JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday in Week 8 of the 2019 regular season
1.Suddenly, he’s the man. Something unexpected and important happened around the Jaguars the past few weeks: Suddenly and certainly, Leonard Fournette got good. Really good. Not that the third-year running back hadn’t been productive at times in two NFL seasons, but he never was as consistent or reliable as expected from a player selected No. 4 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Fournette over the last four games has rushed for more than 100 yards three times and leads the AFC in rushing. Beyond the statistics, Fournette is playing as he needs to play – and as the Jaguars need him to play. He’s running hard, getting the most from every play and showing more miss-ability than he did in his first two seasons. For all the talk about quarterback Gardner Minshew II and cornerback Jalen Ramsey in recent weeks, it has been easy to overlook Fournette’s development. The Jaguars drafted him with the idea that he would become the offensive identity, and that this would be a team that could run consistently when needed. Fournette and an offensive line that is improving as a run-blocking unit are suddenly making the Jaguars the team they have wanted to be for a while.
2.New week, same storyline – almost. Forget the opponent’s record: The Jaguars’ victory over the 0-7 Cincinnati Bengals Sunday was important. It was a game they needed to win to stay in the AFC postseason conversation, and beating struggling teams in the NFL can be difficult – particularly if you give those teams early hope. The Jaguars’ home game Sunday has a similar feel, with the Jets entering at 1-5 and losing in embarrassing fashion to the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football this past week. Don’t get caught up in how poorly the Jets played in that 33-0 loss, or the four interceptions thrown by quarterback Sam Darnold. The Jets will be ultra-focused this week in a critical game to judge how Darnold responds to the greatest adversity of his NFL career. The Jaguars allowed Cincinnati to stay close when they couldn’t take advantage of opportunities early; they won anyway. The Jaguars are in another must-win situation Sunday – and they must play better early to get away from a dangerous, motivated team.
3.Another week, another challenge for Myles Jack. The fourth-year middle linebacker has had the most difficult season of his career, and it will get no easier this week. But when we talk about Jack’s difficulties, we don’t mean he has played poorly. While he has had some noticeable mistakes in key situations this season, he’s not struggling to the degree many observers believe. Jack, who signed a multi-year extension before the season, has been hurt at times by inexperience around him. Remember: he has gone from playing with Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith in 2017 to playing with Smith last season to playing alongside second-year veteran Leon Jacobs and rookie Quincy Williams much of this season. Many of Jack’s perceived miscues this season have come when trying to make up for inexperience around him, and coaches remain confident in him as the play caller of the defense. Still, this difficult season won’t get easier Sunday with Williams, Jacobs and Najee Goode all unlikely to play Sunday. Jack already was the group’s clear veteran leader. Now, he’s the lone healthy, experienced player in a depleted position.
1.There’s so much to like about Fournette this season. Who among us thought we would be talking in such glowing terms about the running back who was a disaster last season? His self-imposed exile to Wyoming last winter set the stage for a Rocky Balboa-style comeback and he’s added a dogged sense of determination to an already powerful, bruising running style. Fournette is the AFC’s leading rusher headed into Week 8 and he’s just ten yards off the NFL lead. He’s averaging 102 yards rushing per game and is on pace to own the Jaguars’ single-season rushing record. Beyond that, he has been a model teammate, a strong voice on the sidelines and great with the media. Fournette was a bright light as a rookie, but after last season no one could have reasonably forecast his star power would be even brighter. It is, and so are the Jaguars’ hopes of staying in the AFC South race.
2.Find a tight end. If you have seen enough from rookie right end Josh Oliver to say he’s the one, you’re the only one. He is big, athletic and has the kind of length coaches love in the middle of the field. I think he’s going to be good, maybe very good. But not this season. The Jaguars have plenty of trade capital to go out and get a playmaker for the middle of the field. I’m not nominating any one guy or suggesting which picks to spend, but I’d swing for a guy who can be part of the program long-term. Tight end is severely undermanned and filling the middle of the field to keep defenses honest and away from two-man coverage on both sides of the field – as New Orleans played – is key. Get off the wallet and spend some of that capital on a player offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and his quarterbacks can count on.
3.You must beat the Jets. The next two months can be incredibly exciting in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are a game out of first place in the South, and that’s incredible considering they lost starting quarterback Nick Foles in the first quarter of Week 1 – and considering that former cornerback Jalen Ramsey played in just three games before leaving for Los Angeles. Who could have envisioned that the Jaguars would weather those storms and be in the position they are today? I can see a scenario where we’re scoreboard watching as much as watching the field in December if the Jaguars can take advantage of a 1-5 Jets team coming in after a shutout loss on Monday Night Football – and a Texans team making their first trip overseas to play in Wembley Stadium. I don’t even need to extrapolate on road trips to Indianapolis and Nashville after the bye week. Beat the Jets and build the energy and excitement in Jacksonville.