In a feature that will run weekly during the 2020 season, NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks breaks down the Jaguars' performance in a 27-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts
The Jaguars are a collection of tough, hard-working, competitive guys with the kind of energy and camaraderie you love seeing in a young team. Head Coach Doug Marrone has the unit playing hard and the effort was impressive to watch on tape. Against the Colts, the Jaguars' collective grit and hustle enabled them to overcome their mental mistakes and execution errors to win a handful of critical downs. In addition, the effort displayed by their young players – particularly cornerback CJ Henderson, safety Josh Jones, wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and running back James Robinson – showed the promise of the unit. With quarterback Gardner Minshew II throwing the rock with outstanding precision, the Jaguars' core players appear to have the right stuff in place to be competitive in 2020.
KEY TO VICTORY
The Jaguars walked out of TIAA Bank Field with a "W" by winning the turnover battle. The team not only picked off a pair of passes by Colts quarterback Philip Rivers to derail a couple of Colts drives, they forced a turnover on downs twice and benefitted from a missed field goal. Although the interceptions are the only ones officially logged on the stat sheet, the five turnovers were momentum changers that robbed the Colts of scoring opportunities. Moreover, it gave a young defense the confidence needed to knock off a division rival at home.
The second-year pro put on a spectacular performance directing new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's offense. Minshew completed 95 percent of his passes (19 of 20, 173 yards, three touchdowns) to ten different receivers. Most impressive, he got the ball out of his hands quickly on an assortment of quick-rhythm tosses (screens, quicks, movement passes) designed to get the ball into the hands of the Jaguars' playmakers on the perimeter. Watching Minshew distribute the ball like a casino dealer at the blackjack table reminded me of his success directing the Air Raid offense at Washington State under Mike Leach.
UNDER THE RADAR
It is not a coincidence that Myles Jack's return to Will linebacker led to more impact plays from the ultra-athletic defender. The fifth-year pro was all over the place against the Colts with 11 tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and three quarterback hits. Jack flourished as a sideline-to-sideline defender while also creating chaos on blitzes. His disruptive playmaking ability helped energize a defense that conceded yards but came up with big plays in critical moments.
Gruden deserves a game ball for crafting an effective game plan that blended an old-school running game with a quick-rhythm aerial attack that helped Minshew settle into a groove early in the game. The Jaguars' QB1 forced the Colts to run from sideline to sideline chasing receivers, gobbling up yards on screens, quicks and bootlegs on the perimeter. Robinson gave the offense a jolt with 90 scrimmage yards on 17 touches. Although he did most of his damage early (10 rushes for 61 yards in the first half), his effectiveness as a runner between the tackles set the tone for an offense that wanted to lean on a conservative approach with a number of young players occupying prominent roles.
Coordinator Todd Wash's defense surrendered 400-plus yards but came up enough timely stops and turnovers to win. The effort and energy from the defense jumped off the tape during my film study. The young Jaguars ran to the ball with reckless abandon, exhibiting a gang-tackle mentality that has been emphasized in practice. In addition, the defense tackled fairly well for a season opener and made a couple of critical stops on third- and fourth-and-short situations. The mental toughness displayed by the unit is not only encouraging but it is something the coaches can build upon going forward. From a critical standpoint, the Jaguars must do a better job of containing running backs in the passing game. The Colts' running backs combined for 142 receiving yards on 17 receptions. Although the bulk of those yards were amassed on check-downs that the Jaguars were willing to concede to neutralize the Colts' most dangerous receivers, the unit surrendered too many "YAC" (yards after catch) on underneath routes. Overall, it was a good effort, but the Jaguars need to tighten up in a few areas to win against better teams.