JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 2018 Preseason Week 2 game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday afternoon
1.This wasn't the best day for quarterback Blake Bortles or the Jaguars' first-team offense, but it was far from the worst – and this was against one of the toughest defenses this team will play all season. A Jaguars lowlight: a bad first-quarter interception thrown by Bortles that Vikings safety Harrison Smith returned to the Jaguars 23. The defense saved the offense on the ensuing play when defensive end Calais Campbell recovered a fumble by running back Latavius Murray forced by defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The offensive highlight of the day came next: a 70-yard drive that running back Leonard Fournette capped with a one-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. The sequence was in a sense what makes people nervous about Bortles (the interception) and what the Jaguars like about him (shrugging off a bad play and producing in its aftermath). Bortles finished 12-of-20 passing for 159 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in a half. Not his best day – but not a tragedy and not an awful day considering the quality of a Vikings defense that finished No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed last season.
2.This defense is good. It's not as if we didn't know that about the Jaguars' defense, but we continued to find that out this week in Minnesota. The Jaguars' defense swarmed all week, and turned in an impressive practice on Thursday in which the front seemed to control the Vikings' beat-up offensive front. The front continued to play at a high level Saturday, doing so without reserve defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (suspension) and starting nose tackle Marcell Dareus. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue registered a sack and a forced fumble in the first quarter, with the fumble stopping a point-blank Vikings opportunity following an interception thrown by Bortles. Safety Barry Church and cornerback Tyler Patmon had pass breakups and a first-team secondary playing without starting corner Jalen Ramsey and starting safety Tashaun Gipson held the Vikings' first-team offense and Cousins to 12-yards passing. The Vikings had 17 yards passing at halftime. A good day – and a good week – for a really good defense that might be great.
3.If there was a star of the game offensively for the Jaguars, it was running back T.J. Yeldon. Significantly for the Jaguars and for Yeldon, he was productive doing exactly what the Jaguars likely will ask Yeldon to do come the regular season – catch the ball out of the backfield, play a reserve role for Fournette and carve out yards in comparatively limited opportunity. Yeldon not only rushed effectively Saturday for 39 yards on 10 carries, he caught five passes for 73 yards – and there were times in the first half when screens to Yeldon were the Jaguars' most effective option. The Jaguars' ideally won't depend as much on the screen game in the regular season, but Yeldon has shown during training camp and preseason that he can turn that into a reliable part of the offense. That's something significant to take from Preseason Week 2.
1. The Jaguars defense was dominant on the practice fields on Wednesday and Thursday and was dominant against the Vikings first team offense on the field at US Bank Stadium on Saturday. I wouldn't have said they could play as well as they did in the second preseason game without Jalen Ramsey and Marcell Dareus who is playing like the guy who won All-Pro honors in Buffalo a few years back, but they did. It's a preseason game but when you do what you want to do and look like you want to look it's a win. Yannick Ngakoue was a one-man wrecking crew, Malik Jackson was too much for the Vikings offensive line and Telvin Smith was his usual self. They arrived in Minnesota the number two overall defense but leave looking more like the number one crew and imagine what they will look like if Ramsey and Dante Fowler Jr. return like men on a mission.
2. The running game never looks good in the preseason. There are too many moving parts in the line and the backfield for it to look efficient. It was good to see Leonard Fournette on the field on third down and he looked good in pass protection. T.J. Yeldon continues to look like the guy who can not only spell Fournette but can carry the load if Leonard is banged up and Corey Grant has explosive potential even if he only saw the field in a limited fashion. You have to fit the pieces together in the preseason and take into account left guard Andrew Norwell and right tackle Jermey Parnell were sidelined but I saw enough from the running game to make me look past the 3.4 yard per carry average that looked rather…averaged.
3. I love the passion Rashad Greene, Jaydon Mickens and Dede Westbrook are bringing to their competition. Realisitically only two of the three will make the roster and they will all have to play like swiss army knives in the return game, on coverage teams and at wide receiver. Greene's 57-yard punt return set up the game winner, Westbrook had a 50-yard punt return called back and you can't miss the passion Mickens brings on punts or kickoff returns. It's the essence of camp, competition and if you're missing this one you're missing one of the best we've had in Jacksonville in some time.