The Jaguars are competitive and capable of pushing any team to the brink, but they are still learning how to win. The roster is loaded with youth and inexperience; the inability to make plays in the clutch reflects immaturity as a team. The Jaguars are unable to get off the field in critical situations (third down and/or red zone) on defense. On offense, the unit is unable to make enough big plays to sustain drives or score points with the game in the balance. Although Head Coach Doug Marrone should be encouraged by the effort, energy, and resilience displayed by his squad, he must challenge players to step up in key moments to turn some of these losses into wins.
KEYS TO VICTORY
The Jaguars withstood the Texans' energetic response to a coaching change for the first 30 minutes of the game. The offense controlled the tempo early and seized an early lead that enabled the Jaguars to play the game on their terms. In fact, the Jaguars should have entered halftime with a lead if Stephen Hauschka had converted a pair of field goals from a reasonable distance. Those squandered scoring chances stunted the Jaguars' momentum, but it was a failed fourth-down trick play in the red zone that crushed the team's chances. Rookie running back James Robinson's fumble on an attempted halfback pass took points off the board and extinguished the flame on the team's winning dreams. Resorting to trickery in a critical situation speaks volumes to the coaching staff's belief in the Jaguars' ability to win straight up. With a deflated defense unable to turn around the momentum despite two takeaways, the Jaguars left H-Town with another loss.
The second-year pro notched his fifth 300-yard game, but the Jaguars are winless in those efforts. Despite Minshew connecting on 31 of 49 passes for 301 yards with a pair of touchdowns, the Jaguars' QB1 didn't make enough impact plays and looks frenetic as a playmaker within the pocket. He misses too many big-play opportunities and his inability to cash those lottery tickets is the difference between good and great players. Until Minshew can make impact plays consistently, the Jaguars must consider the possibility of looking to upgrade the position in 2021.
UNDER THE RADAR
Rookie wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is beginning to emerge as the Jaguars' top offensive playmaker. The rookie led the team in receiving with 79 receiving yards on seven catches, exhibiting a rugged playing style that makes him a nightmare to defend on the perimeter. Shenault is a tough runner with the ball in his hands and he's becoming a more refined route runner with experience. If he continues to develop at this rate, he could become the Jaguars' 1B to DJ Chark Jr. on the perimeter.
The Jaguars' offense moved the ball against the Texans, but never seized control of the game. Part of their failures could be attributed to the team's inability to nail a couple of easy field goals, but a questionable fourth-down trick play also contributed to the offense's woes. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been hamstrung a bit by Minshew's recent play, but he deserves some criticism for getting too cute at times. The Jaguars need to feed their best players (wide receivers DJ Chark, Shenault and Keelan Cole and Robinson) and let them do the work. We've seen the Jaguars' offense move up and down the field at will with the "Big Four" dominating the rock. Gruden needs to make it a top priority to build around his core going forward.
Credit defensive coordinator Todd Wash for getting his defense to play without three of his top defenders (defensive end Josh Allen, linebacker Myles Jack, and cornerback C.J. Henderson) in the lineup. The Jaguars forced a couple of takeaways from Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and had the game within a score for about three quarters. Although the Texans eventually picked on rookie cornerback Chris Claybrooks in the passing game (see Brandin Cooks), the defensive game plan was solid, and Wash deserves credit for his script. He overcame his lack of personnel to put his squad in a position to succeed but needed more help from the offense and special teams to pull a rabbit out of the hat on Sunday.