Sexton-Oehser: Back and forth

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JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' 29-26 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10 and forward to Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville …

Oehser …

1.Reviewing the preview. When previewing Jaguars-Colts, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to get their running backs involved, score early and create havoc defensively. The offense accomplished the first two, but the defense failed on the third point in the first half to such a level that it negated all else. With the return of running back Leonard Fournette, Jaguars backs – mainly Fournette and T.J. Yeldon – produced 70 yards rushing, 112 receiving and two touchdowns; that's the sort of back-centric approach that makes this offense most effective. The Jaguars also scored 13 first-half points on two touchdowns — the offense's most first-half touchdowns and points in a month. But the defense failed to sack Colts quarterback Andrew Luck – and worse, a series of missed assignments in the back seven allowed Indianapolis 306 first-half yards and 29 first-half points. That created a 13-point halftime deficit that a spirited, gutty second half couldn't overcome.

2.As I saw it. The Jaguars' playoff hopes essentially ended Sunday – and while the team fought and scraped through the second half, the loss fit well with the current five-game losing streak that destroyed a once-promising season. The Jaguars have yet to overcome a deficit of any margin this season, they have committed too many turnovers offensively and have had far too many defensive breakdowns. Sunday's first-half featured a striking number of missed defensive assignments – and while the second half was an improvement, the unit in that half benefitted from two dropped passes by the Colts. This was one of the Jaguars' worst defensive performances in memory, and it negated the best offensive performance in more than a month. The game's finish was symbolic as well, with wide receiver Rashad Greene Sr. losing a fumble at the Colts 25 with 1:30 remaining. Jaguars receivers have struggled with drops and fumbles this season, and the offense has lacked firepower to make big, game-changing plays. Credit the Jaguars for fighting to keep their season alive Sunday, but they have made too many mistakes at too many key times all season. On Sunday, such mistakes essentially ended the season.

3.Looking ahead, briefly. Up next for the Jaguars: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oh, what might have been. When the season began, this appeared likely to be one of the season's most memorable games. It still looked that way four or five weeks ago. Now, what was once a Sunday Night Football matchup has been flexed to a 1 p.m. time slot – and a rematch of the Jaguars' AFC Divisional Playoff victory in Pittsburgh in January is more about the Jaguars having a chance to hurt the Steelers' midseason momentum. Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell late Sunday afternoon talked about the Jaguars being capable of beating any team on the schedule if they play to their potential. He talked, too, of no team wanting to play the Jaguars the rest of the season. That's more than likely what's left for the Jaguars this season: a spoiler role. They'll get their first chance to play it on Sunday.

Sexton …

1.Reviewing the preview. I thought the Jaguars needed to play like a desperate team Sunday in Indianapolis, but I didn't think they would create an even greater sense of desperation with their first-half defensive performance. Four first-half touchdowns allowed, including three on consecutive drives to end the half with one drive aided by two personal fouls, left me wondering if the Jaguars' defense had come unwound. The offense bailed the defense out in the second half, and both sides of the ball attacked like a team with its season on the line in the third and fourth quarters. Players acknowledged afterward that they were fully aware that the loss all but eliminated them from the postseason. That was felt on the field and in the locker room.

2.As I saw it. The offense on Sunday looked more like it was designed to be than it has since Fournette left the field with his Week 1 hamstring injury against the New York Giants. The mere presence of the 230-pound hammer in the backfield forced the Colts to change their defensive alignment, which is one reason he managed only 2.2 yards per carry. Teams stack the box with Fournette in the game. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles played a very efficient game, completing 68 percent of his passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns; you saw a Jaguars team capable of pulling out of its funk. The irony is the offense did everything it needed to Sunday until Greene's untimely fumble – and it's Greene's fumble that will be remembered by most fans. This offense won't look like it was intended this season. It can't without wide receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, running back Corey Grant, left tackle Cam Robinson and perhaps center Brandon Linder. But it can take the pressure off the defense if it can look functional as it did against the Colts.

3.Looking ahead, briefly. Sunday's matchup with the Steelers was supposed to be one of the season's marquee games and the first game for the Jaguars on NBC's Sunday Night Football. The luster is gone with a 3-6 record – and now it's another 1 p.m. game for a struggling Jaguars team against one of the league's best quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers. Can the Jaguars keep up on the scoreboard against a team that put up 51 on the Carolina Panthers last week? Can the defense figure out its issues before Big Ben shows up with wide receivers Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Co.? Sadly, there are many, many questions surrounding this Jaguars football team. It wasn't supposed to be like this in 2018.

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