Sexton-Oehser: Back and forth

20181119-Back

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' 20-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11 and forward to Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York

Oehser …

1.Reviewing the preview. When previewing Steelers-Jaguars, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to avoid defensive breakdowns, force Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into mistakes and get production from their running backs. They absolutely forced Roethlisberger into mistakes, sacking him twice and registering three interceptions – two by cornerback Jalen Ramsey and one by strong safety Barry Church. The Jaguars' running backs had their first plus-100-yard-rushing game of the season, rushing for a combined 162 yards – 95 by Leonard Fournette on 28 carries, 44 by Carlos Hyde on eight carries and 23 by T.J. Yeldon on five carries. Those elements were enough for a 16-0 lead and should have been enough for a Jaguars victory. And while the defense did have a few significant second-half breakdowns, the secondary played more than well enough for the Jaguars to have won this game.

2.As I saw it. So, if the Jaguars mostly played well enough to win Sunday, what happened? This answer: An offense that now appears broken generated nothing during the fourth quarter. The Jaguars took a 16-point lead on Fournette's two-yard touchdown run with 2:09 remaining in the third quarter, then failed to generate a first down on their final four drives. Short runs by Fournette on first down put the Jaguars in three second-and-long situations, and Fournette rushed for just five yards after his touchdown. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was sacked twice on one fourth-quarter series, and the Jaguars didn't attempt a pass on their next-to-last drive of the game. This was a complete fourth-quarter breakdown offensively, with Bortles struggling and a beat-up offensive line failing to open running lanes or protect the quarterback. The unwillingness to throw late in the game – and the lack of trust in Bortles, the offensive line and/or a struggling receiving corps – cost the Jaguars in a big way.

3.Looking ahead, briefly. Up next for the Jaguars: the Buffalo Bills. This at first glance is a tale of similar teams, with both teams at 3-7 after playing in the AFC Wild Card Playoff game this past January. But whereas the Jaguars will face serious offseason questions about their offensive identity and quarterback future, the Bills believe they have found their future offensively in rookie first-round selection Josh Allen. Allen, who has thrown two touchdowns with five interceptions in five starts this season, is expected to start Sunday after missing the last four games before the Bills' bye last Sunday with an elbow injury. The Jaguars' defense should be a tough matchup for a rookie quarterback. Look for this to be a defensive matchup, with both defenses continuing to play at a high level and both offenses struggling much of the season in a big way.

Sexton …

1.Reviewing the preview. I thought the only way the Jaguars could beat the Steelers was to run as they did last season and create turnovers. It looked throughout the first half as if they would execute my game plan to perfection, rushing for more than the 140 yards they averaged last season and intercepting Roethlisberger twice. But their inability to run in the second half cost them, dearly. They ran for only 38 yards in the third and fourth quarters; you know the rest. They couldn't utilize play action and keep the defense off balance, they couldn't protect against an aggressive front that attacked with no fear of giving up the big play – and of course, they couldn't stay on the field and make Roethlisberger wear his baseball hat. That allowed Big Ben the time he needed to rally the Steelers. Bortles passed for just seven fourth-quarter yards and was sacked three times in the quarter. Turns out the NFL is a passing league after all.

2.As I saw it. The lack of "trust" – which is the phrase being bandied about among Jaguars observers this week – was more about an offensive line that couldn't keep its quarterback upright than about the quarterback himself. I'm not absolving Bortles from blame, but he was under constant pressure because the backup center and backup right guard couldn't hold their own – and for that matter, the highly-paid right tackle couldn't either. Mix in the lack of anyone that could make plays – or even threaten to make plays – down the field and you have a formula for disaster against a defense as aggressive and talented as Pittsburgh. Bortles isn't elite and he might not be a starting quarterback in most NFL cities, but if he had any help at all he would have been a winning quarterback on Monday morning.

3.Looking ahead, briefly. If the Jaguars are going to end the losing skid, you would think this is the week to do it. The football folks in Buffalo have their quarterback of the future but have traded away most of the impact players on the roster in an attempt to build a war chest for Draft Day 2019. But if you think this should be a layup, remember: The Bills went to Minnesota and throttled the Vikings; two Sundays ago, they did the same thing to the New York Jets. Running back LeSean McCoy is healthy and they expect Allen to return. They also have young stars on defense who have made big plays this season. It's expected to be cool and windy on Sunday in western New York. This game figures to be a test of whether the final six games of this season are interesting enough to this football team.

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