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Quick Thoughts: On disruption, the passing offense and a really big game

Jacksonville Jaguars guard A.J. Cann (60) warms up before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts as the Jaguars prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati Sunday…


1.Don't be fooled by statistics – or by the idea among observers that the Jaguars' offensive line is struggling in pass protection. While the Jaguars have allowed 10 sacks through three games, this has not been a weak area. The Jaguars this season have only led for 5:56 – the final minutes of their Week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. They have trailed 7-0 after every opening possession this season, facing double-digit deficits in the second half each of the last two weeks – including the entire second half in a 31-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins Thursday. When opponents know an offense must pass – and pass downfield to get big plays fast – it's all-but impossible to prevent pressure and sacks. Also: quarterback Gardner Minshew II several times has held the ball too long in the pocket, running into sacks that could have – and should have – been avoided. The line has had a few hiccups, a too-easy sack when right tackle Jawaan Taylor moved the wrong way late in the first half against Miami among them. But this is an improved offensive line from last season. Pass protection is not a major flaw.

2.The defense can be better. This is tough to see so far; the Jaguars' defense has struggled enough to make it difficult for the offense in two games – and to make the task close to impossible against Miami. But if there is hope for the defense – and in turn, for the Jaguars' season – it's that the unit's troubles have come mainly in the first quarter. Thirty-five of the 82 points allowed have come in the first quarter, with the Jaguars allowing touchdowns on the first drive against Indianapolis in Week 1, the first two drives in Week 2 at Tennessee and the first three drives Thursday. The unit has allowed "just" 47 points in the final three quarters – allowing three second-half points in Week 1, nine in Week 2 and 10 this past week. The Jaguars' defense ranks 16th in the NFL in yards allowed and has improved from last season against the run. A struggling pass rush and young secondary will be tough to overcome. But the second-half performances perhaps provide some hope that the unit can improve enough to allow the Jaguars to compete.

3.They must …disrupt. If there is a singular key for the Jaguars this week – and moving forward – it's solving their pass-rush issues. The Jaguars through three games have registered just three sacks, one in each game. And while defensive end Josh Allen has come within inches of several more sacks/turnover-causing hits, this front four has rarely created pressure without blitzing. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone correctly noted this week that the issue isn't solely the front; a young secondary has allowed all three opposing quarterbacks – particularly Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill last Thursday – easy completions to early reads in their progressions. Even elite pass rushers have trouble getting pressure/sacks when that's the case. The Bengals enter Sunday struggling to an equal degree to protect the passer, having allowed eight sacks and 18 hits on rookie quarterback Joe Burrow last week. Those struggles don't guarantee pressure for the Jaguars on Sunday, and the Jaguars may have to blitz to harass the thus-far impressive Burrow. But however it happens, the Jaguars must get more pressure than they have thus far. All NFL quarterbacks – Burrow included – are too good to allow them the time the Jaguars have allowed this season.


1.The offense is the best defense right now. The Jaguars' defense is struggling. Pick your statistic; any stat will do. This is the first defense to give up an opening-drive touchdown in the first three games of the season since the 2012 Carolina Panthers. They've allowed the Colts, Titans and Dolphins to convert 72 percent on third down. Opponents have scored eight touchdowns in nine red-zone trips. They've managed just three sacks and two takeaways in three games. There is talent there, but it's young talent that didn't have the benefit of a preseason to play together. It's going to take time. Right now, an offense that could stake them to an early lead might be the match that gets things lit for the defense.

2.The strength of the offense is the passing game. That's tough for some to understand; it always has been run first in the Marrone era. But this team's weapons are in the passing game, and even rookie running back James Robinson is a factor when the ball is in the air. Go back to the Titans game when Minshew was throwing deep to wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., finding Robinson out of the backfield and utilizing the tight ends to move the chain and you have an example of what I mean. I don't think banging the ball into the line with Robinson can be your bread and butter. You didn't bring offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to Jacksonville to do that; Marrone could do that by himself. Minshew is at his gun-slinging best when he's on the move and making good decisions. He's not the same guy when he has to stand in the pocket. Getting him started early will open up the run game, which will uncork play action. Then you can really see how this offense is built for Gruden to do what he was brought here to do.

3.Sunday is a BIG game for a young team. This Jaguars team isn't a playoff team as I see it. It's a young team building for the future; I'd like to see it playing its best football and having identified core players when this season ends in Indianapolis in January. That said, Sunday is important for them. Success is contagious and every taste of it helps push them towards becoming a consistent winner. Cincinnati is struggling with a rookie quarterback. Houston is next followed by a Detroit team that beat second-year quarterback Kyler Murray and Arizona in Phoenix last Sunday. A victory over the Bengals would give them a chance at having a 3-3 record at the bye and that would be something to build on. It won't be easy. This Bengals team has its own young talent that would like to get Victory No. 1 in the Burrow era.

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