JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Wednesday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the Buffalo Bills at Wembley Stadium in London, England, Sunday
1)Staying true.We begin Wednesday takeaways with the big picture, which this week means the state of the Jaguars' locker room. At 1-5 with four consecutive losses, it's reasonable to ask if players still believe in the direction under Head Coach Gus Bradley. The answer remains the same as the past two seasons: yes, very much so. "It wouldn't be like that everywhere, but Coach Bradley is able to really excel in situations like this," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "Guys can be disappointed, upset and all of these different things, but he's found a way to keep everybody's spirit high and focus on the current opportunity in front of us." Posluszny said the difference from the first two seasons under Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell is progress on the field. "His (Bradley's) first year here, we were losing and losing bad – making bad, bad mistakes and still trying to figure things out," Posluszny said. "Now, we're at the point where we haven't had success, but we are in a position to win. The final step we have to take is how do we really hone in and grind and figure out a way to get over that last hump. That's where we're at right now, that final hurdle – and then things will really take off.''
Images from Wednesday's practice as the Jaguars prepare for London week.
2)Opportunity knocks. Wide receiver Neal Sterling signed from the practice squad to the active roster Tuesday, and his opportunity could be immediate. With Tony Washington placed on injured reserve (hip flexor strain) Tuesday and wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) expected to miss a fourth consecutive game, the Jaguars have three healthy wide receivers: Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Bryan Walters. Washington also was a special teams contributor, a role Sterling said he expects to play if active. If moved into a receiver's role, Sterling said he has worked predominately at the team's "X" position. "I think I've developed a whole lot through these six weeks or seven weeks of the regular season," said Sterling, who missed the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury. "Being healthy and getting in game shape was a big thing for me." Sterling (6-feet-4, 235 pounds), a seventh-round selection in in the 2015 NFL Draft from Monmouth, said, "I feel pretty comfortable out there. I know my role and I know my assignments."
3)Get it going.While the Jaguars' pass offense has been productive much of the season, the* *run offense has struggled, ranking 24th in the NFL at 92.7 yards per game. Quarterback Blake Bortles has rushed for 149 of the team's 556 rushing yards, and the situation was pronounced Sunday against Houston when Bortles accounted for 37 of the team's 83 rushing yards. "Certainly, that's an area we've got to get better at – there's no question," Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "It's become a priority for us. In practice at times we'll stop practice and let them know we're talking about the running game and it's not just any other period. It's still a work in progress and we've got to get better at it." Olson said part of the issue is scheme, and he and Bradley on Wednesday each talked about finishing blocks or blocking to the "echo of the whistle." Added Olson, "I think we can finish better. We can do a better job technique-wise and a better job finishing. Again, we'll do a better job schematically of finding ways to open up the holes for these backs."
4)Mental challenge. The offense has improved this season, but with a core of young skill players, Sunday will be tough. First-year Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan long has had a reputation – as a defensive coordinator and as head coach of the New York Jets – for using multiple schemes and blitzes to pressure quarterbacks. That will be a factor Sunday, and Bortles said it makes preparing for the Bills unique. "He's always done different things, exotic things, and it's no different," Bortles said of Ryan. "It's hard to get a bead on anything because they will do anything with anybody. They will drop anybody inside and anybody outside, so it's definitely crazy. There are definitely things you don't see when you play anybody else so you've got to expect everything because those guys are really good pass rushers."
5)First things first.Much of the focus defensively this week has been about pressuring the quarterback, where the Jaguars have struggled this season. The Jaguars have 12 sacks this season, and the inability to pressure with four down linemen has led to Bradley early this week talking about bringing more pass rushers in blitz and five-rusher situations. The Jaguars' core defensive philosophy is to generate pressure with four linemen, using the Leo edge-rusher position to generate pressure on early downs, and defensive tackle Roy Miller said that remains the optimal approach. "We need to stop the run consistently and get ourselves in second-and-long and third-and-long positions so we can get after the quarterback," Miller said. "If we're not stopping the run and guys are able to run on third down, it messes up the mentality of our pass rushers. They want to let loose and get off the field and get off the ball, but they're also thinking about possibly stopping the run. When you have that conflict it doesn't allow your pass rushers to get off the ball."