JACKSONVILLE - Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Denver Broncos in Week 4 of the 2019 regular season at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado, Sunday
1.The pass rush is key. We knew this already, but last week's victory over the Tennessee Titans reinforced it: The most important part of this team (outside quarterback, of course) is the pass rush. When the Jaguars can harass the opposing quarterback into mistakes, they are what they were in 2017 –a dominant defensive team capable of smothering offenses, and capable of pushing for a playoff spot. The accompanying parts to this formula are getting a lead and stopping the run, both of which they did Thursday against Tennessee in the Jaguars' best performance since a September 2018 victory over New England. That's the style the Jaguars must play to win, and it will be what they try to do in Denver Sunday – and for the rest of the 2019 season. If they can't get to that formula, they likely will be vulnerable. If they can, they will be very dangerous.
2.Calais Campbell is still the Jaguars' most-impactful player. This is easy to forget because he's consistent on the field and uncontroversial off it. But while Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is perhaps the NFL's best corner – and while he is the Jaguars' most-known player nationally – it is Campbell who most impacts the Jaguars' defense. His three sacks against Tennessee set the tone for that crucial victory, and he was more dominant than those numbers indicate. He collapsed the Titans' offensive line on multiple occasions, overmatching what is typically an efficient offense. Unlike many pass rushers, he is equally effective in all down-and-distance situations and can take over the game against the run or pass. Campbell early this season has played through what appear to be some nagging injury issues, and he was disappointed in his performance in a Week 2 loss at Houston. There was nothing disappointing Thursday. If he plays anywhere near that level, the Jaguars' defense will remain the NFL's best.
3.It's OK to let this Ramsey situation play out. Since Ramsey made his well-publicized trade request early last week, there has been an understandable tension among observers and fans about when the situation will be resolved. Initial conventional wisdom was that the Jaguars indeed would trade Ramsey – with an implication that they had no choice but to trade Ramsey. This perception has been created by NBA players – and a few NFL players such as wide receiver Antonio Brown – forcing their way out of situations. But remember: Ramsey has two seasons remaining on his rookie contract, and the Jaguars control his rights with the franchise tag for a year after that. They have no incentive to trade him for less than they want, and they have every right to not trade him. With Owner Shad Khan reportedly not wanting to trade Ramsey, it appears the plan is to have Ramsey do what NFL players under contract do: play. If he opts to not play for the Jaguars, he won't play anywhere – and that's not an attractive option for a competitive player who loves winning and loves his teammates. As for any distraction Ramsey might cause, the thought here is it will be minimal. If he opts to create a distraction – and there's no indication that that's the case – teams have played with "distractions" before. The "distraction" hasn't bothered the Jaguars the last two weeks. In fact, they have played better since this later distraction than they had played in more than a year.
1.If Ramsey wants a chance to come out of this thing looking like the winner, he should get back on the field as quickly as he can. A quick glance at the scorecard shows he isn't winning any part of this argument. He isn't getting traded. He isn't getting a new deal right now and he alone looks bad if this becomes a daily exercise about which excuse he'll use to stay off the field; looking bad means losing money. The Jaguars control his rights in 2019, 2020 and can use the franchise tag in 2021 AND 2022. That isn't the way to build a meaningful relationship and I don't think that's the way this thing is going. Ramsey is worth more than $3.6 million he'll earn this season; even the $13.7 million he's scheduled to earn on the fifth-year option next year seems low for a player of his caliber. I think he's their best player right now; the job he did on Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins two weeks ago is all the proof I need. However, the Jaguars have salary-cap issues and Ramsey doesn't have the leverage he or his agent think. Putting his head down and getting back to football is the best way to get paid. You won't embarrass your way out of Jacksonville and into a rich new contract somewhere else; that's not how billionaires negotiate. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan has seen some negative headlines over the course of his business career; they won't change how he sees the equation. This is about the money and Khan knows that subject much better than Ramsey.
2.Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor has his hands full in Denver on Sunday afternoon. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb combined for 26.5 sacks a season ago and are among the most difficult pass rushing combinations to counter. Taylor, the rookie from Florida, is a STUD and I expect him to hold his own. He's powerful in the running game and that power plus his footwork makes him difficult to get around in pass protection. He mauled Texans defensive end J.J. Watt on the fourth quarter drive that ended with Gardner Minshew finding DJ Chark in the end zone; Watt wasn't even close. If you want to know how good Taylor is, review the damage Watt did to the Chargers in Los Angeles last Sunday. Taylor was thought to be a first-round pick – maybe even a top ten pick – last April but because he is a right tackle, he slid down the board. He is the Jaguars' most talented offensive lineman right now and he's just getting started. Now, if left tackle Cam Robinson can begin to unlock his potential on the other side the Jaguars will be in great shape up front.
3.Lost in the Ramsey noise was cornerback A.J. Bouye's rebound versus Tennessee. He didn't play well against Kansas City Week 1 but was on point against the Titans. He looked like the guy who showed up here in 2017 running receivers' routes for them, plus his energy level was high and his tackling was as good as anyone on that defense. I don't know if he was motivated to show there wouldn't be a letdown should the team move on from Ramsey or if he just is finally healthy enough to play his style of football. Either way, Bouye's performance Thursday is a good sign for a defense that knows it must perform at the highest level while the rookie quarterback is on the field. If they can play like they did the last two weeks, Gardner Minshew II will deliver points and wins until Nick Foles is healthy again.