JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' victory over the Cleveland Browns and forward to Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals
1.Reviewing the preview.When previewing Jaguars-Browns, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to: run effectively, stop the run and maintain their intensity. The Jaguars did the first relatively well and did the second as well as they have all season. The third they did in a big, big way. Running back Leonard Fournette ran hard through an ankle issue, and his 111 yards were littered with gutty runs that allowed the Jaguars to control time of possession. The Jaguars held the Browns to 50 yards rushing on 18 carries a week after Cleveland rushed for 201 yards in a loss to Detroit. As far as maintaining intensity … the Jaguars forced five turnovers and had five sacks Sunday, and their speed and pursuit stifled the Browns throughout the second half of a tight game played in cold, wet conditions. This team plays with intensity. That's starting to feel like a given.
2.As I saw it. Sunday wasn't the Jaguars' most explosive offensive effort of the season – and it wasn't the season's most dominant defensive performance. But it was an important victory in difficult conditions and it again showed that the Jaguars' formula for winning can carry them to the postseason. The Jaguars played smart offensively, emphasizing the run and avoiding the turnovers that could have tilted the game in the Browns' favor. The game again the level of the Jaguars' defense. It became obvious throughout the second quarter and second half the defense wasn't going to allow the Browns to score. It didn't, and by game's end the Jaguars were harassing the Browns into the turnovers and mistakes that eventually clinched a Jaguars victory.
3.Looking ahead, briefly. Up next for the Jaguars: the Arizona Cardinals in a game that will feature the Jaguars' surging, aggressive defense against former Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Cardinals are a beat-up team that has played all season without running back David Johnson and that is now down to their third quarterback (Gabbert). They're not having the season they wanted – and those injuries and a sometimes-struggling defense are big reasons. But this game is dangerous for the Jaguars, who are traveling west and dealing with significant injuries on the offensive line and at wide receiver. This feels like a similar storyline to the past couple of weeks: can the Jaguars' defense limit the opposing offense and eventually harass the opposing quarterback into game-turning, game-losing mistakes? The guess here is yes, but that formula always means some hold-your-breath moments.
1. Reviewing the preview.I didn't see any way the Jaguars would look past the Browns and blow the opportunity the Titans handed them to own first place in the AFC South this week – and they didn't. The Browns' offense is awful but their defensive line is very talented and for the most part on Sunday they kept the Jaguars in check. Ultimately, the Jags wore them down with 44 rushing attempts and Leonard Fournette's 111 yards. I wrote that the defense would be the difference – and while I expected seven points or fewer from the Browns and a handful of sacks, no one would have added five takeaways and a touchdown – although perhaps a league-leading 40 sacks and five defensive touchdowns should have been a clue. This defense dominates good offenses and destroys those that are less than good.
2. As I saw it.The Jaguars' defense dictates the game plan for the Jaguars' offense. On a snowy day with a wet, sloppy field, it was clear that head coach Doug Marrone was going to play it smart: 44 rushing attempts is old-school AFC North football and the only reason they threw the ball 30 times was the defense kept giving it back to them. I know it's going to be popular to point out that Blake Bortles made a few questionable throws, but he made a few good ones also – and that had been the winning formula for the Jaguars all season. Let's not forget: he had one of the three receivers with whom he started the season, Marqise Lee – and he had wide receivers who hadn't played a lick such as Dede Westbrook and Larry Pinkard in his arsenal. Bortles has shown in the last few weeks he can be counted upon to make tough throws as the Jags head down the stretch. The defense will continue to be this team's dominant personality, but the offense will have a few things to say also.
3. Looking ahead, briefly.The Arizona Cardinals haven't been the same since the Week 1 loss of running back David Johnson, who ran for 16 touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards last season, and added almost 900 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. You don't lose 2,100 yards and 20 touchdowns offense and play like you planned in training camp. Mix in the loss of quarterback Carson Palmer and injuries on defense, and you have a 4-6 team limping toward the end of a forgettable season. No one will expect Blaine Gabbert to fare well against the Jaguars' defense, although he did throw a career-best three touchdowns in Houston on Sunday – and Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver Gabbert ever had the good fortune to line up with. The question is whether or not Bortles can move the Cardinals off the line of scrimmage with his arm so that Fournette can find running room behind an offensive line that might still be in recovery mode.