JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the Jaguars' 45-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday …
1.Minshew Mania is on hold. The hope entering Sunday was that rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II would provide the Jaguars a spark. There was smoke early with an opening-drive field goal, but that excitement – and the anticipated energy of Minshew – faded quickly.
2.Quarterback isn't all that's ailing this team. Don't be misled by that first paragraph. No, Minshew wasn't good Sunday. But even if he had played better it wouldn't likely have made a difference. This team struggled too much in too many areas.
3.The game remains easy to analyze. This is a remnant of last week's What We Learned. We noted that sometimes the game is easy to analyze. It remains that way for this team. The Jaguars can't stop the run. It started there. They now can't stop the pass. When those two things are true, every failed offensive possession becomes a disaster. Games look lost early and spiral. That's the pattern and the Jaguars haven't broken it in weeks.
4.The run defense is broken … The Jaguars have allowed 200 or more yards rushing in four games this season. They allowed 195 Sunday in much the same fashion – a slew of breakaway, jailbreak runs that made for quick, hope-crushing drives. Austin Ekeler looked like the best back in NFL history Sunday. He's not.
5. … and the pass defense is, too. The run defense's rapid decline defined the Jaguars' midseason slide – and that area struggled Sunday, too. But a depleted secondary that is without departed cornerback Jalen Ramsey and injured safety Ronnie Harrison has struggled mightily in recent weeks. How pronounced were those struggles Sunday? Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had the highest-passer rating of his 16-year career.
6.The defensive personnel just isn't good enough. The Jaguars interior run defense has been without defensive tackle Marcell Dareus since midseason and is now without middle linebacker Myles Jack and Harrison. That threesome wasn't playing at an elite level when healthy, but there's no way the Jaguars are better without them. Looking back, this team was overly dependent on Dareus in the middle. The rapid decline of the run defense began around midseason, the same time he was placed on injured reserve. The run-defense issue isn't all Dareus, but his absence doesn't help.
7.Minshew has much to do to prove he's a franchise quarterback. As we said in the first two entries of this column, this is not meant to bury an exciting, young player. But Minshew has struggled in his last two starts – Sunday and a Week 9 loss to the Houston Texans – for legitimate reasons. He must learn to work the middle of the field better and must win from the pocket better. Teams appear to be taking away escape lanes when rushing him and covering the sidelines on deep outs. Is he a backup? A potential franchise guy? It's going to be hard to judge that in the final three games considering the other circumstances, but he looked more like the former and less like the latter Sunday.
8.Again, it's not all "on" Minshew. We said in the last entry that Minshew must work the middle of the field better and win from the pocket better. There are legitimate reasons he's struggling in those areas. The lack of a legitimate receiving threat at tight end hurts the Jaguars from being effective in the middle of the field and the offensive line's struggles to protect the passer hurts his chances to be effective from the pockets.
9.The Jaguars must, must, must upgrade tight ends in the offseason … Maybe there are contributors on the roster. James O'Shaughnessy could help when he returns from injury. So could Josh Oliver. Maybe Seth DeValve. Whatever. Someone must sift through the wreckage of the tight end position and find something that can give the team an option in the middle of the field who also can block. It has been too long, and the area is too weak.
10. … and receiver, too. Second-year veteran DJ Chark Jr. caught nine passes for 75 yards Sunday and remains a bright spot moving forward. The receivers have fallen off elsewhere and looks like a position that needs some major addressing in the coming months.
10.Leonard Fournette remains an asset. The third-year running back surpassed 1,000 yards rushing Sunday, an impressive feat considering it's only Game 13. His season would be more impressive if the Jaguars weren't trailing by double digits so early so often.
11.Josh Lambo is still good. Your weekly reminder.
12.The Jaguars are out of the postseason. This seems as good a place to end this column as any. What long has seemed inevitable became real Sunday with the loss officially eliminating the Jaguars from playoff contention. That's a rapid, disheartening, historic five-game slide for a team that was 4-4 with a chance to take control of the AFC South at midseason.