JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Wednesday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday
1.Another oversight.We begin Wednesday takeaways with Roy Miller – and though the focus of Jaguars fans since Tuesday's Pro Bowl selections has been second-year wide receiver Allen Robinson's absence, Miller's was an omission of nearly equal proportion. Miller, healthy this season for the first time since joining the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in 2013, was a major reason the defense ranked among the top 10 in the NFL against the run much of the season. "As a pure nose guard, he's one of the best in the league," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. Miller's being left out was a case of the nature of the selection process; he plays nose tackle, and Pro Bowl defensive tackles typically play the more disruptive, sacks-oriented, three-technique tackle spot. Still, teammates understood Miller's value. While Posluszny deservedly got a lot of credit for one of his better seasons this season, he said on Wednesday Miller was equally deserving of mention. "I don't know who plays better than him," Posluszny said. "I know he's playing at a really high level. To have a guy like him who's just a rock and you know can always count on him … that's as valuable as it gets."
2.Still in it.The Jaguars as might be expected aren't putting a heavy emphasis this week on postseason talk. Posluszny, when asked about the postseason Wednesday, had to ask a reporter what scenario indeed would allow the Jaguars to win the AFC South and qualify for the playoffs. That's in keeping with the Jaguars' approach in recent weeks even as many around the team talked about postseason scenarios. At the same time, it's not as if the Jaguars have completely ruled out the idea of winning the division. "There's a fighting chance to be in the playoffs, so it's not like we're really looking at the offseason," defensive end Jared Odrick said Wednesday. "We're still thinking about, 'What are our chances, what are our options, what are the things that need to happen for us to make the playoffs?' The more we think like that, the better chance we do have." To win the AFC South, the Jaguars must win their final two games (at New Orleans and Houston) and have the Tennessee Titans win their final two games (home against Houston and at Indianapolis).
Images from Wednesday's practice as the Jaguars begin preparations to face the New Orleans Saints.
3.Residual effect.The week's primary topic around the Jaguars has been third-down offense – understandably so considering they failed to convert a third down on eight opportunities against Atlanta Sunday. The Jaguars are 0-of-11 on third downs in the first half in the last two games, which has led to the team failing to score an offensive touchdown in the same span. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson on Wednesday said the key to third down may be getting more production on the downs before that. Against Atlanta, the Jaguars' failed third downs all were on third-and-6 or longer with three fourth-quarter attempts failing on third-and-10, third-and-14 and third-and-10. "We've got to do a better job of staying on schedule and being aware of first and second downs to get us into third down and manageable situations," Olson said.
4.Thorough prep.A major storyline of Jaguars-Saints week is the status of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who sustained a torn plantar fascia in his right foot in a loss to Detroit Monday. Brees reportedly plans to try to finish the season, and played through the injury with three second-half touchdown passes Monday. Brees never had missed a start because of injury since joining the Saints before missing a Week 3 loss at Carolina this season. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said the team is assuming Brees will play, but is also preparing for backup Matt Flynn and third-team rookie Garrett Grayson. "Every week we look at the backup quarterback, but whenever there's an injury I think you spend a little bit more time looking at him, his strengths and weaknesses, what he does and how he operates," Bradley said.
5.High praise.Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been analyzed and re-analyzed ad nauseam this season, but Saints Head Coach Sean Payton – long one of the league's better offensive minds – praised Bortles Wednesday when he said the second-year quarterback scrambled to throw rather than scrambling to run. The ability to look downfield for open receivers rather than running when under pressure is a skill some quarterbacks never learn, and is often the difference between a successful quarterback and one who struggles. Bradley said Bortles began consistently showing the trait during the preseason and training camp this season, and it's something the Jaguars very much encourage. "A lot of times when you do that explosive plays can come about," Bradley said. "I think it's good. It's a trait we like for him to have."