JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field Sunday
1.Mania is back, but Minshew must answer questions. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II will start for the Jaguars Sunday and Nick Foles seems unlikely to get his job back. While we can marvel at how ridiculous that would have sounded in August, the bigger question is what the move means for the Jaguars at quarterback moving forward. The first 12 regular-season games erased most doubts about the better quarterback right now, but Minshew now must show he can be a long-term NFL starter. He has shown signs. He has done many good things. Still, defenses such as New Orleans and Houston schemed away the deep portion of the field and cut off Minshew's escape routes in the pocket, stifling Minshew and the offense. Minshew's magic is great. He has undeniable creativity, escapability and excitement. The fact that he's not prototypical doesn't mean he can't succeed, but he also hasn't shown for certain he can he a long-term starter. He must develop. He must improve. The next four games could show if he is developing and improving enough to be this franchise's future.
2.The offensive line must improve, too. While Minshew will dominate all other Jaguars storylines this week, there are other key issues entering the season's final month. One is the offensive line. Rookie right tackle Jawaan Taylor had a rough game against Tampa Bay Sunday, but he appears likely to be a big-time player for a long time. The rest of the line is tougher to figure. Left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder and the right guard combination of Will Richardson Jr. and A.J. Cann all on paper appear to be good players and capable of starting in the NFL. But as a whole, this group hasn't been the dominant run-blocking unit many expected, and it has been sporadic in pass protection. Holding penalties and false starts remain an issue. Head Coach Doug Marrone cited mobility as a reason for starting Minshew over Foles. While the line isn't solely responsible for protection, this group must play better over the last four games to evaluate the rookie – and to give the Jaguars any chance of snapping their losing streak.
3.Chark, Allen look like the future. The Jaguars' struggles have been real enough in recent weeks that we'll give into the temptation – at least for this week – to glimpse toward the future. While familiar names such as end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus could be in their final month with the team, defensive end Josh Allen and wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. have developed enough to make you feel good about the two positions going forward. Allen is an obvious star in the making, and his nine sacks would be more than if the Jaguars weren't trailing so much – and if they weren't struggling to stop the run on early downs. Chark hasn't been as consistent in the last half of the season as the first half, but that's not unusual at the position – and he hasn't been helped by the changing quarterback situation. Chark still has the look of a player who can develop into a No. 1 wide receiver. Are there deficiencies elsewhere on the roster? Definitely. But if you have an elite edge rusher and a No. 1 receiver, that's not a bad start to a foundation.
1.Temper your expectations for Minshew Sunday. I'm not suggesting that Minshew won't play well, or that the Jaguars can't beat the Chargers. However, they're facing a defense featuring Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, wide-angle pass rushers capable of keeping the rookie in the pocket and wildly athletic in redirecting and chasing quarterbacks down from behind. We saw what the Houston Texans did to Minshew in London and how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers adjusted this past Sunday as the game went along. He must learn to be patient in the pocket and take what defenses give him. The Los Angeles defense hasn't been as dominant as expected this season, but All-Pro safety Derwin James is finally back and you know defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will be prepared for Minshew Magic. Don't expect to see him running all over the field making plays. Teams will take that out of his arsenal, and he must show he can beat them from the pocket.
2.That is … if he has a pocket. This offensive line has been maddeningly inconsistent in 2019. One week, Taylor looks like an All-Pro in the making and the next he's struggling to keep up with Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett. Robinson is getting better week to week, but still has much to prove if he wants to be the long-term solution, and Linder has been a solid performer and stayed healthy. I don't think much of the guard play; while they've gotten decent push in the run game, they've been leaky up front in pass protection. Experts lament offensive line play in general in today's NFL, but surely these guys can play better than they have. The tackles must tighten their belts this week and everyone has to be dialed in on their assignments because Bosa and Ingram are coming to town.
3.This team must be mentally tougher than it has shown since London. You can't drop passes in the end zone when the rookie quarterback is about to make it a one-score game. I know wide receiver Dede Westbrook had a touchdown and two-point conversion against Tampa Bay, but big-time players stay dialed in and don't let opportunities pass them by. That would have made it 25-18 or 19 if they went for two points, and would have set up a dramatic-come-from-behind chance; can you afford to let that slip by with a stadium full of unhappy customers? No. There were too many dropped passes, missed holes in the run game, penalties, mistakes in coverage and missed opportunities for sacks. The Jaguars are 4-8; if they want to be 4-12, they can keep on making the kinds of mistakes that rob them of a chance to play and eventually win a close game. If they want to do something about this four-game losing streak and a four-game opportunity in front of them, they must start doing their jobs. No excuses.