Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: Jaguars-Titans

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (7) stands during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (7) stands during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both with three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, Sunday…

Oehser…

1.We’re at a pressure point with Nick Foles. This perhaps was true last week entering Foles’ second start with the Jaguars, but it’s absolutely true entering Sunday. Foles, who missed eight starts after sustaining a broken clavicle Week 1 against Kansas City, entered his second Jaguars start this past Sunday with the difficult task of needing to immediately lead the Jaguars to what felt like a must-win victory. Foles’ was characteristically calm following the loss to Indianapolis, saying that the sky was not falling and that the worst thing the team could do is press. He reiterated that message Wednesday. While that’s a correct and necessary message to players and coaches, it’s a difficult message for fans to hear when the team is 4-6 and perhaps needing six consecutive victories to make the postseason. Adding to the trickiness of the situation is the presence of rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II, who went 4-4 in Foles’ absence. Head Coach Doug Marrone after the loss to the Colts said the plan is to stick with Foles as the starter for the rest of the season, and there’s no reason not to believe Marrone. But the reality is the Jaguars need to win this Sunday even more than they did last Sunday, and the calls for Minshew – while unlikely to get results – will only heighten should that not happen.

2.It’s time to really stand up. Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones put it simply before the loss to the Colts, saying the solution to the team’s run-defense woes was to “stand up.” While he was correct, the Jaguars very much did not do that and allowed the Colts 264 yards rushing. The statistic defined the loss, and the inability to stop the run is now defining the season – with the Jaguars having allowed more than 200 yards rushing in two consecutive games and in three of the last six. Jones’ point – that run defense sometimes is about deciding you’re going to stop the run whatever it takes – rang particularly true against Indianapolis. There were multiple issues in the area in that game: players out of gaps, players being blocked out of gaps, missed tackles, mental errors and on a few occasions what appeared to be a lack of effort. Yes, the Jaguars miss defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who is out with a core-muscle issue. And yes, being comparatively undersized on the front always makes the Jaguars a bit vulnerable to the run. But being vulnerable doesn’t mean you have to allow more than 200 yards rushing. Dareus’ absence doesn’t, either. It’s time to stand up. If the Jaguars don’t, any chance for the postseason will disappear fast. Officially.

3.Sunday’s running backs matchup will be fascinating. Jaguars-Titans Sunday is a modern NFL rarity: a game with a pregame storyline more about running backs than quarterbacks. The Jaguars must figure a way to stop Titans running back Derrick Henry, whose 99-yard prime-time touchdown against the Jaguars last season will be forever etched into the minds of Jaguars players and fans. Considering the Jaguars’ recent struggles against the run, the Titans’ offensive game-plan meetings this week figure to be straightforward and short. As for the Jaguars’ offense, considering the aftermath of Sunday’s loss to the Colts, it would be a major surprise if the Jaguars didn’t somehow emphasize Fournette early against the Titans. Fournette rushed just eight times against Indianapolis, including three times in the second half. The issue for the Jaguars will be getting Fournette free against a defense sure to be stacked against a likely run-heavy game plan. Either way, this one figures to be decided by which team finds a way to run effectively. The Jaguars need to reverse their fortunes from recent weeks in a big way.

Sexton…

1.Everything stinks. That happens when you lose, especially when you lose back-to-back games we all knew would define the season – and especially when you lose as the Jaguars did. I was among a group of people talking about the Jaguars in a light-hearted fashion; when the conversation ended, the room was so dark and gloomy I wanted to find a therapist for them all. It gave me a new appreciation for how coaches and players must hide from negativity and focus on just the upcoming game. The playoffs aren’t likely, but six games remain and there is enough talent on the roster to craft a game plan and compete. Trust me, the roster has been worse than this one around here. I thought from the beginning of the season this was a 7-9 to 9-7 team; that was before it lost its starting quarterback for half the season and before its best player (cornerback Jalen Ramsey) quit on team. This team shouldn’t quit on itself and Foles didn’t deserve the criticism he received for reminding them of that.

2.This team may need to pass to set up the run. Open the playbook and spread ‘em out! Be creative and find ways to create running room for Fournette and Co. Teams are so used to stacking the line of scrimmage against the Jaguars it feels as if something dramatic must happen change the narrative. I know this team’s personality is to run, but without a reliable tight end or fullback – and with a quarterback who is more comfortable in the shotgun – it seems to make sense to do something different. Running room isn’t the only issue; it would help if Fournette saw the holes that were there and didn’t try to make every play a homerun. He was frustrated the last two weeks, but he’s a pounder and those guys go for two yards, then three yards, then two yards, then thirty-two yards. He must be patient for the running game to get started again. He was third in the AFC in rushing yards and third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage before last week; he doesn’t stink.

3.Maybe Jake Ryan would help? The Jaguars signed the former Green Bay linebacker last spring hoping he could provide options on defense. He’s back practicing and at some point, I expect he’ll come off the non-football injury list and play. Perhaps he can go to the middle and Myles Jack can go from the middle to the weak side and that will make a difference in the rushing defense? I’m grasping at straws here because the Jaguars have the players they have. They aren’t trading for another Dareus to fix their problems as they did in 2017. They’re undersized in the middle, but Ryan would give them a 240-pound presence in the heart of the defense and free Jack to play outside, where he seems most comfortable. Otherwise, the solution is to execute the scheme and play better (which they absolutely can and should do); it isn’t a quick fix, but it might count for something.

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