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 Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville in Week 6 of the 2019 regular season
1.This is more than Mania. Gardner Minshew II can be described many ways. Cultural phenomenon, free spirit, rookie-of-the-year candidate, Mustachioed Maestro … all fit, but how about this? Legitimate starting NFL quarterback. While not as fun as the other descriptions, it's true. Minshew is four weeks into replacing Nick Foles as the Jaguars' starter, essentially having played five NFL games. He is 2-2 as a starter, and he has played well enough to be 3-1 or 4-0. He has put up record-breaking statistics for a rookie and has checked every checkable quarterback box. Poise. Decision-making. Pocket presence. Knowledge of the offense. Ability to read defenses. Most importantly, teammates believe in him and he makes big plays at big times. The thought here is Minshew is the Jaguars' starting quarterback and it's going to be difficult – maybe impossible – to go back to Foles. Maybe it won't play out that way, but it's harder and harder to believe that's not the story moving forward.
2.The defense will be fine. The emphasis there should be on "fine," because what the sentence didn't say is "Top 10" or "elite." The defense doesn't feel as if it will be those things this season, particularly with cornerback Jalen Ramsey not playing. Ramsey's absence prevents the Jaguars from placing him on elite receivers most of a game, and therefore alters what the Jaguars must do with the rest of their secondary. There's nothing positive about Ramsey's absence, but even without him this is a defense capable of playing well enough for long enough stretches to keep the Jaguars in most games. And there's no reason there must be a repeat of Sunday's catastrophic run defense against Carolina; better gap discipline smarter play – particularly by the linebackers and secondary – can fix a lot of what appeared broken Sunday. The big picture: While the Jaguars' defense is capable of holding opponents to 14 or fewer points as it did against Houston and Tennessee earlier this season, such performances shouldn't be necessary as often as in the past. With the offense capable of reaching the mid-20s most weeks, this defense – Ramsey included or not – absolutely should be fine to keep this team in most games and win a lot of them.
3.The vibe is good – for real. Make no mistake: The positive vibe in the postgame locker room in Carolina was real and could be a very good sign for the rest of the season. Perhaps because of Minshew, and perhaps because the Jaguars have rallied from double-digit deficits three times this season, there's a feeling among these players that this team never is out of a game. But more than that, there's a feeling that the things that have gone wrong in their two losses since a season-opening loss at Kansas City are very fixable. This is an offense that can run and pass effectively. It's a defense that can rush the passer, and that believes it can easily be much better against the run than it was last week. The Jaguars were 3-2 through five games last season. Though they're 2-3 at the same point this season, the feeling around this team is dramatically better than this time a year ago.
1.The defense isn't the same without Ramsey. It makes sense. He's their best player and a guy who can take nearly half the field away. Think it would have helped to have had both safeties near the line of scrimmage last weekend when Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey ran wild? A.J. Bouye is a very good player who is even better when Ramsey is on the field, but I haven't seen enough from him to think he can cover wide receiver Michael Thomas on Sunday when the Saints come to town. The Jaguars don't need Ramsey to be good on defense, but since when was that the objective in Jacksonville? They need him if they're going to be special and lest we forget that's a rookie quarterback on the other side of the ball; having a special defense would make his job much, much easier. I know that he's high maintenance and some people think Ramsey's a distraction, that he's not a 'team player' and that the Jaguars would be better off without him. I'm not one of those people. They need him and they need him now.
2.I expect the Jaguars to sell out against the run this week. The Jaguars were embarrassed last week by Carolina's 285 rushing yards; this defense is better than that. Linebacker Myles Jack took all the heat in the locker room but safety Ronnie Harrison and rookie linebacker Quincy Williams both deserve a share of the blame. No matter who – on Sunday, it's about how – how they fix the issue and how they improve the result. They'll do whatever they can to take Saints running back Alvin Kamara out of the game and force Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to beat them with his arm. Bridgewater can do it; look how well he played last week against Tampa. But if the Jaguars can reduce Kamara's impact, they'll take their chances with their pass rushers reducing Bridgewater's impact.
3.The Jaguars are desperate to get some production from the tight ends. It looked like they had something working as James O'Shaughnessy quickly developed a rhythm with Minshew. O'Shaughnessy, who tore knee ligaments in Carolina on Sunday, had two touchdowns in the last three games and made an improbable catch on third and long against tight coverage. The group had 26 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns with O'Shaughnessy; it now has just 12 for 60 yards on the field without him. Ben Koyack is back, but we know what he is. The question is when rookie Josh Oliver can return to the field for the first time since July – and if he can be the player he appeared on his way to becoming before injuring his hamstring. It's a big ask for a rookie who has missed nearly three months of action.