JACKSONVILLE – What We Learned from the Jaguars' 17-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday …
1.Improvement was made …It wasn't enough, it wasn't satisfying, and it doesn't make the hurt of 0-5 go away. But the Jaguars have been a better team in the last two weeks than they were in the first two-and-a-half games of the season. We'll get more specific, but that much is evident.
2… Blake Bortles has a lot to do with that improvement.The Jaguars' rookie quarterback is taking some heat in writers' inboxes, on Twitter and presumably in the nether-regions of that InterWeb thing. That's fine. He threw two interceptions Sunday, including one that turned into the Steelers' game-clinching touchdown. When that happens, a quarterback takes heat. He made a bad read and he knew it, but he also is a reason the offense continues to show a lot of good signs. And his ability to keep the offense at least functioning is a reason the Jaguars were in the game Sunday.
3.The defense isn't a lost cause.Remember a week ago? When people were painting the Jaguars' defense as one of the worst in NFL history? That made sense then because statistically it was bad. But the Jaguars held their own Sunday and held a good offense to 10 points. Yes, they got a couple of breaks to do it, but breaks are OK. This was a significantly better effort than the first four games.
4.Bortles has rough edges that need smoothing.This ties into the season-long What We Learned theme of, "There was a reason Bortles wasn't playing early in the season." It has been easy in his first three games to overlook Bortles' inexperience because of how good he has looked at times. But Bortles has six interceptions in three games. That's to be expected, and one interception didn't really hurt Sunday, but the late Pick Six … well, that one hurt a lot.
5.Bortles is going to be good.OK, we didn't exactly learn that Sunday, but it's important not to lose sight of that. There were actually people in the Twitterverse and the World of Inboxes blaming Bortles and wanting to "pump the brakes" on calling him a potentially big-time quarterback. Well, blame him for Sunday if you like, but the mistakes he has made thus far are expected mistakes for a young quarterback. And they're very expected for a young quarterback playing with so many rookies.
6.The Jaguars are insanely young on offense.Again, not exactly new ground, but the level of youth on offense is staggering and season-defining. The Jaguars started six rookies on offense: Bortles, tight end Nic Jacobs, guard Brandon Linder, center Luke Bowanko and wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. That's youth to the extreme.
7.The offense might get even younger.Six rookie starters are unusual enough, and that's not taking into account that rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee probably would be starting if he wasn't hurt. It's also not inconceivable that rookie running back Storm Johnson could either be starting (maa-aa-ybe, down the road) or playing a significant role relatively soon. This overhaul is as total and comprehensive as it gets.
8.The offense looked OK … in spots.Granted, this is grading on a curve with the whole rookies-all-over-the-lineup thing factored in. But the Jaguars had three extended drives on Sunday. That's not enough, but considering the complexity and aggressiveness of the Steelers' defense – and the youth on offense – things could have been worse.
9.The offense needs to learn to finish.The Jaguars finished the aforementioned three drives with field goals. Turn two of those into touchdowns and you have 17 points and people are feeling a lot better about the offense. Finishing drives means scoring in the red zone and that's the next step for many young, developing offenses.
10. Storm Johnson has a chance.He appears to be earning a chance for more time. He was aggressive and ran hard Sunday. Keep an eye on this one.
11.Paul Posluszny is struggling.The veteran middle linebacker remains critical to the defense, but on Sunday he appeared to overrun a couple of plays and opposing quarterbacks appear to be able to take advantage of the middle of the field with passes to the tight end and running backs. Poz still makes more than his share of plays, but he'd be the first to tell you he needs to play better.
12.The Jaguars' pass rush is improved.It's not elite yet. It doesn't inspire fear and awe of opposing quarterbacks. But the Jaguars' pass rush without a doubt has improved. It creates pressure at times. You're not shocked when the team gets a sack. On Sunday, the rush affected Ben Roethlisberger at some key times and defensive tackle Abry Jones sacked him twice, forcing a fumble early in the fourth quarter. It's not among the league's best, but the line is living up to expectations.
13.Demetrius McCray has potential.The second-year corner didn't shut down Antonio Brown, but few corners do. McCray made plays on the ball and never seemed to lose confidence. He also didn't allow Brown to dominate the game on his side of the field, something the Steelers wide receiver has the capability to do.
14.The offensive line is improving.It's a long way from dominant, but it's also a long way from the struggling unit that began the season. That's progress.
15.The Jaguars are getting closer.Since when is "close" enough in the NFL? It's not, but think of this: Bortles and the offense didn't play that great Sunday. He had a turnover that led to a touchdown and the offensive didn't finish drives. And yet for all of those issues, the Jaguars had the ball twice in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie. The offense will improve. There is talent on this offense, even if it's young talent. As Bortles improves, so will this team's chances and getting closer will be replaced by honest-to-goodness winning.