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Sexton-Oehser: Back and forth

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' 20-3 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 17 – and the aftermath of that game – and look forward to the 2019 offseason …

Oehser …

1.Reviewing the preview. When previewing Jaguars-Texans, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to protect the passer, play with pride and sneak a score or two from defense and/or special teams. They protected the passer OK considering they were on their eighth starting offensive-line combination, and there never seemed much question Sunday the defense was playing hard and that a beat-up offense was doing as well as possible under the circumstances. A fumble recovery by the Jaguars' special teams gave them possession at the Texans 9 early, but the offense couldn't take advantage and settled for a field goal. As was the case more often than not late in the season, it didn't much matter what the Jaguars did well on defense or special teams: The Jaguars' beat-up struggling offense couldn't produce enough points to give them a chance at the upset.

2.As I saw it. The outcome of the Jaguars' season-finale paled in importance compared to Owner Shad Khan's announcement at game's end that Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone will return in 2019. The Jaguars' 119 yards and six offensive first downs Sunday showed yet again that the trio's major task will be rebuilding/retooling an offense that was decimated by injuries in the season's final three month. As bad as the Jaguars' offense looked, the performance was overshadowed by the sideline behavior of running backs T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette. Neither played in the game and the pair sat together on the bench, disinterested and disengaged. Coughlin in a statement called the behavior "selfish" and "unprofessional." The Jaguars are going to have to determine in the offseason whether to keep Fournette, whose on-field production hasn't been nearly consistent or impressive enough to make up for his increasingly detrimental behavior.

3.Looking ahead, briefly. The offseason will be eventful for the Jaguars – and could shape the team's short- and long-term future. The team must decide on the futures of not only quarterback Blake Bortles, but key veterans such as defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus, safety Tashaun Gipson, linebacker Telvin Smith, right tackle Jermey Parnell. Considering the uncertainty at quarterback and the team's salary-cap situation, it's hard to get an early read who will or who won't return. The guess here is Bortles and Jackson won't be back and that Campbell will. The others could depend on how much the Jaguars want to spend on a veteran quarterback. Will the Jaguars draft a rookie quarterback? How will they address needs at tight end and offensive line? Will they keep Fournette after his behavior this season? How much of a very good defense will return intact? Questions abound for this team this offseason.

Sexton …

1.Reviewing the preview. This one is simple: I thought the Jaguars would struggle to score Sunday, and thus would need points from the defense, special teams – or both – to have a shot at beating the ultra-motivated Texans. They got neither, though the special teams offered the offense a chance with first and goal after rookie wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. forced a first-quarter fumble on punt coverage that linebacker Blair Brown recovered. The offense, predictably, settled for a field goal. Special teams and defense also gave up a fumble with wide receiver Dede Westbrook's muffed punt; the defense then let quarterback Deshaun Watson take the Texans in for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead. The Jaguars' winning formula this season became so narrow there was little reason to believe the Jaguars could win in Week 17. They didn't.

2.As I saw it. I thought the Jaguars' makeshift offensive line gave Bortles an opportunity to set his feet in the pocket, which I didn't see coming with four backups against Texans pass-rushers J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney. The Jaguars got no push in the running game, with eight-man fronts ruling the day. I know the focus will be on the quarterback this spring, but the offensive line can't be far behind. Left tackle Ereck Flowers did a reasonably good job on Clowney Sunday; he will be in the mix for a job next fall – and the return of left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell and center Brandon Linder offer some reasons for optimism. They need to address the right side of the line. which means a guard to replace A.J. Cann – who will be a free agent – and possibly right tackle Jermey Parnell, who struggled to stay healthy and to stay in front of speed rushers. If this team is going to stay committed to its identity of being a power-running team, it needs to sell out to strengthen the front.

3.Looking ahead, briefly. Character must become a greater point of emphasis in the scouting process, and the curious case of Fournette is the driving factor. Fournette's season was a disaster and the hamstring injury is only part of the story. He left the Jets game in September when it flared up, then left the stadium at halftime. He talked about defending the same teammates he abandoned against the Jets and Chiefs with his ill-advised adventure on the Bills sideline; his antics on the sidelines in Tennessee and Houston were seen by all. Fournette wasn't the only selfish player in the locker room, but he was the highest-profile guy, so he'll bear the brunt of the pushback. He earned it. The Jaguars must determine he's the centerpiece or if they're better off without him, which is saying something about a guy thought to be a generational talent. Then they must do a better job protecting the team-first culture they desire to build.

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