JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' game against the Los Angeles Rams at EverBank Field Sunday.
Oehser … 1. The Jaguars' formula wasn't enough Sunday.The Jaguars ran well early and played better-than-good defense throughout. That has been the team's winning formula this season, but the formula on Sunday was offset by an offense that struggled in the final three quarters – and by the special teams struggling as much as a unit can possibly struggle. We'll get to special teams in Quick Thought No. 2, but a major issue Sunday was the Jaguars' inability to make plays passing downfield – something that has been a problem throughout the season. While running back Leonard Fournette was effective early, running for 100 yards in the first quarter, the Rams held Fournette to 30 yards rushing in the final three quarters. Quarterback Blake Bortles and the passing game accounted for 241 yards and a touchdown, but receivers caught nine passes for 127 yards with a long reception of 21. The offense is one-dimensional right now. That dimension wasn't enough in a three-point second-half Sunday.
2. This wasn't what the Jaguars had in mind when they spent the offseason emphasizing special teams.In a game that went back and forth through the first half, special teams kept the Rams very much in it – then they actually gave the Rams a double-digit lead. The Rams scored 17 of their 24 first-half points directly off special teams. They not only took a 7-0 lead when wide receiver Pharoh Cooper returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, they got point-blank field position at the Jaguars 45 later in the quarter because of a 16-yard punt by Jaguars punter Brad Nortman. That led directly to a 56-yard field goal by Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein and a 10-7 Rams lead at a time midway through the first quarter when the Rams had no first downs. Rams running back Malcolm Brown then returned a blocked punt six yards for a touchdown and a 24-14 Rams lead late in the second quarter before Jaguars kicker Carson Tinker missed from 54 yards to close the half. The Jaguars did a lot more things that led to the Rams victory Sunday, but that sort of special teams play? You can't have it when your winning formula is grinding out victories with running and defense.
3. Leonard Fournette is turning into a superstar before our eyes. That's not news, but it should be emphasized that the rookie has started the season in remarkable, historical fashion. He rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries Sunday, including a 75-yard touchdown on the scrimmage play immediately following Cooper's game-opening touchdown. Fournette – who sustained a late ankle injury but was cleared medically to return – has scored touchdowns in the first six games of his career; the only other player in NFL history to do so was Patriots running back Robert Edwards in 1998. But Fournette's impact goes beyond statistics. He continues to reshape and define the identity of this offense. The Jaguars' passing game obviously must improve to complement Fournette, but that doesn't diminish Fournette's impact.
- Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone told us during training camp that he is willing use starters if that's what it takes to win on special teams. They may have to take dramatic measures this week after giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff, and after a blocked punt among missed field goals and shanked punts. Joe DeCamillis is recognized as one of the games' best special teams coaches, and you can be sure he will have sleepless nights this week trying to fix problems that hadn't yet existed this season.
- The Jaguars defense held the Rams – who averaged more than 30 points per game – to only 13 and held Jared Goff to just 124 passing yards which should have been enough to win. Todd Gurley hung 116 on them including 8 runs on the drive that ended with the field goal that pushed it to a 10-point lead. They were far from perfect but they contributed sacks, a take-away and solid coverage down the field. When you hold an offense as explosive as Los Angeles to 13 points you expect to win.
- Losing was tough, but it seemed like a complete disaster when Leonard Fournette went down late in the fourth quarter. I thought it was his knee – good thing I'm not a doctor. It turned out to be his ankle and in the post-game locker room he said he was fine and wanted to go back in. I'm not sure I can add any adjectives to the rookie whose final run in Pittsburgh was a 90-yard touchdown run and his first touch of Sunday's game against the Rams was a beautiful 75-yard score. He's so good, imagine how much better he can be with a fully functioning passing attack that moves defenders out of the box and off the line of scrimmage. They rely too much on him right now and I'm not sure he can do much more than he has the last two weeks.