1)Pressure still a key.We begin this Thursday takeaways with a not-so-subtle reminder: the Jaguars' pass rush remains key Sunday. That's particularly true considering the Falcons' quarterback, eight-year veteran Matt Ryan. The Jaguars' defensive performances this season often have depended upon the front generating pressure, with experienced quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers and Tom Brady often having big games when the pass rush has struggled. Ryan, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has just 17 touchdowns with 14 interceptions this season, but the Jaguars must pressure him to force such mistakes. "I think we've been getting progressively better, and hopefully we maintain that," Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. The Jaguars have 32 sacks this season, including three last week in a 51-16 victory over Indianapolis. Leo pass-rushing ends Chris Clemons and Andre Branch, after entering the game with a combined four sacks, had all three of the Jaguars' sacks against Indianapolis.
2)Confidence rising.After practicing twice in a protective cast this week, starting middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said Thursday he remains confident regarding Sunday. Posluszny missed the Colts game after fracturing his hand the previous week at Tennessee, and he is expected to play Sunday with a version of the cast he has worn in practice this week. Posluszny said the cast forces him to play with his hand closed, but said "regardless of what we put on, I think we'll still be effective. I'll still be able to play, still be effective and do everything I need to do." Posluszny said the hope is to continue to make the cast smaller before Sunday. Babich said while there may be a concern about Posluszny fending off blocks, he expects Posluszny to tackle fine Sunday. "The thing he brings to the defensive unit – even with the possibility of these things hindering him a little – I think it's a plus for us as a defensive unit," Babich said. "He's going to be at the right place and tell everybody what to do, and I think that's a positive for us."
3)Developing depth. One aspect of the Jaguars' offensive improvement that shouldn't get overlooked: through 13 games, the unit is showing signs of depth. Backup running back Denard Robinson replaced injured starter T.J. Yeldon Sunday and rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. At wide receiver, Bryan Walters, Rashad Greene and Marqise Lee all have shown varying degrees of production and flashes despite Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns getting most of the receptions. Lee, who has returned to full health after missing six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury, in particular in recent weeks has shown flashes of the athleticism that made him a 2014 second-round selection – catching a 17-yard pass in Tennessee and a 21-yarder against Indianapolis Sunday. Still, the presence of Hurns and Robinson has made finding a larger role for Lee tricky. "It's a good thing, more than anything, to know that you have a number of weapons," Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson said this week. "Trying to divide up touches throughout a game is difficult. Part of what we do as a coaching staff in the National Football League is to manage egos. When you have a number of players that want the ball on a consistent basis and want to be on the field on a consistent basis, then you have to deal with some of those issues that arise during the week. It's a good problem to have."
4)Just a bit more.Greene's impact since returning from an eight-week absence with a wrist injury is hard to overstate. He has seven receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown in four games since his return, and coaches believe he can be a big-time slot receiver, but his biggest impact has been at punt returner. His 63-yard return set up the game-winning touchdown in a 19-13 victory at Tennessee on November 19, and his 73-yard touchdown gave the Jaguars a double-digit lead the Colts never overcame Sunday. Teammates now believe he can break a return on any given play, which linebacker Dan Skuta – long a special teams ace in Cincinnati and San Francisco – said can be a lift for the rest of the return team. "If you've got a guy you know can break one you want to be at your best because there's always a possibility you can score," Skuta said. "You don't want to be the one guy who doesn't get a block who might spring him for a score."
Images from Thursday's practice ahead of the Jaguars Week-15 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.
5)Sudden impact, bright future.It has been clear since Sunday that Nick Marshall at nickel corner is no one-day experiment. Marshall, who opened at nickel Sunday for the first time this season, is expected to play the role again Sunday and likely through the end of the season – and he appears to have a chance to develop into a long-term contributor. Marshall, who signed with the Jaguars as a rookie free agent shortly after the 2015 NFL Draft, played quarterback collegiately at Auburn before moving to corner before the draft. He allowed a long pass early against the Colts, but played well after that. "He has great ball instincts and great ball skills," Babich said, noting that Marshall responded well on Sunday after allowing an early 57-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton. "To come back and play the way that he played after that, I thought that was fantastic. He showed the demeanor you want out there at the cornerback position."