JACKSONVILLE – Here's what we learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis Sunday . . .
1. The Jaguars are improving.No, it wasn't enough to get the first victory of the season. And no, losses aren't satisfying. But to say the offense Sunday wasn't overall better than it had been the first four games of the season is to ignore reality. Maybe it's in small, small steps, but it's improvement, and for now, that's Head Coach Gus Bradley's objective.
2. Luke Joeckel is out for the season.The Jaguars' rookie left tackle went out with an ankle injury late in the first quarter. He was first announced as doubtful to return, but the reaction of the players on the field and the quickness with which trainers called for a cart made you realize that it wasn't good. It wasn't. The No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft will miss the rest of the season with a high ankle fracture. The most difficult part of that for the Jaguars is the time and experience he will miss. Sunday was his first NFL start at left tackle. Now, he'll have to gain experience next season rather than in the last 11 games of the season.
3. The offensive line may be coming together.The Jaguars' offensive line had one of its best games of the season – and that was without Joeckel and Eugene Monroe, the latter of whom was traded to Baltimore last week after starting the first four games of the season at left tackle. The Jaguars allowed just two sacks – one for a loss of two yards to defensive end Chris Long and none to defensive end Robert Quinn. The Jaguars also had their best running game of the season.
4. Blaine Gabbert still shows potential . . . Yes, there's a second part to this topic. That's what the ellipses indicate, but before we discuss the bigger-picture issue with Gabbert, it's fair to note that he made several big-time throws Sunday. The 67-yard touchdown in the first quarter to Justin Blackmon was good, and the pass preceding it to Cecil Shorts III was a big-timer with velocity. He also stood tall in the pocket and took a hit to deliver a 28-yard pass to Shorts in the third quarter. OK, that's the good.
5. . . . but there are too many mistakes.Way, way too many mistakes. As good as Gabbert looked on a handful of plays, reality is reality. And the reality is Gabbert has thrown seven interceptions with one touchdown this season. He wasn't pressured as much Sunday as he had been earlier in the season, but he really struggled with pocket presence Sunday. In particular, several times in the second quarter Gabbert looked to run when there was little pressure. Many people want to call that fear. It's not. Gabbert takes too many hits and throws the ball well too often under pressure to call him afraid. But he doesn't always sense where and when to move and that hurts the offense.
6. Gabbert is still Gus Bradley's quarterback.Gabbert left the game with a hamstring injury in the third quarter. Bradley said afterward he had no plans to pull Gabbert if he hadn't been injured, and he said that Gabbert will remain the starter if healthy.
7. Johnathan Cyprien is getting better.More importantly, he's gaining experience. Cyprien is still running around and still needs to gain knowledge, but he's aggressive and has a knack for the ball. He had 12 tackles to lead the team, and his development now becomes the focal point with Joeckel out.
8. Justin Blackmon is an impact player.He caught a 67-yard pass on his first reception of the season. He also caught a 39-yard touchdown later in the game. His body control, power and catching ability give him a unique skill set and his presence gave the Jaguars several stretches when they were productive on Sunday. He helped the offense in a big way, and if he can stay on the field, he could be the Jaguars' best offensive player this season.
9. The Jaguars are capable of winning.There are observers penciling in the Jaguars for a 0-16 season. On Sunday, they were within seven points with a little more than 10 minutes remaining. That's not saying what the Jaguars did Sunday was good enough. If you don't win, it's not good enough. But this is team is improving and it was competitive Sunday. Keep improving, and there will be more winnable games.
10. Sen'Derrick Marks was a good free-agency signing.We knew that already. But the free-agent defensive tackle continues to be the Jaguars' most effective defensive linemen. He registered a sack Sunday and also had two passes defensed, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
11. Denard Robinson isn't part of the offense right now.That could change, but Robinson played sparingly on Sunday and the team did not run the Wildcat for the first time this season. The Jaguars are trying to figure out what works best, and there were too many drops and mistakes from Robinson in recent weeks to use him on Sunday.
12. Next Sunday is a big, big test.How many bigs could we put in that statement? The Jaguars' opponent next week, the Denver Broncos, beat Dallas 51-48 Sunday. The Jaguars have scored 51 points this season. Never say never, but the Jaguars will be bigger underdogs Sunday than any time in their history. The test isn't big; it's monumental. And it will be here in six days.