JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at TIAA Bank Field Sunday
1.The Jaguars need more from Foles and need to see what “more” is. The question isn’t quarterback Nick Foles starting the rest of the season; nothing Head Coach Doug Marrone has said indicates that won’t be the case. But the Jaguars need better play from Foles; while he hasn’t been bad in two games since returning to the starting lineup, he hasn’t provided the lift the Jaguars wanted when he replaced rookie Gardner Minshew II. And while Foles’ focus on culture and persevering through adversity has merit, the Jaguars need plays downfield from Foles. They need the offense to get an early lead. They need more than one meaningful touchdown in two games. Mostly, they need to get a feel for what Foles will be for this team moving forward. Is he a franchise quarterback? Is he indeed the better option than Minshew to be the starter in the future? The Jaguars need answers by season’s end.
2.The Jaguars need more from the receivers/tight ends. Know this: While Foles indeed must play better than he has the last two weeks, an accompanying part of that issue is the receivers and tight ends must make more plays. The personnel may not allow that at tight end; the spot has been wrecked by injuries through this season and has been unproductive since James O’Shaughnessy’s season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 5. A bigger issue in recent weeks has been the contribution of the wide-receiver position. DJ Chark Jr. caught a huge 34-yard touchdown from Foles in the first quarter against Indianapolis two weeks ago, but the group hasn’t appeared to create enough separation in recent weeks. Wide receiver Chris Conley missed a chance at a huge, game-turning play early against the Titans Sunday, and Chark missed an opportunity to give the Jaguars what could have been a big red-zone opportunity in the same game. The receivers looked like an ascending group early in the season. They must recapture that look moving forward.
3.The Jaguars need more from the defensive front – and that group most prove it can deliver. The Jaguars’ defensive front entered the season as a strength. It remains a capable group in passing situations; ends Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue continue to rush the passer consistently, and end Calais Campbell remains a threat in that situation. But the defensive interior has struggled mightily against the run, and the line as a whole has contributed in a big way to the team allowing more than 200 yards rushing in each of its last three games. The Jaguars need starting three-technique Taven Bryan to play better against the run, and it needs better play against the run from the end position as well. Ngakoue continues to be far better rushing the passer than playing the run, and Campbell has struggled more than usual in recent weeks. This position group can still pressure the passer at a high level. It must find a way to defend the run – i.e., getting off blocks and staying in gaps better – to give itself a chance to do what it does best.
1.The Jaguars can stop the run this week, right? Tampa Bay doesn’t have a particularly strong ground attack; though running back Ronald Jones is averaging 4.0 yards per carry, it’s not like the Bucs are grinding through defenses. The Jaguars have lost four of six games, allowing 246 yards rushing per game in the four losses. The Buccaneers are 2-2 in their last four games, averaging less than 97 rushing yards per game – and they haven’t had a 100-yard rusher this season. The Jaguars can stop the run this week, I think.
2.Leonard Fournette is the Jaguars’ best offensive player. If you didn’t see that in Nashville, go back and watch who the Jaguars ran their offense through. Fournette sets the tempo, and if the Jaguars can keep feeding him the ball, it sets up what they want to do with play action. Fournette sets up DJ Chark Jr. to get past defenders who are more focused on the run than the receivers. Fournette is on pace for nearly 1,400 rushing yards and more than 1,900 yards from scrimmage, and I would expect more touchdowns from him over the final five games. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story of the back who has become an excellent blocker in the pass game and who nearly every Sunday makes a block that gives the quarterback more time to throw. His work against the blitz draws praise from quarterback and coach alike on the sidelines. His transformation from last season is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s an example of a man who chose to stand and fight rather than sulk and demand to be traded.
3.There’s no reason to panic. This season is no longer about the playoffs. It wasn’t for the 1996 Jaguars when they were also 4-7. That team simply focused entirely on finding a way to win a game, and that mentality took over the locker room. One week, one win – then on to the next game. A five-game winning streak this season isn’t likely, nor would it create a playoff scenario. What I’d like to see is whether this team can get mentally tough and learn how to win. The Buccaneers are 4-7; though they’ve won two of their last three, they’re as inconsistent a football team as you can find. Does anyone remember when they hung 55 points on the Rams in Los Angeles in September? Don’t worry about the five games in front of you, or getting on a winning streak, or what might happen in the front office when the season is over. Take a page from the 1996 Jaguars and see if you can build something that might make the remainder of the NFL season – and the Christmas season – a little brighter.