JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts as the Jaguars come out of the bye and prepare for the final nine games of the 2017 season
1.Their time is now.If you didn't think the Jaguars believed this, Friday should have erased that notion. The Jaguars see themselves as postseason contenders – and they made that boldly clear when they sent a sixth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Buffalo Bills for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The move strengthens a run defense that has struggled this season, and it adds an elite-level talent to a front that already included ends Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Malik Jackson. The Jaguars' defense already was one of the NFL's best, but this move could give it balance it lacked. Teams such as Denver and Seattle in recent seasons have ridden elite defenses deep into the postseason and the Super Bowl. It's too early to talk about the Jaguars' defense in that vein. Or is it?
2.Telvin Smith Sr. earned his extension.Don't let the acquisition of Dareus overshadow the Jaguars' other bye-week news: the decision to extend linebacker Telvin Smith's contract. That move not only assured Smith will be with the Jaguars for the foreseeable future, it establishes him as a core player. He became the second player from the team's 2014 draft class to re-sign a long-term contract, with center Brandon Linder having done so this past summer. While Smith is undersized for the linebacker position, he continually has proven his ability to outplay that disadvantage – and has shown a remarkable ability to make tackles for loss and game-turning plays. He also in the past two seasons has developed into a player teammates respect and rally around. Did Smith earn the extension? Is he a core player? Absolutely.
3.These next two weeks are big.Yes, the Jaguars made a statement by acquiring Dareus. And yes, they have played well enough in four of seven games to make you think this team is capable of competing for a playoff spot. But they also have yet have a winning streak this season. They have yet to win at EverBank Field. Five home games remain, so winning in Jacksonville is critical. And if you're going to get to double-digit victories, you must put together at least a short winning streak. The Jaguars play the Bengals and Chargers at home over the next two weeks. These are not bad teams, and the season won't be over if the Jaguars lose either game. But the Jaguars believe they're capable of winning the South and making a postseason push. A team capable of that also must be capable of winning these next two games.
1."Why not us?" Keenan McCardell's words echo in my ears as we start the second half of the season. He wondered aloud about the playoffs back in 1996 as the Jaguars were making their move. So, why not this Jaguars team? The AFC South is wide open, the schedule turns favorable with five of the next seven games in Jacksonville, the defense may be the NFL's best and running back Leonard Fournette drives the NFL's best rushing team. The 2017 Jaguars may not be able to repeat the '96 playoff run, but they could replicate that team's run to the playoffs if they can stay healthy and find a way to play consistently … which they weren't able to show in the first two months of the season.
2.Worth a shot.The Jaguars' defense is very good, but they lacked the size and muscle inside to stop the run consistently; unless they got the other team down, they were susceptible to a good running attack like the Rams. The bold move to trade for Dareus isn't as big a risk as it would seem. The Jaguars gave up a sixth-round pick (they already had two) and the contract is essentially a 25-game deal for one of the NFL's biggest and best interior defenders. The bonus is he's a guy who can play a number of different spots and whose talent adds to a unit that was already loaded. In the chess game of the NFL, offensive coordinators were scheming to get the Jaguars' nickel defense on the field, which means taking middle linebacker Telvin Smith Sr. off of it. This is the Jags' countermove. If Dareus comes to play, it's certainly "check" for the rest of the NFL if not "checkmate."
3.Beat the Bengals. The Bengals aren't playing as well as a few seasons ago when they were in the middle of a five-year playoff run. They do still have a good quarterback, an elite receiver and a couple of game-changing players on defense. This is the kind of game the Jaguars should be able to handle if they bring their best to the stadium on Sunday. The Jaguars are healthy and rested and now fortified with the addition of Dareus. They have to start stacking some wins – and with the Bengals and Chargers at home before road trips to the struggling Browns and Cardinals, this next two-week stretch likely will determine whether they're in control of their own destiny or chasing the Titans and/or Texans at the end of the season.