JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned in the Jaguars' 31-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins Thursday at TIAA Bank Field …
1.We don't yet know the real 2020 Jaguars. Are they the team that rallied to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 and nearly rallied to win in Tennessee in Week 2? Or it the one that looked overmatched Thursday in prime time? It typically takes five or six games to know an NFL team's true quality. Eighteen days in, we're still learning about the Jaguars.
2.Third downs matter … As third downs go, so goes this offense. The Jaguars converted an NFL-best 62.5 percent on third downs in Weeks 1 and 2 and averaged 28.5 points. They converted three of 10 Thursday and scored 13 points. The correlation is real.
3.And takeaways do, too … The Jaguars went a second consecutive game without a takeaway Thursday and committed two turnovers for a second consecutive game – this after creating two turnovers and committing none in the opener. The Jaguars are 0-2 when they lose the takeaway statistic and 1-0 when they win it. That correlation is real, too.
4.The slow starts must stop. OK, we knew this already. But Thursday drove the point home again. The Jaguars have led for just 5:56 this season. They trailed four times in Week 1. They trailed three times by 14 points in Week 2. They rallied to win or tie in those games. They fell behind early Thursday and never recovered. You can't win consistently in the NFL always overcoming deficits. The Jaguars learned that Thursday. As if they didn't already know.
5.Minshew's got some improving to do … Just as Gardner Minshew II playing well in Weeks 1 and 2 didn't assure his status as the Jaguars' long-term quarterback, Thursday doesn't mean he's not going to be The Guy. But the Dolphins contained Minshew in the pocket and played soft zone to limit his effectiveness deep. This approach has given him trouble in the past and seemed to do so again Thursday. Minshew repeatedly checked down Thursday, completing 30 of 42 passes for 275 yards and no touchdowns with an interception. At some point, the defense must be challenged downfield.
6. … but he also needs help. It didn't help Minshew that the Jaguars' defense allowed two quick scoring drives – or that wide receiver Chris Conley dropped a potential first-down-converting pass on second-and-6 on the opening drive and had another costly drop later on a deep pass. The Jaguars trailed 14-0 after the Dolphins' first two drives. That limits the offensive options, particularly when your No. 1 receiver is out. Which brings us to…
7.The Jaguars need DJ Chark Jr. If there had been any doubt that Chark was a legitimate No. 1 receiver when he was playing this season and last, his absence because of a chest/back issue Thursday erased it. The offense needs his dependability and big-play ability. The third-year veteran is the Jaguars' best deep threat, and he's reliable and consistent on third downs. His presence also creates one-on-one opportunities for other receivers. The Jaguars missed all of that in a big way Thursday.
8.James Robinson is good. We're repeating ourselves here from Weeks 1 and 2, but it bears repeating. The rookie free agent rushed for 46 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries and caught six passes for 83 yards. Beyond statistics, he's a smart runner who gets the most from his blocking – something that overall this season has helped keep the Jaguars in positive down-and-distance situations.
9.The pass rush must improve. The Jaguars have three sacks in three games. One major issue here is the Jaguars aren't getting opponents in enough bad down-and-distance situations and they're not getting enough leads. If you don't get those things pass rushing is difficult. At the same time, the pass rush must get home when the opportunities are there. That hasn't happened enough this season.
10. Josh Lambo is good. This is your weekly reminder, and it's true even though the veteran kicker missed Thursday's game with a hip injury. Marrone said the team will work out kickers Monday, with Lambo's replacement – rookie Brandon Wright – sustaining a groin injury Thursday.
11.The secondary is young. This isn't new, either, but the defensive backs looked young Thursday. Rookie corner CJ Henderson made a rookie mistake when he didn't touch down Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant on a 19-yard reception in the first quarter – and he struggled in coverage a couple of times. This secondary overall needs a better pass rush – and, as Marrone emphasized during his Friday conference call, it must improve playing the ball in the air. After five passes defensed in Week 1, the Jaguars have had two passes defensed in the last two weeks – and none on Thursday.
12.Marrone will re-think whether to defer or not. Marrone said after the game Thursday and again in his Friday media availability that he plans to rethink whether to defer or take the ball when winning the opening coin toss. The theory is taking the ball will prevent the Jaguars' defense from allowing a game-opening touchdown drive. The downside: Unless the offense scores on its first drive – something it has yet to do this season – you run the risk of falling behind early AND not receiving the second-half kickoff. Still, Marrone said Friday he always has favored deferring. Now, he said he will consider if this is always the best approach.