JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's Thursday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sunday
1)Respect for Ryan.We begin this Thursday pre-Jets takeaways focused on the opponent, and that means a look at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed Wednesday the 11-year veteran will start against the Jaguars Sunday despite an injured left, non-throwing thumb that eventually will require surgery. That means the Jaguars will face a familiar opponent – and a savvy veteran that players and coaches respect a great deal. An underrated player who has been key to the Jets' 4-3 start, Fitzpatrick has started or played extensively against the Jaguars seven times – and is 4-3 in those games. He played extensively as a backup for the Titans in a 29-27 Jaguars victory at Tennessee in 2013, then started a 20-16 Titans victory at EverBank Field that December. He also started a 27-13 Texans victory over the Jaguars last December. "I think he does adjust quickly to schemes," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Thursday. "I think that experience has helped him. But I think what really stands out on tape is his decisiveness. He's really decisive. He knows where he wants to go with the ball, reads coverages very well and makes quick decisions."
2)Bringing heat.Fitzpatrick is far from easy to sack – it has happened just four times this season – and his quick decision-making makes him difficult to blitz. "He reads the defenses so quick, and he's a really good scrambler," defensive coordinator Bob Babich said Thursday. "He understands where he wants to go with the ball, and if he has to, he just throws it away." Still, it stands to reason the Jaguars will bring extra pressure Sunday. The Jaguars' struggles to pressure with four down linemen this season have been well-documented, and blitzes not only resulted in an Aaron Colvin/Chris Clemons sack/fumble/touchdown in a pre-bye victory over the Bills, they also resulted in a sack/fumble by defensive end Andre Branch that was recovered by Buffalo. "The guys responded to it, got into a flow and it seemed to work well," Babich said. Babich declined Thursday to discuss in detail how much the Jaguars may blitz, but said while the majority of the Jaguars' blitzes this season have come on first and second down, third-down blitzes increased against Buffalo. "That's why there was an increase," Babich said.
3)Keen awareness.When the Jaguars have blitzed this season, they often have been effective. That unsurprisingly has been particularly true of Colvin, who has emerged as an effective blitzer in his first full season as a starter. That ability is one reason the Jaguars like moving the second-year veteran from his starting outside corner position on first and second down to nickel on third downs, with his ability to blitz comparatively rare for a player of his experience. "He does a good job," Babich said. "He has a knack for it. The nickel position is a different position because you have to have the instincts of a linebacker and the cover skills of a corner. It's a little unique. He fits that mold really well." Colvin said while he prefers interceptions to sacks, he takes pride in having the awareness necessary to blitz effectively. "Being able to blitz, especially with our scheme, you have to sort of outsmart the offense sometimes," he said. "You have to sometimes show like you're coming and sometimes show like you're not. I just try to keep them on their toes and when they call my number, I feel like I've got to make a play."
4)Better in the middle.While quarterback Blake Bortles and the offense have improved from last season, one area Bortles must improve is completion percentage. He has thrown 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but his 55.7 completion percentage is next-to-last among quarterbacks with enough attempts to be listed among the NFL's leaders. The Jaguars aren't overly focused on Bortles' percentages, particularly with the offense's emphasis on him taking chances downfield, but Bradley said the team would like to see the accuracy improve on mid-range, short-range and combination routes. "So, I think maybe in that area [we] look at even a higher completion percentage," Bradley said.
Images from Thursday's practice as the Jaguars prepare to face the New York Jets.
5)Ever-expanding role?Don't look for the Jaguars to announce an official change in the short-yardage scheme, but it continues to sound as if they are considering using running back T.J. Yeldon in the situation. Yeldon, the team's starter and leading rusher, has proven he is a capable three-down back. He also has impressed enough in pass-blocking that he is not only playing on first and second down, but on passing situations on third down. That's relatively unusual for a rookie running back. The team's short-yardage struggles against the Bills included Toby Gerhart running four times for no yards on first-and-goal from the Bills 1-yard line and fullback Tyson Alualu being stopped for no gain on third-and-one a short time later. "I think we're looking at that," Bradley said Thursday when asked about Yeldon in the situation, adding that the team wants to get backups Denard Robinson and Bernard Pierce carries to "take some of the load off of him (Yeldon)."