JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned in the Jaguars' 40-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday…
1.The Jaguars are a .500 team …That's the Jaguars' reality right now. While they entered the season amid talk of another postseason run, they have lost two consecutive games and no longer look remotely like the team that made the AFC Championship Game last season.
2. … and the 2-0 start seems like a long way away. It was less than a month ago that the Jaguars looked like the NFL's best team – one of them, anyway – following a 31-20 loss to the New England Patriots. The Jaguars have lost three of four games since then. They're not very good right now offensively or defensively. That can change, but that's what it is right now.
3.The Jaguars are still in first place in the AFC South. If the Jaguars received any good news Sunday it came when the Tennessee Titans lost at home to the Baltimore Ravens. That meant the Jaguars remained in first place in the South tied with Tennessee and Houston. Yes, the teams are all 3-3, but first place is better than not.
4.The Jaguars have much that needs fixing. We'll dig into some details in the next few entries, but there's more than one issue facing this team right now. Sunday wasn't about one player making a lot of mistakes; it was a lot of players making a key mistake here or there. "We've got to play well for 60 minutes and we have not done that," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said. "When you don't do that in this league, that's why you wind up losing two games in a row and that's what we've done."
5.It starts with defense. That was perhaps the most disturbing issue Sunday. This team was built around an "elite" defense. It must play better to retain that adjective.
6.The defense has "communication" issues. "Communication" was the watchword Sunday. Marrone used it first, and players echoed it throughout the postgame locker room. "When you have miscommunication at all three levels, obviously, you've got to take a good look at yourself," Marrone said. "I've got to take a good look at what we're doing, making sure we're not doing too much and then we've got to coach it better and we've got to go out there and perform better."
7.The defense struggles against mobile quarterbacks. This has happened enough this season that it's a trend, but the Cowboys routinely put quarterback Dak Prescott in situations to emphasize his running ability. He not only ran for 82 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but run-pass options consistently kept the Jaguars off-balance and a step slow. RPO isn't going away. This defense must figure a way to handle it.
8.Injuries have tipped the balance offensively. NFL teams must overcome a certain number of injuries. They're part of the game. But there is a point that injuries tip the balance and you can't function because of unfamiliarity or talent level. The Jaguars' offense on Sunday appeared to have passed the tipping point, with few options – and few ways to make game-changing plays.
9.The offensive line is struggling in a big way. No. 8 – injuries – certainly have contributed here. Josh Walker on Sunday made his first NFL start and became the Jaguars' third starting left tackle this season. The interior of the line – center Brandon Linder, left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard A.J. Cann – hasn't been the team strength many expected. The result: an offense that ran just 47 plays and had just 204 total yards.
10.The Jaguars need No. 27. The Jaguars need running back Leonard Fournette – or at least the threat of him. When he's on the field, the Jaguars have one playmaker whom teams must give their attention. When he's not, they don't.
11.The Jaguars miss Austin Seferian-Jenkins. And Cam Robinson. And Corey Grant. The Jaguars entered the season wanting to be run-centric. A lot of what looked good during the preseason was a lot of midsection running – similar to what Dallas did to the Jaguars Sunday. Without their tight end (Seferian-Jenkins), two of their running backs (Fournette/Grant) and their left tackle (Robinson), it's difficult to look like what they envisioned.
12.Blake Bortles is … When a team loses by 33, you must mention the quarterback. And Bortles did have one interception in which he threw into coverage Sunday. But Bortles was comparatively low on the list of issues Sunday. He also was sacked three times and officially pressured seven more. He's not going to function well in that environment.
13.Yannick Ngakoue can still sack quarterbacks. Remember a couple weeks back? When people wondered what was "wrong" with Ngakoue? The answer then was nothing, that he was playing at a high level and that the sacks would come. He now has four sacks, all in the last three games.
14.The Jaguars are in first place. Yes, this was the No. 3 entry in this list. But grasp it and hold on. Right now, it's giving this team hope.