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Sexton-Oehser Keys: Out of the bye

20181101-keys

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for the rest of the season as they enter their 2018 midseason bye week

Oehser …

1.Re-find the identity. This means returning to a physical style – and while it’s largely about the Jaguars’ offense, it speaks to the defense, too. “We’re not playing as physical as we played before,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said after a pre-bye-week loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. While Marrone was speaking specifically about run defense, he could have been speaking about the entire team. Jaguars running backs rushed just eight times against Philadelphia, and the group hasn’t combined for 100 yards rushing in a game this season. This offense has a tall task to get back to looking anything close to how it looked last season when it led the NFL in rushing. The offense is down to its third left tackle and the loss of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins hurt the running and passing offense. The best chance is that offensive coordinator Nate Hackett can find something close to a power identity in the running offense by combining running back Leonard Fournette – when he returns – with T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde. Some effectiveness on offense would help a defense that is playing well, but that needs more leads to return to its 2017 dominance. That’s a slim hope, to be sure. But at least it’s hope.

2.Get healthy – or at least healthier. Injuries sometimes can wreck an NFL season; so far, this Jaguars season is one of those times. Offensive players on injured reserve: wide receiver Marqise Lee, left tackles Cam Robinson and Josh Wells, tight ends Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul and running back Corey Grant. Tight James O’Shaughnessy has missed two games, and four more starting offensive linemen – center Brandon Linder, left guard Andrew Norwell, right guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jermey Parnell – have been on the injury report a significant part or all of the season. Fournette has missed six games with a hamstring injury. Cornerbacks A.J. Bouye, Tyler Patmon and D.J. Hayden all missed the London game, but the aforementioned offensive injuries are the largest part of why the Jaguars’ offense in recent weeks has been unsuccessfully seeking elusive answers. The truth is there may not be an answer to the offensive issues, but if the line gets closer to 100 percent and Fournette returns … maybe there’s something there. Maybe.

3.Sack, scoop and score. Let’s start by acknowledging this as an unfair expectation. We’re talking here about the Jaguars’ defense and how it probably needs to create sacks, turnovers and even touchdowns for this team to get hot in the second half of the season. The reason this is unfair is two-fold. One: it’s very difficult for an NFL defense to create enough sacks and points to carry an offense struggling to the degree of the Jaguars’ offense. Two: it’s even more difficult for an NFL defense to create sacks, turnovers or touchdowns when it’s trailing – and the Jaguars have trailed throughout the majority of all five of their losses. Still, if you’re looking for hope it remains with what remains the Jaguars’ biggest strength. The defense showed Sunday against Philadelphia it can create pressure and turnovers early in games. If the defense can turn that into points, then maybe …

Sexton…

1.Return to the running game. The Jaguars threw the ball 31 consecutive times in the second half at Wembley Stadium Sunday – and only called two run plays in the third and fourth quarter combined. That was never the formula for success this season. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is a crafty, play-action style of quarterback who must have a strong ground attack in his arsenal. He hasn’t had it this season and though he looked like he might be able to elevate his team with his arm as he did against New England and the New York Jets, it hasn’t happened. Consider that over four consecutive losses the Jaguars have averaged 42.5 passing attempts per game and only 76.5 yards rushing. They’re throwing too often because they can’t run it consistently enough, and that isn’t how this team is built to win. They powered their way to the AFC South title and the AFC Championship Game last season with the running game and a well-rested defense. The only way they get anything rolling in the second half is on the backs of Fournette, Yeldon and Hyde.

2.Play with the lead. The Jaguars’ defense was going to struggle to notch 33 takeaways with 55 sacks and to score seven times again this season. The unit thrived last season on the chaos it could create when a team was scrambling to catch the Jaguars from behind. The offense must be better than the two first-half field goals they scored in all of October. They’re down two left tackles, two tight ends and are patching holes with players such as tight end David Grinnage and guard-turned-tackle Josh Walker in key spots. But they still have guys who can make plays; instead of dropping passes or inexplicably fumbling as wide receiver Keelan Cole did in London, they must convert and help their quarterback. The defense isn’t as strong as it looked on paper when the season began, but it’s good enough to seize an opportunity over the second half of the season. The offense must help them by putting touchdowns on the board … early.

3.Shut up and play. The time for talking is well past, even on a team that talked its brand of swagger into the national spotlight a season ago. Weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith isn’t playing like the second-team All-Pro selection he was a season ago, the safeties have been susceptible in the passing game, cornerback A.J. Bouye hasn’t shut down the field opposite cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the run defense was pushed around in October. I don’t see a team filled with guys who are suddenly old or who can’t play any longer. I see a team with guys who aren’t playing together like they did in 2017. Too many guys have too much to say to each other and the opponent. Shut up and let your play do the talking.

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