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What to Watch: Jaguars-Ravens Into Focus


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics as Jaguars-Ravens nears, including the likely end of the Wildcat offense for 2014, wide receiver Cecil Shorts III and the tough test that is the Baltimore Ravens …

1.Go 'Cat, Go.We begin this pre-Ravens-Jaguars Into Focus focusing on the likely "end" of the Jaguars' Wildcat offense – for this season, at least. Running back Denard Robinson will miss the final three games of the season with a sprained foot, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch on Wednesday admitted the formation likely wouldn't be used without Robinson. Fisch did add, "Maaaaa-ybe" when discussing the idea … but realistically, probably not. The Jaguars' Wildcat featured Robinson – a quarterback at the University of Michigan – taking snaps from center, a formation that was enticing to Fisch in recent weeks with the run offense struggling against defenses stacking the line against traditional run sets. "We try to use it as an advantage opportunity," Fisch said, adding, "If it hits, with Denard you have a chance for an explosive play. … There's some excitement and energy when it happens, and it has been pretty productive." Official statistics show six direct snaps to Robinson in the last two weeks, with one incomplete pass and five running plays gaining 26 yards. Robinson rushed twice for 21 yards on a third-quarter touchdown drive against the Giants two weeks ago. "I'm not saying it's going to be a staple forever," Fisch said. "It's something we've been using and it's had some pretty good production."

2.Bouncing back.Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III has been a topic among observers and media this week, with the four-year veteran catching two passes for three yards Sunday and being credited with two drops and 10 targets. Fisch said while Shorts had one obvious drop, realistically there were  four passes he had a chance of catching, adding that he saw no reason Shorts wouldn't respond with a more productive game. "I think he'll be fine," Fisch said. "I think Cecil played a good game; it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances." Shorts said Wednesday if he had written it, this season wouldn't have turned out this way. He struggled in training camp and early in the regular season with hamstring issues, and has 40 receptions for 419 yards and a touchdown this season. He has been credited with five drops by Pro Football Focus. With a young receiving corps including rookies Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, it's possible the Jaguars could opt not to pursue a contract extension with Shorts, though the team has not addressed the issue publicly. "That's out of my control," Shorts said. "I don't even think like that. Do I want to be here? Yeah. We'll deal with that when the offseason comes."

3.Storming in.With Robinson out for the season, veteran Toby Gerhart is expected to start at running back Sunday in Baltimore. But both Fisch and Head Coach Gus Bradley said Robinson's injury could mean opportunity for rookie running back Storm Johnson. The seventh-round selection started one game earlier this season, rushing for 21 yards on 10 carries against Tennessee. But with the Jaguars settling into a rotation of Robinson starting, Gerhart backing him up and Jordan Todman as the third back, Johnson has been inactive the last six games. Bradley said this week Johnson has practiced well in recent weeks, comparing him to rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee, who improved in practice for several weeks before improving on the field the last three weeks. "We were talking prior to this week about trying to find a way to get him up and get him some opportunities," Bradley said. "He had a good day today (Wednesday) at practice. He got a lot more reps obviously and I'm hopeful that this time around he'll take advantage of it even more."

4.Tough, tough test.The Ravens will be one of the Jaguars' toughest tests of the season. Joe Flacco has completed 62 of 88 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns with one interception in the last three games, a span during which Head Coach John Harbaugh said he's playing quarterback at the highest possible level. But the Ravens' strength may be their lines. Defensively, the line is strong even without suspended five-time Pro Bowl tackle Haloti Ngata, ranking fourth in the NFL against the run and holding Miami to 63 yards rushing last week. Linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs have combined for 24.5 sacks off the edge. But the offensive line is equally as strong, with the interior trio of Jeremy Zuttah and guards Marshall Yanda and Kelechi Osemele perhaps the league's best. The Ravens have allowed 16 sacks this season – second fewest in the NFL – and rank fifth in the NFL in rushing. "There's no weakness in their whole line – or their whole offense," said Jaguars defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, who played the Ravens twice a season as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2009-2013. "They know what to do. We're going to have to be prepared for anything and everything that happens on the field Sunday. …

5.A clean slate.We close this Into Focus with a word on the quarterback, with Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles saying this week one area he has improved this season is "wiping the slate clean each week." The rapid, week-to-week nature of the NFL can make learning from the previous game and preparing for the next a challenge for young quarterbacks, and Bortles said it was difficult when starting early in the season. "It was kind of like, 'This is my first time doing this; you obviously want to do as best you can,'" he said. "The first couple of times don't quite go your way. What happened? How can I fix it and change the outcome? I really think you've got to focus in on the day-by-day preparation and create a routine and a habit of how you go about it and prepare yourself best." Fisch said creating a routine was a priority early. "We've kind of been able to move forward when he comes in on Tuesday to check what's going on with the game plan," Fisch said. "Are we talking more about the past or the future game? I think he's been able to move on past it quicker. I've probably moved on past it quicker with him at times. I think it's important right now for Blake to learn off of the experience he had more than the experiences that will come on Sunday. He needs to see what he did do and really work through that."

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