JACKSONVILLE – We arrive again at the time to look ahead.
On this Wednesday, as we move on from the Jaguars' discouraging home loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday, we not only look ahead to the Tennessee Titans but to the entire month of December.
Postseason talk has faded yet again. Indianapolis and Houston won last week, which along with the loss to San Diego pushed the Jaguars two games behind the AFC South leaders with five remaining. That sort of deficit doesn't mean your season is over, but it means you need to win – and you need a lot of other things to happen – to get back in it.
So, what is the focus as December opens? Fix a bunch of things that need fixing such as the pass rush, and keep developing, growing and building. That's the long-term focus, and it's the short-term focus once again.
Here are six important questions as the Jaguars begin preparations for Sunday:
1)Will the Jaguars respond?Head Coach Gus Bradley always has this team motivated no matter the circumstance. That has allowed the Jaguars to respond well to adversity over the last three seasons. But there was a lot of playoff talk the past two weeks and the San Diego loss has quieted that considerably. What now? Will the Jaguars play well following a let-down? Big topic this week.* *
2)Will Allen Hurns play?The second-year receiver left the San Diego loss with a fourth-quarter concussion. He was released from the hospital Sunday, but remains in the concussion protocol. Neither he nor wide receiver Allen Robinson has missed a start this season and considering the duo's importance to the offense, this will be a major story this week. Hurns has not been ruled out for Sunday and his status will be updated Wednesday.
3)What role will Marqise Lee play?This is really pressing if Hurns doesn't play, but it's an important issue either way. Lee has been targeted once in the last two weeks and he has two receptions for 11 yards in three games since returning from a hamstring injury. Hurns and Robinson have developed into big-time reliable players, but Lee is a special talent. Can the Jaguars find a role for him in the offense? If Hurns doesn't play, will that role be as the outside guy in Hurns' place? Stay tuned.
4)What about the red zone?This is now the hot-button, flashpoint topic facing the Jaguars. That means it will be at the forefront of the discussion until quarterback Blake Bortles and the offense play well enough to force it from the forefront. The Jaguars are moving the ball between the 20s, but the constant stalling between the end zone and the 20s saps life and energy from the offense and the defense. Experience is key in red-zone offense. The Jaguars lack it, but they must improve here even if just marginally.
5)Can the Jaguars rush the passer?This question has been asked over and over again this season. And over and over again. And over and over. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in importance. The Jaguars likely aren't going to solve their issue of not being able to pressure with four down linemen this season, but the more they have been able to affect the quarterback with pressure or scheme the better they have been.
6)Can Julius be Julius again?Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas looked the part of a big-time factor in the offense last week. That adds a dimension the Jaguars' offense hasn't had in some time, and – in addition to Hurns and Robinson – gives the Jaguars one more must-defend element in the passing game. You need at least four of those kinds of players to strain the defense enough to be a great passing game, so it's key that Thomas turn last week's production into a consistent presence.