JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
1.It starts at quarterback. This thought isn't designed to criticize Gardner Minshew II; the Jaguars' five-game losing streak is more than quarterback play. But for the offense to improve, Minshew must improve in some areas – particularly throwing to receivers down the field and throwing into tight coverage. His troubles in these areas in recent games have been much discussed, and they lead to issues beyond the passing offense. A reason the Jaguars struggled to run against Detroit this past Sunday was the Lions' defense repeatedly stacked the front with a "Bear" defense – and brought additional safety help to stop rookie running back James Robinson. Blitzing safeties have the added effect of pressuring Minshew in passing situations. When a defense does this, a quarterback must be able to win in the passing game. Defenses are increasingly challenging the Jaguars in this way and will do so until the Jaguars make them stop. It's currently the pressing issue for this offense and the team.
2.Run defense is creeping back as an issue. Don't look now, but run defense is creeping back in as an issue for the Jaguars' defense. The run defense through three games had improved dramatically after being a season-long liability last season and a major offseason focus. When weak-side linebacker Myles Jack was healthy, the defense kept the run reasonably contained – and for the first two games, the defense turned in some key stops that kept the team in games. But since Jack sustained an ankle injury early in the second half of a Week 4 loss to Cincinnati, the run defense has struggled – allowing 205 to the Bengals and 180 to Detroit Sunday. The defensive tackles have struggled in that area in recent weeks and must improve. The team also must hope Jack can get healthy – perhaps coming out of next week's bye week. Either way, the area must improve. If it doesn't, it may not matter what else improves defensively.
3.Slow starts remain a priority – and a problem. The Jaguars' tendency to start slow continues to baffle. The defense this season has allowed a touchdown on their opponents' possessions in four of six games, and the offense has scored 20 first-possession points in 22 games dating to the 2019 regular-season opener. The issue remains a mystery to Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone. "What I do see is kind of a feeling-out process early in games," Marrone said. "That's what I'm trying to push this team to get over – that process of feeling things out instead of just playing and letting it loose. I've bene talking about that with them for a while and I want them to play like that." The Jaguars have many issues. Not having to overcome early deficits could go a long way to making many of them more manageable.
1.There is a lot of amateur psychology going on around this team right now. Folks are trying to figure out just how frustrated this team is and if the frustration level is leading to a mental block that is keeping them from breaking the five-game losing streak. Don't get me wrong: I understand the need for positive thinking and how coaches work to get – and keep – their team going in the right direction. Sometimes, they do have to think their way through a rough spot in the season. But the mental side of this team isn't what's holding it back in 2020. The Jaguars simply don't have enough firepower on either side of the ball right now – especially with the injuries on defense – to be the team they want to be.
2.They shouldn't have any problems getting focused on the Chargers. The Chargers are 1-4 but have gone toe to toe with the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints – and narrowly lost – and that's with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert in the lineup. Thankfully, it sounds as if Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen is likely to make the trip to Los Angeles because Herbert has a big, talented corps of receivers with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry. If the Jaguars can't create some pass rush, it's going to be a long day in the secondary. The Chargers are a talented football team, and it won't be long before they're the best team that plays at So-Fi Stadium.
3.Minshew must be better. Don't let the statistics fool you into believing otherwise; trust what your eyes tell you when you watch this offense. He must be better at finding open receivers down the field; he has missed too many and either settled for the underneath stuff or thrown into double coverage for wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., which just plays into the way teams are defending the Jaguars right now. He has to back defenders off the line of scrimmage with his arm, looking at the crossing routes and finding targets down the seams in order to create a better running attack – which in turn feeds into his strong suit: play-action. He wants to be this team's quarterback and he has the opportunity with 10 games left to make a big statement, but he must be better.