what veteran backup Mike Glennon is, but we have no idea if Luton is, isn't, can or can't. We're likely going to find out in the next few weeks.
2.They need their own Deshaun Watson. The Jaguars haven't beaten Watson – the Texans' franchise quarterback – since he became the starting quarterback in 2017 and have lost the last five games in the series by an average of 14 points per game. He has a big arm, a winner's mentality and in a few short seasons has a highlight reel of big plays made with the game on the line. Beating Watson means playing a near perfect game on defense with blanket coverage and a strong pass rush; we haven't seen that combination from the Jaguars this season. Getting defensive end Josh Allen, Jack and Wilson back on the field to start the second half of the season is a big plus for Head Coach Doug Marrone's team – which might be able to make things more difficult for Watson than has been the case in recent seasons.
3.The future looks bright, but you must get through 2020. The Jaguars' present isn't pretty, and the recent past has been tough, but the future looks pretty sharp. The Jaguars have at least a dozen young players – and more like 15-18 guys – around whom they can build. They'll have 11 draft picks at or near the top of every round in the 2021 NFL Draft – and unless something dramatic happens, they'll own the most salary cap room in the NFL. On top of all that is a shot at getting a quarterback. They made a mistake by passing on the guys in the 2017 draft. They can't, they won't, make that mistake again. If you can get past the next two months, there is a strong opportunity ahead.