JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser sets the table by examining key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Miami Dolphins at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
One game does not make a trend, and a trend is what the Jaguars want now.
The Jaguars, after losing their first six games of the season, won for the first time in the 2014 regular season Sunday. They beat the Cleveland Browns, 24-6, and did so with the defense playing impressively for a third consecutive game.
It was a giddy day at EverBank Field, and the Jaguars and their fans rightfully left with a good feeling.
Now, the task is to keep that good feeling going.
The Jaguars will have to do so without middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and defensive end Andre Branch, with Posluszny out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle and Branch expected to miss about six weeks with a groin tear.
Those are significant losses for a defense that has held three consecutive opponents under 20 points for the first time since 2007.
Offensively, the Jaguars turned in their best running game in more than two seasons against the Browns Sunday, and the offensive line had its best game of the season overall. Denard Robinson, making his first start as the feature running back, rushed for a career-high 127 and a touchdown on 22 carries and the Jaguars as a team rushed for 185 yards. The line allowed two sacks on quarterback Blake Bortles.
The Dolphins are close, maybe closer than last season.
What they are, too, is one of a lot of teams in the NFL right now trying to turn close into good enough to contend for a postseason berth.
There were times this season the Dolphins have looked capable of doing that. They beat the New England Patriots, 33-20, in Week 1 in a solid performance in which they outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half. Two weeks ago, they led playoff-contending Green Bay late in a scrappy performance only to lose on a late rally by the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers' loss had potential to deflate the Dolphins, but they beat the Chicago Bears, 27-14 Sunday to improve to 3-3, a game that may have saved their season and definitely left them in playoff contention.
Who are the real Dolphins?
That could be determined in the next several weeks. They play host to San Diego after visiting Jacksonville, then visit Detroit the next week. That's a difficult stretch they must negotiate to stay in contention as midseason approaches and passes.
The Dolphins have a strong running game that has kept them competitive as fourth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill – who had perhaps his best game of the season at Chicago – continues to develop. With Knowshon Moreno, who had been averaging 4.8 yards a carry, out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Lamar Miller is the focal point of the running game, rushing for 391 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries.
Defensively, the Dolphins remain strong, with end Cameron Wake again one of the NFL top pass rushers. Miami ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, 10th against the run and fourth against the pass.
Three matchups to watch
*The Jaguars' interior defensive line versus Miller.With Moreno out, Miller is the key to the Dolphins' running attack. While parts of the Dolphins' offense have been inconsistent this season, they have been able to depend on the run. If the Jaguars' defense has had a strength this season, run defense has been it and on Sunday, the unit – led by tackles Roy Miller, Sen'Derrick Marks and Abry Jones – held Cleveland to 69 yards on 30 carries. The Browns entered the game third in the NFL in rushing.
*Jaguars right tackle Austin Pasztor versus Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake.Wake remains one of the NFL's best pass rushers, and because he lines up on the left side he creates a mammoth match-up issue for right tackles. Wake has 4.5 sacks, seven hits on the quarterback and 17 hurries, and has been disruptive in most games this season. Pasztor missed the first four games of the season, and will need one of his better games to counter Wake. The Jaguars' line has allowed 29 sacks this season, but just two against Cleveland.
*Jaguars cornerbacks Alan Ball and Demetrius McCray versus Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace.Wallace hasn't been the Pro Bowl level player with Miami that he was at times in Pittsburgh, but in his second season in Miami, his touchdown production is up (five in six games this season after five in 16 games last season) and he is the Dolphins' most dangerous receiver. The Jaguars cornerbacks have improved steadily in recent weeks, with McCray moving into the starting lineup three weeks ago.
Three Jaguars to watch
*Quarterback Blake Bortles.The rookie had his toughest game of the season Sunday, throwing three interceptions and missing some receivers for what could have been big plays. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 159 yards, but also led a critical touchdown drive at the end of the first half that ended with a 31-yard touchdown pass to rookie Allen Robinson. Teammates and coaches also credited Bortles with maintaining his poise and making plays in the second half to keep the Jaguars in control until two late turnovers helped the Jaguars clinch their first victory of the season.
*Middle linebacker J.T. Thomas.The fourth-year veteran has played well at the Otto position the last four weeks, a period in which the defense has improved steadily since struggling early in the season. With Posluszny out for the season, Thomas will start in the middle and be responsible for getting the defensive signals from the bench to his teammates.
*Otto linebacker Dekoda Watson/LaRoy Reynolds.One of the two likely will start at the Otto outside linebacker position with Thomas moving to the middle. Watson was signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason to play the Otto, and when he missed much of training camp with a groin injury, Reynolds started the first three regular-season games. Bradley said the position will be competitive this week, and also said Watson has improved in recent weeks. …
Keep an eye on …
*Cornerback Aaron Colvin is expected to practice for the first time with the Jaguars Wednesday. The rookie fourth-round selection from Oklahoma spent the first seven games of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list after sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the Senior Bowl in January. If he practices, the Jaguars will have 21 days from that day to move him to the active roster or end his season by placing him on injured reserve.
*Cornerback Alan Ball likely will not practice Wednesday after sustaining a biceps/shoulder injury Sunday. His status for Sunday will be updated later in the week.
*Reserve safety Craig Loston sustained a hamstring strain Sunday and will be evaluated later in the week. …
*Starting center Luke Bowanko sustained a sprained ankle Sunday and is expected to practice Wednesday. …
*The team will update the status of running back Toby Gerhart (foot) Wednesday. He has missed the last two games with a foot injury. …
Relive the Jaguars' Top Plays from their Week 7 win over the Cleveland Browns.