JACKSONVILLE – Here's this week's Setting the Table: Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6) prepare to play the San Diego Chargers (3-3) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
The storyline around the Jaguars early this week is obvious: Improvement.
But while the team progressed in a loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said it wasn't enough. That improvement? It needs to result in victories.
That hasn't happened yet this season, with all six losses coming by double digits, including a 35-19 loss to the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sunday.
The Jaguars held the Broncos to fewer points than they had scored all season, and also limited quarterback Peyton Manning to two touchdown passes after he threw 20 in the first five games. The Jaguars trimmed the heavily-favored Broncos' lead to two points at halftime and did so again midway through the third quarter before Manning led three second-half touchdown drives to secure the victory.
But more than progress, Bradley in the wake of the loss focused on the need for a team that is competing better and showing real signs of development to start making plays necessary to win. The Jaguars committed costly penalties and let opportunities for game-changing plays slip past, and Bradley said that will remain the focus.
Look for Chad Henne to make his fourth start at quarterback for the Jaguars this season Sunday, and his second in as many weeks. He completed 27 of 42 passes for 303 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions against the Broncos, and Bradley said he will start against the Chargers Sunday.
Henne remains the starter in place of Blaine Gabbert, who started Weeks One, Four and Five before leaving a loss to the St. Louis Rams on October 6 with a hamstring injury.
Bradley did not commit to either quarterback as a long-term starter, saying that the decision to start Henne was a decision for San Diego only.
The Chargers, like the Jaguars, entered the season with a new head coach/general manager combination. And under Head Coach Mike McCoy and General Manager Tom Telesco, the Chargers are showing positive signs. They have been inconsistent through six games this season, but are coming off a momentum-building victory over Indianapolis Monday – and when they have been good this season, they have been really, really good. They have victories over Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Dallas, but have lost to Tennessee, Houston and Oakland. Key to the Chargers this season: the play of quarterback Philip Rivers, who has thrown 14 touchdown passes with five interceptions. San Diego is in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL – with both Kansas City and Denver unbeaten at 6-0 – but they are running well offensively to complement Rivers, and the Chargers' defense held Colts quarterback Andrew Luck without a touchdown pass on Monday.
The game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville at 1 p.m. Sunday will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WTEV-TV CBS-47. Spero Dedes will be the play-by-play announcer, with Steve Beuerlein providing analysis.
Early matchup to watch
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates versus Jaguars defense. Tight ends have had success against the Jaguars' defense this season, with Zach Miller of the Seahawks catching two touchdowns in Week Three and Coby Fleener of the Colts, Lance Kendricks of the Rams and Julius Thomas catching one apiece in subsequent weeks. In his 11th season, Gates remains one of the league's most effective receiving tight ends and he has caught 36 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns this season. A variety of players, including safeties Johnathan Cyprien and Chris Prosinski and linebackers Geno Hayes and J.T. Thomas, have been in coverage on the tight end for the Jaguars this season, and there have been a variety of circumstances for the touchdowns allowed. Still, Rivers knows how to use Gates, and there's little question he will be a target Sunday.
Player to watch
Justin Blackmon. It would be disingenuous to pick any other player on the Jaguars this week as a player to watch. Blackmon, who was suspended for the first four games of the regular season, has been strikingly effective since his return, and he drew national attention this past week. Blackmon caught 14 passes for 190 yards in the Jaguars' loss to Denver. Although he did not catch a touchdown pass, he got open consistently on a variety of slants, and also used his strength and physical ability to his advantage, with 93 of his yards coming after the catch. Blackmon now has 19 receptions for 326 yards and a touchdown since his return, and though it will be difficult for him to maintain this statistical pace, he has given the Jaguars a needed go-to presence offensively.
What to watch
*Look for wide receiver Cecil Shorts III's status to be a storyline throughout the week. The third-year veteran sustained a sprained sternoclavicular – SC – joint on the third play of a loss in Denver Sunday. He hasn't been ruled out, and Bradley said he has a chance to play Sunday.
*Blackmon may be held out of practice Wednesday with a groin/hamstring issue, but Bradley said he expects Blackmon to play Sunday.
*Cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) will be retested this week. Gratz hasn't played since the regular-season opener, with veteran Will Blackmon starting in his place. Lewis has missed all but one series this season, but Bradley said Monday that Lewis is improving. Clay Harbor has started the last two weeks for Lewis.
*Defensive end Jeremy Mincey and wide receiver Stephen Burton remain in the concussion program and will be retested Wednesday.