JACKSONVILLE – As Jay Gruden sees it, the circumstances don't much matter.
Whether the Jaguars play offense on the game's first or second drive Sunday – and no matter the score at the time – the Jaguars' offensive coordinator said the objective is the same:
Score, and do it early.
"We have to come out to a faster start," Gruden said Wednesday as the Jaguars (1-2) prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2-1) at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sunday at 1 p.m.
That's true on both side of the ball. While the Jaguars' defense has allowed touchdowns on all three game-opening drives this season, the offense has failed through three games to either score a touchdown or field goal on their first possession.
"That's a goal of ours – to jump out early and let the defense go hunt," quarterback Gardner Minshew II said.
Head Coach Doug Marrone has said he will consider taking possession first if the Jaguars win the toss, a departure from his long-time approach of deferring in that situation and receiving the second-half kickoff.
"It's up to him whatever he feels like on that particular game," Gruden said, adding that "We've done a poor job that offensively. … Both offense and defense have our hand in it. We both have to execute a lot better early in games to give our guys some momentum and some juice. …
"If we do get the ball, it's our job to make sure we make it count.
The result of the slow starts has been early deficits of 7-0 in Week 1 and 14-7 the past two weeks. While the Jaguars rallied to beat Indianapolis in Week 1 and tie Tennessee in the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss, they never recovered in a 31-13 loss to Miami in Week 3.
The Jaguars' second-half rally in Tennessee was keyed in part by 10 second-half rushes for 85 yards and a touchdown by rookie running back James Robinson. Robinson rushed for a one-yard fourth-quarter touchdown against Miami but rushed just four times for 10 yards in the second half.
"We have to stay on track," Gruden said. "I have to do a better job staying on track as a play-caller and not getting too panicky, so to speak. I have to make sure we stay on track and keep the run mixed in there with the pass. Last week against Miami I probably got a little too pass-happy, which is unfortunate. It puts our team in a tough position, our tackles. And it puts out quarterbacks in a tough position.
"We have to do a good of keeping balance. It's our job to start faster. We tried to make that a focal point last week. Unfortunately, it didn't happen Hopefully, it will happen this week against Cincinnati. We do have to do a better job starting fast."
Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. returned to practice on a limited basis after missing the Dolphins game with a chest/back injury. The Pro Bowl wide receiver was among four Jaguars players working limited Wednesday with the others being safety Brandon Watson (knee), safety Andrew Wingard (core muscle) and linebacker Quincy Williams (core muscle). Five Jaguars players did not practice Wednesday: guard A.J. Cann (illness), tight end Tyler Eifert (scheduled day off), kicker Stephen Hauschka (right knee), cornerback D.J. Hayden (scheduled day off) and center Brandon Linder (knee). Williams, who underwent surgery during training camp, was "designated for return" from the team's reserve/injured list and practice for the first time since his surgery; he doesn't currently count against the team's 53-man roster.
Gruden on criticism levied toward quarterback Gardner Minshew II after Thursday's loss to Miami: "I take a lot of the criticism. I didn't call a good enough game for Gardner to have success, so that's on me. I have to give him a better opportunity to make some plays, get the ball out of his hands, timing more quicker-type drops, get the ball out of his hands where he's not holding the ball waiting for deeper-type routes to develop against known passing situations. [It was] not a great game plan by us. Miami kind of fooled us a little bit, played a little bit more zone than they had played the last couple of weeks. Gardner is on track of being a very good quarterback. He's young, he's going to make some mistakes here and there, but for the most part, I love the way he competes. You see him competing on every single play."