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Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: Jaguars 17, Falcons 6

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JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 2018 Preseason Week 3 game against the Atlanta Falcons at TIAA Bank Field Saturday …


1.There were two offensive storylines for the Jaguars Saturday, with one more encouraging than the other. The not-so-encouraging: two interceptions by quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 17 of 23 passes for 204 yards Saturday but who threw three interceptions in the last two preseason games. That's not cause for panic, but two interceptions weren't how he wanted to enter his fifth regular season. More encouraging was the performance of the running game – and the running backs overall. With starting left guard Andrew Norwell and starting right tackle Jermey Parnell playing for the first time this preseason, the line had perhaps its best game of the preseason with the Jaguars rushing for 87 yards on 14 first-half carries. Their lone touchdown drive of the game ended with a 21-yard touchdown by starting back Leonard Fournette – and but the three-headed backfield of Fournette, Corey Grant and T.J. Yeldon defined the offense Saturday. The group accounted for 147 of the team's 236 first-half yards and perhaps gave a glimpse of this team's offense for 2018. Yes, Bortles' interceptions are a concern, but to watch this offense on Saturday is to see a unit that can move efficiently and that could be extremely tough to defend if the line and the backs remain healthy.

2.Defense, defense, defense. If we're repeating ourselves on this front, that's OK because it bears repeating: the Jaguars' defense has been as good as expected during the 2018 preseason, which means it has looked very good. The unit held the Saints to a field goal on one drive in the preseason opener, then held the Vikings to a field goal in the first half of Preseason Week 2. The unit allowed an early field goal to the Falcons on Saturday – and then absolutely stifled the Falcons after that with three consecutive three and outs. The pass rush smothered Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and the speed of the front seven was evident when the Falcons tried to run toward the sidelines. Tackle Malik Jackson. End Yannick Ngakoue. Linebacker Myles Jack. Linebacker Telvin Smith. All were fast and all were making plays Saturday. By midway through the second quarter on Saturday, you just wanted to see the starting defense on the sidelines to avoid any remote chance of an injury. This unit is mostly healthy and it looks very ready. On to the regular season for this group.

3.One of the NFL preseason's most sickening sights is a serious injury – and the Jaguars appear to have seen such a sight early in the first quarter Saturday when wide receiver Marqise Lee left with a left knee injury after a low hit by Falcons safety Damontae Kazee. Lee left the field on a cart several minutes later. Although Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the game details would be known Sunday, the injury looked serious. Kazee was penalized for lowering his head to initiate contact, but the concern for the Jaguars is the potential long-term loss of Lee, who was expected to be a starter and who is the veteran leader of the wide receiver corps. The group is deep, with players such as Donte Moncrief, D.J. Chark Jr., Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole more than capable of stepping into Lee's role. But Lee is the veteran of the group – as well as the group's best blocker – and his loss is exactly the kind coaches worry about throughout the preseason. It's a loss – and potentially a big one.


1.The Jaguars' first-team defense has been sensational all summer. Opponents can't find the end zone and can barely stay on the field against a team that has closed down every gap and chased down every runner and receiver. The most impressive thing is they've done it without key parts of their lineup. This evening cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive Dante Fowler Jr. returned and defensive tackle Taven Bryan debuted. It's downright scary to be one of the other 31 teams that has to prepare for a defense that looked ready to play the regulars season in August – and to know they weren't even full strength.

2.The same can be said on the offensive side of the ball with the return of right tackle Jermey Parnell and the debut of left guard Andrew Norwell. We saw immediately how powerful both men are – and the running game looked in mid-season form, racking up 146 yards. And that was without starting center Brandon Linder. We won't see the first team-line together on the field until we get to New Jersey for the regular-season opener – and that's an interesting proposition for an offense that is improved in nearly every area and still waiting to see their lineup together.

3.Vikings wide receiver Stephon Diggs told reporters in Minnesota two weeks ago he would rather take the shot to the head than have a defensive back take his legs out. My guess is Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee would echo those same sentiments about now. No doubt the low hit was worthy of a penalty, but in what was the definition of a bang-bang play the Jaguars lost one of their best receivers and a guy whose arrow was pointing straight up this preseason. The NFL is working to make the game as safe as possible, but you can file this under "unintended consequences." In a league where guys know they're going to be fined if they make contact with the helmet – and will be flagged for clobbering a defenseless receiver – going low seems like the safest bet ... except it isn't. We don't know when Lee will be back on the field, but it didn't look from my view upstairs in the television booth that it's going to be anytime soon. He will be sorely missed by his teammates and the media who could always count on something insightful from a player who has grown up before our eyes. This one hurts.

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