The Jaguars went toe-to-toe with one of the NFL's most talented teams. Head Coach Doug Marrone's scrappy bunch was in position to win late in the second half with the offense finding balance behind rookie running back James Robinson's big day on the ground (22 rushes, 119 rushing yards) and quarterback Gardner Minshew II's timely playmaking in the passing game. Although the second-year pro connected on just 14 of 27 pass attempts for 173 passing yards, he tossed touchdown passes to wide receiver Chris Conley and Robinson, respectively. The defense put up a respectable fight, but couldn't slow down Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. The rookie sensation lit up the Jaguars on the way to accounting for 400-plus yards (351 passing yards, 66 rushing yards) total offense. With wide receiver Keenan Allen dominating on the perimeter, the Chargers had too much firepower for an undermanned Jaguars defense.
KEYS TO VICTORY
It is easy to point to the stat sheet and suggest a turnover and three failed fourth-down conversions cost the Jaguars, but this game boiled down to a franchise quarterback taking over the game. Herbert put the Chargers on his back in critical moments and made the plays needed to lead his team to victory. The 6-foot-6, 236-pounder dropped dime after dime to his talented cast of pass catchers on the perimeter while also displaying the athleticism and running skills to create big plays on the ground. The spectacular effort helped the Chargers overcome a one-dimensional offensive attack that could run the ball against a stiff Jaguars run defense.
The Jaguars' QB1 didn't post ridiculous fantasy football numbers, but he played well enough to keep the team in the game. He connected on a few timely passes, including a 28-yard strike to Conley that gave the Jaguars a 29-22 lead. Although he sprinkled in a few more dimes to help the Jaguars stay close, Minshew had too many misfires to keep the offense on schedule. He continues to miss the mark on nearly every attempt to wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. The errant throws are problematic due to the growing frustration exhibited by the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver. He (and his fellow pass-catchers) have become more demonstrative with each miss and the quarterback could be on the verge of losing the confidence of his wide receiver corps. The frustrations haven't reached a boiling point, but No. 15 needs to take his game up a notch soon to ease some of growing concerns about his game.
UNDER THE RADAR
Robinson should be the focal point of the Jaguars' offense as a workhorse runner with size, speed and toughness. He notched a 100-yard game against the Chargers while also displaying soft hands and playmaking skills as a receiver. The former undrafted free agent has taken advantage of his opportunity as an unlikely starter and emerged as a core player for the Jaguars to build around.
Credit Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for his stubborn refusal to abandon the running game. His persistence paid off with Robinson posting a 100-yard game as part of a ball-control strategy that kept the Jaguars within striking distance until the end. Gruden kept Minshew on a low pitch count to help his young quarterback avoid the turnover woes that have plagued his game in recent weeks. Although the Jaguars came up short on the scoreboard, the run-first strategy gave the team a chance to win and a blueprint for how to move forward during the second half of the season.
It is hard to fault defensive coordinator Todd Wash for the Jaguars' defensive woes when he is attempting to play with so many young and inexperienced defenders on the field. He simply lacks the firepower to go after opponents with high-pressure tactics due to his newcomers on the field in key spots. Although the crafty defensive play-caller was able to snuff out the Chargers' running game with some clever games at the line, he couldn't control the Herbert-to-Allen connection The Chargers' WR1 topped the 100-yard mark (10 catches, 125 receiving yards) as he repeatedly found soft spots in the zone. Herbert kept taking the easy money with pinpoint throws to Allen while also taking shots to athletic tight ends (Virgil Green and Doug Parham Jr.) and designated deep threat (Jalen Guyton). The Jaguars were willing to concede some yards through the air as part of their "bend-but-don't-break" philosophy but the unit couldn't get the big stop when needed to close out a game that was up for grabs in the fourth quarter.