JACKSONVILLE – Here's What We Learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday…
1.The injuries are mounting and …The Jaguars were relatively healthy for the first three months of the season. That changed in a hurry. They entered Sunday's game having placed linebacker Russell Allen (concussion) and wide receivers Cecil Shorts III on injured reserve during the week, and having deactivated defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder) and linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) shortly before the game. They also lost cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle) and defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick (elbow) early on Sunday. That's a list that's getting longer.
2… the injuries matter.The Jaguars didn't play less hard on Sunday. The effort was there, and Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley talked afterward of how the team again "didn't flinch." But at some point, losing starters matters. Defensively, the Jaguars seemed to reach that point midway through the third quarter and early in the fourth. That was when a defense that had been pretty good against the run for five games out of the bye and OK Sunday couldn't get the Titans off the field. It was also when a 16-6 lead turned into a 20-16 deficit.
3.Roy Miller matters, too.The veteran defensive tackle has played through a significant shoulder injury much of the season and started the first 14 games. It's not a complete coincidence that as Miller's situation has worsened the run defense has begun to struggle. Even before being deactivated Sunday, he had been playing through a lot of pain. He's not the only reason the Jaguars were playing well against the run out of the bye, but he's the most physical dominant presence inside. Without him, stopping the run is more difficult.
4.The run defense is struggling.If the last two entries didn't show it, the statistics do. The Jaguars didn't allow a 100-yard rusher for the first five games after the bye. Those were their five best games of the season as a team, and they won four of the five games. Solid run defense forced the opponent into difficult down-and-distance situations, and the Jaguars were getting off the field more consistently than they had earlier in the season. That's been significantly tougher in recent weeks.
5.Brad Meester can catch.The 14-year veteran center will retire after the season. For Meester's last home game on Sunday, Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch designed a play to move Meester to tight end make him an eligible receiver. Meester caught a nine-yard screen for a first down. It led to the Jaguars' first touchdown. The reaction of players and fans – followed by Meester's reaction afterward – made it one of the most memorable plays of the year. And one of the coolest.
6.Andre Branch is improving.Looking for a positive from the last six games? Here's one: Branch, a second-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, has five in the last six games and six for the season. He still has much improving to do, but the difference from the first half of the season is remarkable.
7.Marcedes Lewis is playing inspired. Sure, this could have been copied from last week's What We Learned, but the eight-year veteran tight end has played as well in the last four weeks as he has since his 2012 Pro Bowl season. He has caught touchdowns in the last four games, and it's the way he's doing it that's impressive. He's using his athleticism, making inspired plays and looking very much like a player who wants to be here next season.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew doesn't know the future.Sunday was about Meester's retirement, but it may have been Maurice Jones-Drew's last game at EverBank Field, too. The three-time Pro Bowl selection is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He and Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell have expressed interest in Jones-Drew returning, but Caldwell has said the team won't negotiate with any free agents until after the season. So for now, we wait and see.
9.Jerry Sullivan can coach.This has been clear to anyone who has watched this team in recent seasons, but the veteran wide receivers coach has done a remarkable job this season. The Jaguars have placed four receivers on injured reserve this season, including Cecil Shorts III. They also are without the suspended Justin Blackmon. Mike Brown, Ace Sanders, Kerry Taylor and Lamaar Thomas on Sunday combined for 14 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown.
*10.The Titans' run defense remains good. Really good. *The Jaguars struggled to run immediately after the bye, averaging less than two yards a carry in the first two games after the break. One of those games was against Tennessee, which held the Jaguars to 54 yards on 30 carries. The Jaguars' run offense was better Sunday – a little. Jones-Drew rushed for 45 yards on 13 carries and the Jaguars rushed for 64 yards on 21 carries as a team.
11.Bryan Anger is often very, very effective.Anger punted four times for 45.5 yards and had two punts inside the 20. His 56-yarder in the second quarter got the Jaguars out of very poor field position. Anger was a bright spot on an otherwise difficult day for a special teams unit that allowed two blocked kicks, including an extra point that loomed large throughout the fourth quarter.
12.The Jaguars have gotten better.This isn't an overriding theme of the day, but the Jaguars at the start of the season were a team that even when healthy couldn't stay within 10 points of teams. At the end of the season, they're very beat up and still competing. The end of the season is drawing near. Injuries have taken a toll. But the foundation has been laid, and an offseason should strengthen this team significantly.