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Quick thoughts: On to Week 5

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JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m. in a 2021 Week 5 game …

Oehser …

  1. Winning is the next step. There have been multiple high-profile topics around the Jaguars in recent days and weeks – with perhaps the most notable on-field topic being the "marked improvement" of the entire team, the offense and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. And while the off-field topics have overshadowed all others, make no mistake: the team unquestionably has improved, going from a team that trailed the 1-3 Houston Texans by 27 points early in the third quarter in Week 1 to a team that didn't trail until the final play of a 24-21 loss to the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals this past Thursday. So obvious is the improvement that players and coaches all talked about it after the Bengals loss despite their 0-4 record – with Head Coach Urban Meyer talking Monday about the AFC South still being winnable and noting that the Jaguars can pull to within a game of first place in the division with a victory. All true. Here's the reality: this young, improving Jaguars team now has reached the point that losing close games no longer can be seen as improvement. No more grading on a curve. If the Jaguars win Sunday, they will be improving. Coming close and losing never was satisfying. It sure won't be anymore.
  2. Now, the Jaguars must start working through attrition. Now, comes the difficult part of the 2021 season for the Jaguars. And while part of the reason that's true is a difficult stretch of schedule featuring seven 10-victory teams from 2020 in a nine-game span, another reason is that the Jaguars after an 0-4 start are now into the reality of injuries and attrition of an NFL season. The Jaguars in the last two weeks have lost three starters – trading cornerback CJ Henderson to the Carolina Panthers and placing wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. and right guard A.J. Cann on injured reserve. Without Henderson, rookie Tyson Campbell must improve against the deep pass – an area that has been an issue thus far this season. Without Chark, a Jaguars receiving corps that has yet to have a 100-yard game this season must replace its best deep threat and a 2019 Pro Bowl selection. Guard Ben Bartch played well in Cann's place, and the presence of Will Richardson Jr. and Walker Little gives the Jaguars depth at the spot. Still, this wasn't the deepest team to start the season. The upcoming stretch will test multiple areas of the depth that does exist in a big way.
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Sexton …

  1. Players, not plays. This is the moment where the Jaguars go from being Meyer's team to Lawrence's team. It was going to happen eventually – maybe not this year, but next year seemed likely. The Jaguars wanted the transition from Clemson to the NFL to be as easy as possible for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, so Meyer was out in front of everything. That timeline changed last weekend. Now, Lawrence will have to shoulder the leadership role earlier than expected; if anyone is going to rally the locker room, it's going to be someone in the locker room. Lawrence was always going to decide how successful Meyer would be on Sundays; that's the way it works in the NFL where the game is about the players and not the plays. Whether he's ready for it or not, now is his time to be the face of the franchise. I'm not a gambler, but bet the farm: He's ready.
  2. Let's see it. The Jaguars' run defense so far has been the story on that side of the ball. A year ago, the Jaguars allowed 4.7 yards per carry and almost 157 yards rushing per game. This year, they have allowed 3.5 yards per carry through four games and only 106 yards rushing per game. That's a dramatic turnaround, but they haven't faced a back like Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans – though Joe Mixon is no slouch, and they did a great job with the Cincinnati Bengals' top running back. Henry has been the NFL's leading rusher since 2019 and has overpowered the Jaguars at times. If they're really as good as they've looked in the first month of the season, then Henry must be stopped. If you're looking for a reason to think they can, then look at what they've done in the first meeting between the two teams over the last four years. He's averaged just 3.7 per carry in those games – and only 70 yards per game – as opposed to 7.36 per carry and 167 yards in the second meetings of those seasons.

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