JACKSONVILLE – Here's what we learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday . . .
1. The Jaguars aren't there yet.And in fact, they're probably not close yet. That may have gotten a little lost last week in the wake of a victory over the Titans, but the Jaguars needed to play very well in that game to get the victory. They took advantage of turnovers and made key plays at key times. On Sunday, they played a good team that's still in the hunt for a playoff berth. That team, the Cardinals, didn't make second-half mistakes and pulled away at the end. That won't happen nearly as often as the Jaguars improve over the next few years. On Sunday, it did.
2. The Jaguars miss Justin Blackmon. They missed him last week in a victory over the Tennessee Titans. That may have been a little overlooked because the Jaguars won. It was harder to overlook Sunday. There were times against Arizona Sunday the Jaguars needed a play – a first down or a big, momentum-changing play. Blackmon was the Jaguars' best option to make those plays, and his absence Sunday was felt in a big way.
3. The running game needs work . . .The Jaguars' run struggles this season have been well-documented. They were even more pronounced Sunday, when the Jaguars averaged 2.0 yards a carry, with running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushing for 23 yards on 14 carries. Jones-Drew probably could have run a little better, because everyone on the Jaguars' offense could have been better Sunday, but holes are too hard to find this season for Jaguars running backs.
4.. . . a lot of work.Not to completely belabor the point, but a running game struggling to this extent makes everything tougher. The Jaguars rushed seven times on first down for nine yards Sunday. That means you're looking at an average of second-and-nearly nine yards. That's a difficult down-and-distance to overcome.
5. The Cardinals are really good up front.Yes, the Jaguars have struggled to run the last two weeks. But it shouldn't be overlooked that the Cardinals are one of the NFL's best defensive fronts. There's a reason they're ranked No. 3 in the NFL against the run. They're that big, that physical, that athletic and that good.
6. Jason Babin . . . Jason Babin . . .Well, it's hard to say just what we learned from Babin pulling out a good-sized chunk of Andre Ellington's hair Sunday, but we couldn't not mention it. Did you see it? Did you?
7. Andre Branch is playing better.Branch was roundly criticized in the preseason and early in the season, and perhaps deservedly so at times. But the second-year defensive end has played better at times in recent weeks. On Sunday, he not only had a tackle for a loss, but he had a third-quarter sack on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.
8. The Jaguars' will fight.Fighting isn't a substitute for winning, but there's no denying this team played through adversity on Sunday – and by doing so, they stayed close in the second half. Two significant calls went against the Jaguars in the second half – a muffed punt and a timeout before an interception – in rapid succession. The Jaguars stopped the Cardinals on that possession, and stayed within 10 points. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley talked about that as a positive in the postgame and he was correct.
9. The run defense is improving.Remember when the Jaguars struggled to stop the run – really, really struggled? That was a huge concern entering the Titans game last week. They limited Chris Johnson a week ago, but on Sunday, they completely shut down the Cardinals, holding Rashard Mendenhall to 14 yards on 12 carries and Andre Ellington to three yards on eight carries. As a team, Arizona rushed for 14 yards on 24 carries. That was the second-fewest rushing yards allowed by the Jaguars in franchise history.
10. Jordan Todman is an asset.Todman struggled with ball security in London, fumbling or bobbling three kickoffs against the 49ers. Bradley considered using Stephen Burton on kickoff returns, but opted for Todman against Tennessee last week. Todman responded with a 46-yard return last week and had a 59-yarder in the first half on Sunday.
11. Ace Sanders is showing signs.Sanders showed flashes in the preseason and training camp, but that didn't always turn into big production in the first half of the season. In recent weeks, he is showing better quickness and more decisiveness than he did in the weeks leading into the bye. The results? More production. He averaged eight yards on six punt returns Sunday and also had 61 yards on eight receptions.
12. Bryan Anger is pretty good.The second-year veteran had perhaps his best game in two seasons as the Jaguars punter, influencing field position in a big way throughout the game. He finished with a 47.8-yard average on eight punts, with six inside the 20.