JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sunday
The Jaguars are in no way out of this thing.
That's right: despite struggling at times to close games, and despite a four-game losing streak before a pre-bye victory over the Buffalo Bills, the Jaguars with a 2-5 record are very much in the AFC South chase with nine games remaining in the season.
That's because the rest of the division has struggled, too, and with the Indianapolis Colts' loss to Carolina Panthers on Monday, the Jaguars are a half game out of first place. The Colts are tied with the Houston Texans for first place with a 3-5 record.
The Jaguars' most-pressing issue has been losing games they had a chance to win. They have been within a score of the lead or leading in the fourth quarter six times this season, beating Miami and Buffalo but losing to unbeaten Carolina, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Houston.
The Jets are facing something close to a crisis as midseason approaches.
For five weeks one of the surprise teams in the NFL with a 4-1 record, the Jets lost to the New England Patriots in Week 7 before playing perhaps their worst game of the season in a 34-20 loss at Oakland this past Sunday.
While East Coast teams often struggle on the West Coast, a bigger issue for the Jets Sunday was the loss of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a thumb injury early in the game. His replacement, former starter Geno Smith, threw for two touchdowns and an interception and the Jets' defense surprisingly struggled against the pass and run in a one-sided loss.
That game was a concern for the Jets, who had relied on a strong defense and efficient offense throughout the season. Fitzpatrick and Smith are considered day-to-day this week, meaning the Jets almost certainly will be at less-than-full strength at the position Sunday.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns versus Jets cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. **While the Jets' elite defense is stifling against the run, their effectiveness against the pass is largely because Revis and Cromartie – particularly Revis – remain one of the NFL's best tandems at the position. Hurns and Robinson have become critical to the Jaguars' offense, with Robinson a reliable third-down target and big play threat and Hurns also increasingly reliable on third downs. Cromartie struggled against the Raiders Sunday, allowing two touchdown passes, while Revis could shadow Robinson all over the field.
*Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Jets running back Chris Ivory.This is strength versus strength. The Jets' offense ranks 11th in the NFL in scoring (24.6 points per game) and seventh in total yards (376.7), but the strength is its seventh-ranked running game. Ivory has rushed for 518 yards and four touchdowns. The Jaguars rank 14th in the NFL against the run, but except for allowing 183 yards rushing to Tampa Bay in a game Posluszny missed, the Jaguars have been strong in the area.
*Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon versus Jets defensive front.This is a huge test for a Jaguars running game that has been productive at times and inconsistent at others. Yeldon has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of his last three starts and appears to be seeing the field better at the NFL level. The Jets have the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense. A pressing issue for the Jaguars will be short-yardage, with the package featuring Toby Gerhart as the runner struggling against Buffalo before the bye.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback. Bortles continues as the Jaguars' dominant storyline of the season, and he has shown marked improvement through seven games. Although he has had three interceptions returned for costly touchdowns, his 15:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio is a dramatic step up from last year's 10:17 ratio and he continues to show poise and leadership in two-minute situations.
*Telvin Smith, outside linebacker. **The Jaguars' defense has been vulnerable this season, and the inability to pressure the passer with four down linemen has been a season-long issue. But in his second season, Smith has continued to make big plays, returning an interception 26 yards for a touchdown and defensing another pass in the victory over Buffalo.
*Tight end Julius Thomas.Thomas, the Jaguars' top offseason free-agent signee, remains something of an unknown in the offense. After missing the first four games of the season with a thumb injury, he has played just two full games and has yet to develop optimum chemistry with Bortles. Still, he showed flashes of what he can bring to the offense with a seven-reception, 78-yard, one-touchdown performance against Houston in Week 6. The more he plays, the more potent the Jaguars could become in the second half of the season.
Images from Monday's practice as the Jaguars returned from their bye-week.
Keep an eye on …
*The Jaguars could be close to full health coming out of the bye, with wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) and guard Zane Beadles (foot) the only players not practicing Monday. …
*Wide receiver Rashad Greene (thumb), who is on the injured reserve-designated to return list, is expected to practice Wednesday. He will be eligible to play against Tennessee November 19. …
*Safety James Sample (shoulder) and tight end Julius Thomas (abdomen) worked limited Monday while tight end Clay Harbor (abdomen) practiced after missing the team's game in London October 25. …