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Jacksonville Jaguars

Five areas the Jaguars must focus on during their bye week

Zach Goodall

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Sep 23, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone yells to an official during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars are where no one expected them to be: Two games below .500 at the midway point of their 2018 season.

On a four game losing streak. With little-to-no hope of making the playoffs, less than a year removed from being 10 minutes from a Super Bowl.

However, this team is talented. This team has the ability to win as they proved in dramatic fashion in Weeks 2 and 4 against the Patriots and Jets. And in a not-so-strong AFC South, the Jaguars do have a chance to right the ship and get things rolling after their bye week to get back in contention.

What must they do on their week off to turn this thing around?

1. Utilize the phone lines before Tuesday’s trade dealine

With the majority of the Jaguars issues stemming from their lack of offensive production and consistency, GM Dave Caldwell needs to spend the next couple days on the phone.

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, October 30th, at 4 P.M. And it’s supposed to be crazy, with several surprising trades that have already happened in the past couple of weeks. Considering the rumored available players remaining, including several intriguing offensive players, the Jaguars need to make some moves.

The team could make calls for quarterbacks, such as Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater and Browns QB Tyrod Taylor, if they believe giving starter Blake Bortles a three year extension this past offseason was a mistake. While it certainly looks like that contract was a mistake, the Jaguars have been stubborn on their belief in Bortles, going back to him as the starter most recently as last week after benching him for Cody Kessler against the Texans. So a QB trade probably isn’t overly likely, but there are options.

A trade for a receiver, tight end, or offensive lineman seems much more likely than a QB, and there are options at those positions as well. Dolphins WR DeVante Parker is rumored to be on the block, and after an impressive six catch, 134 yard game on Thursday night, the Dolphins phone lines have to be buzzing. Jacksonville has dealt with a ton of bad drops from receivers lately, namely from Keelan Cole and running back T.J. Yeldon, and could use a big-play target who doesn’t drop the ball like the Jaguars have been doing. Parker has three drops on his past 109 targets, dating back to the start of 2017.

Other options the Jaguars could look at on offense include a pair of Oakland Raiders players. The Raiders have completely gutted their roster this year and are selling players on all fronts, and it’s hard to count them out for more moves before the deadline. TE Jared Cook and OL Kelechi Osemele should be a priority for the Jaguars if they decide to call up Jon Gruden.

Cook is an aging, yet productive, tight end who would provide veteran expereince and pass-catching ability to the Jaguars remaining healthy tight ends, a group that is relatively unproven at the NFL level. Cook has 32 receptions for 400 yards and 2 TDs this season. He’d likely be a cheap trade option, as he is in the final year of a inexpensive contract.

Osemele is a Pro Bowl offensive lineman who has starting experience at every position except center, who can upgrade the left tackle position through the end of the year and finish out his contract at right guard by letting A.J. Cann walk in free agency, who has had an up-and-down career for the Jaguars.

2. Re-iterate the run game as the Jaguars offense’s identity

The Jaguars have made it known they want to run the ball consistently going back to when Doug Marrone was named head coach before last season.

So why have running backs received only 48 carries on 252 total offensive plays (19%)? What was the point of trading for Carlos Hyde, a guy the team tried desperately to get on the field less than 48 hours after trading for him last week, to only give him six carries in his debut? With multiple down-and-short scenarios that are the literal bread-and-butter plays for a power-run offense to convert with a power running back?

The Jaguars need to return to their identity, because throwing the ball 40+ times a game isn’t cutting it. Spending a draft pick on Carlos Hyde looks ridiculous if you aren’t going to use him and return to the “run-first” identity. Even with Leonard Fournette out due to his hamstring injury, the Jaguars have the ability to be a power-run team and use T.J. Yeldon as a change-of-pace back like what seems to be the “old days”, thus taking pressure off of the passing game and maybe being able to put more points on the board.

3. Move Linder to left tackle, play Shatley at center

Despite writing about this late last week, the idea of moving Brandon Linder to left tackle needs to be a priority during the bye week if the Jaguars don’t trade for a lineman.

Linder has received a vote of confidence from Marrone as a candidate to play left tackle in a pinch, as noted in the article, and Tyler Shatley has played very well as a reserve across the interior offensive line, specifically at center.

The bye week gives the Jaguars plenty of time to work Linder in at left tackle slowly so he can gain comfort dropping back as a pass protector, which would be the biggest difference in his blocking compared to center. Considering he’s a great interior pass protector, there should be hope he can do a better job outside as in pass blocking than Josh Walker has provided through four games. That also gives Shatley time to get in a groove with the first team offensive line, and the return should equal less pressure on the quarterback going forward.

4. Emphasize linebacker discipline in zone coverage

PFF stats were not updated through Week 8 by the time this article was posted, but the Jaguars linebackers have been miserable in zone coverage so far this year.

It’s widely known the Jaguars play much better on defense when in man covergae and send additional pass rushers, but Todd Wash stubbornly runs a ton of zone. Thus, opposing QBs are eating in underneath zones with receivers running short routes and running backs making plays in the pass game.

Through Week 7, Jaguars LBs Telvin Smith and Myles Jack have allowed 41 of their 58 targets (70.1%) to be caught, for 394 yards and 210 yards after the catch. They often play either too deep or bite on play action in which the middle of the field completely opens up, and offenses are eating that space up.

If you’re going to continue to run zone, your linebackers need to get a clue as to where to be in coverage and not bite so easily on play action. Teams know they need to get the ball out quickly against the Jaguars’ high-pressure pass rush, and the LBs are giving offenses the opportunity to do that in the muddle of the field. This has been a signifcant issue for the Jaguars defense when playing zone and has to be corrected going forward.

5. Get a grip on this Jaguars locker room

A week ago, players were reportedly involved in shouting matches in the locker room that resulted in defensive end Yannick Ngakoue getting restrained by fellow DE Calais Campbell.

On Friday night, four Jaguars were arrested in London for reportedly walking out on a $65,000 bar tab at a night club.

And a four game losing streak will never result in a happy attitude in the locker room.

The Jaguars could turn this thing around, despite the future looking dark. This team is obviously talented and the season is only halfway over. There is plenty of time to get things flowing the right way, and one of the most important things that needs to happen in order to do so is to correct the attitude and become more responsible. Whether it be discipline, a benching to “create a spark” a la Blake Bortles getting benched against the Texans, or anything to send a message in the locker room that this team can turn things around if they remain united and disciplined.

The Jaguars culture shifted for the better with the presence of Tom Coughlin, as well as Marrone as head coach inside 1 TIAA Bank Field Drive last season. That culture appears to be slacking at this point, and may be the most important thing to re-enforce this week.

Zach Goodall covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for the Locked On Jaguars podcast and website. Follow him on Twitter @zach_goodall.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars vs. Texans: Five observations, red zone issues remain

Demetrius Harvey

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Nov 3, 2019; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) throws under pressure from the Houston Texans defensive line men during an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn--USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) will be left with a lot to work on during their bye week. There was plenty to gather from the team’s 26-3 loss against the Houston Texans (6-3) in London.

1. Jaguars red-zone woes are still prevalent and have no fix in sight

In the red zone this season, the Jaguars have completed 34.5% (10/29) of their opportunities for touchdowns.  This ranks only better than the Cincinnati Bengals (33.33%) in the entire NFL.

While quarterback play is an issue in this area, the Jaguars have not made the most of their play-call opportunities either. The Jaguars entered the Houston Texans’ red zone only twice in 11 drives on Sunday.

During the two drives in the red zone, the Jaguars completed 0 passes and ran the ball one other time with Leonard Fournette for three yards. Simply not good enough.

Jaguars’ offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has spoken about the team’s ineffectiveness on red zone opportunities. “We moved the football well, but we need to do a better job in the red zone,” DeFilippo said on Thursday following the team’s week seven victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. “I need to do a better job of helping our guys get open. We need to do a better job executing and being more detailed and throwing the ball on time and all of those things. Again, all of that starts with me, and I will do a better job with that.”

Two weeks later and the team’s struggles have continued.

2. Gardner Minshew might take a backseat

Already discussed, the Jaguars might be in for a quarterback change coming out of their week 10 bye week. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew struggled mightily in Sunday’s game, and head coach Doug Marrone will have a tough decision to make.

Although Minshew was playing with a sore right shoulder, he was able to practice in full all week leading up to their matchup at Wimbley. Regardless, the Jaguars will have to make a decision, and everything points to Nick Foles being the team’s starting quarterback against the Indianapolis Colts in week 11.

Now completely Minshew’s fault, his struggles in the red zone have been evident for the past several weeks. Foles — during the 2017 and 2018 seasons when he started for the Philidelphia Eagles — was efficient in the red zone, which could point to his maturity as a passer more than anything.

The Jaguars will want to see what they can get out of their veteran quarterback, and there is a reason to believe the Jaguars’ head coach is leaning in this direction. If Foles is not named the starting quarterback next Sunday, it is very likely the veteran will never start for this Jaguars team, at least not under the current staff.

3. Jaguars’ run-defense regressed

Without starting nickel corner D.J. Hayden and SAM linebacker Leon Jacobs, the Jaguars were forced to remain in their nickel package for much of the day. Rookie cornerback Breon Borders replaced Hayden in the starting lineup and while he was not the reason why the run defense suffered, not having a competent linebacker on the strong side of the ball impacted the team greatly.

Texans’ running back Carlos Hyde gashed the Jaguars’ defense 19 times for 160 yards during Sunday’s matchup. Part of the reason why the Jaguars were unable to stop the Texans’ running game late was the sheer amount of plays the Texans ran to begin the game.

In the first quarter, the Texans ran 20 total plays while the Jaguars offense was only able to produce nine total plays.

4. Jaguars cannot rely on penalties, but two changed the course of the game

While the Jaguars should not, and cannot rely on penalties, the team had two costly controversial calls in the third quarter of Sunday’s matchup.

With an opportunity to score, Minshew threw a beautiful back-shoulder pass to Jaguars’ receiver DJ Chark Jr. who was able to haul in the pass but was called for offensive pass interference. A few plays later the Jaguars would botch a field goal attempt and give the Texans the football at the 50-yard line.

Following the change of possession, Jaguars’ defensive end Calais Campbell was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Specifically, Campbell was called for lowering his head to initiate contact with a defenseless rusher. The Texans would net only a field goal on this drive, but it was a potential 10-point swing as Chark’s interference call was questionable, and Campbell did not even touch Watson on the play.

5. Keelan Cole shines in Dede Westbrook’s absence

Although the Jaguars clearly missed their 1B receiver in Dede Westbrook, rarely-utilized receiver Keelan Cole was able to step up to the plate and put on his best performance of the season, and possibly since 2017.

While it was not sensational, Cole hauled in five out of six of his targets for 80 yards on the day. The Jaguars could not get anything going down the field, however, Cole was able to get open on routine crossing routes.

In the coming weeks, look for Cole to have a bigger role in the Jaguars offense, especially with veteran receiver Chris Conley playing so up-and-down (2 receptions on 7 targets for 32 yards).

DeFilippo recently spoke about Cole and understands the third-year receiver may be frustrated with his snap count.

“I am proud of the way he stayed in it and even though he has not gotten the playing time,” DeFilippo said after the Jaguars victory over Bengals. “Everyone wants to play every snap. I’m sure he wants [more playing time]. He has done a great job staying in it.”

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Jaguars to make tough decision next week, Minshew Mania over for now

Demetrius Harvey

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Nov 3, 2019; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) throws a pass in the first half against the Houston Texans during an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) were embarrassed early Sunday morning via a 26-3 loss to the rival Houston Texans (6-3). Minshew-Mania may be over for now, but it won’t be the last time the rookie sensation starts for the team.

To put it simply, rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew did not play well at all yesterday. Completing 27/47 (57%) of his passes for 309 yards, two interceptions, and two fumbles lost, Minshew looked lost during the second half of the game on Sunday.

Minshew has been everything the team could have hoped for — and much more — out of a sixth-round quarterback, but between what transpired yesterday, and a few of his past performances — against winning teams –, the Jaguars will likely see what they can get out of veteran quarterback Nick Foles.

For three quarters, Minshew looked okay. While there was plenty that went wrong, the rookie was able to make key throws, during key situations. One play, in particular, stands out. With a little over five minutes left in the second quarter, the Jaguars could not seem to get anything going before Minshew scrambles around and eventually finds a wide-open Ryquell Armstead in the middle of the field. Armstead would take the ball 31 yards and set the team up for their only points of the game.

Minshew’s ability to improvise has been his bread and butter this season, and although he was not able to work his magic often against the Texans, these were the types of plays that gave pause in the Minshew/Foles debate.

During the fourth quarter, the Jaguars and Minshew were forced to take more shots downfield in a sort of desperation move while trailing 19-3. Although playcalling can certainly be questioned, the decision making of the Jaguars’ rookie quarterback was equally perplexing. Throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles, Minshew had no chance at making a little magic to lead the team to another come-from-behind victory.

Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone will be forced to make a decision on his quarterback, but not right now. After the game, Marrone indicated he will wait until the Sunday before the team returns from their week 10 bye week to talk to both quarterbacks.

“I think after those 48 hours are over, I’m going to step away a little bit, take a break because I don’t have to make a decision and have time,” Marrone said shortly after the game when asked about making the quarterback decision. “That’s what I’m going to talk to the quarterbacks about, and then I’ll tell them probably right before we come back on Sunday, we’ll be able to discuss where we’re going to go. That’s pretty much my plan.”

While Minshew did not have a great game yesterday, the decision will be made on more than just one game, Marrone said.

The Jaguars’ head coach is stuck with an incredibly tough decision. At 4-5, the team needs a spark. The Jaguars need to win down the stretch and having to rely on a rookie — still going through ups and downs — is exhausting. While Foles may not be “the answer”, he is the only other option at this moment, and the Jaguars absolutely believe in the veteran.

Although this may be the end of Minshew starting in Jacksonville this season, his achievements — 188/307 (61%) completions for 2,285 yards, 13 touchdowns, and four interceptions — should not go unnoticed. The team absolutely still believes in the rookie quarterback, and he has a golden opportunity — if not this season — next year to prove everyone wrong.

One of the best, most fun performances out of a Jaguars’ quarterback over the first half of the season ever, is nothing to get upset about. Minshew provided spectators with Minshew-Mania, Minshew-Magic, and any other Minshew-ism one can think of.

For now, it is very likely Foles will make his Jaguars’ debut once again after breaking his left clavicle during the opening game of the season. In 11 plays this season Foles completed five out of eight of his passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.

It may be over for now, but this is just the beginning, and having the problem of deciding between a former Superbowl MVP and a rookie sensation at quarterback is a good thing. Depending on how Foles plays — if he is to be named the starter next Sunday –, Minshew could get yet another opportunity as the Jaguars progress from their 4-5 record.

Bonus clip:

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars fail to seize opportunity in London, falling 26-3 to Houston Texans

Demetrius Harvey

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Nov 3, 2019; London, United Kingdom; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) rushes for a first down during the first half of the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans during an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn--USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) fell to Houston Texans (6-3) in a disappointing pre-bye week game in London, England. The Jaguars absolutely did not have home-field advantage on the day. 

The Jaguars took to their annual London voyage with a lot of optimism, however, all of that optimism was quickly quieted by the Houston Texans (6-3) as they were able to bottle up Gardner Minshew and the Jaguars, holding the team to just three points on the day.  The Texans would win 26-3 and kill any chances the Jaguars may have had at earning the division title in a few weeks.

To begin the game, the Jaguars opted to start out on defense with the Texans struggling early on in games this season. Holding the Texans to just three points to start the game, the Jaguars defense showed up big, especially as Jaguars’ cornerback A.J. Bouye shadowed Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins who finished with just eight receptions for 48 yards. The Jaguars seemed to find a groove early on during the first half of the game, but their inability to score in the red zone reared it’s head yet again.

In what is likely his last game starting for the Jaguars this season — at least for now — Jaguars’ rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew completed just 27 out of 47 of his passes for 309 yards and two interceptions. Minshew also fumbled the football two times near the end of the game, which would ultimately end it at Wembley stadium.

While the Jaguars defense played well early on, they stood no chance against Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson who completed 22 out of 28 of his passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Extremely elusive, Watson was able to escape from the Jaguars pass rushers all day long. The Texans effectively ended any chance of the Jaguars coming back after Watson completed a long throw to Hopkins for 21 yards to the Jaguars’ one-yard line. The Texans would score on a one-yard run by Duke Johnson putting the team up 19-3 late in the third quarter.

All four of Minshew’s turnovers would come in the fourth quarter as the Jaguars attempted to climb back in the game. Missing their second-most targetted wide receiver in Dede Westbrook, the Jaguars and Minshew couldn’t seem to get anything going in the passing game.

The Jaguars’ run game was equally disappointing today as running back Leonard Fournette could only edge out 40 yards on 11 rushes.

Perhaps the best play of the game by the Jaguars’ defense, near the end of the game Texans’ running back Carlos Hyde sprinted free and was looking to go into the endzone when Jaguars’ safety Jarrod Wilson showed incredible hustle to force a fumble at the last second, turning the ball over to the Jaguars’ offense.

The good fortune wouldn’t last long, however, as Minshew would go on to throw his final interception of the game to completely seal the game for the Texans offense.

The Jaguars’ offense simply did not get anything going today, similar to their game against the New Orleans Saints in week six earlier this year. Minshew was sacked only four times on the day as the Texans did not want him to escape the pocket.

The team will have a very tough decision to make during their week 10 bye week. Ultimately, the team will need to decide between veteran quarterback Nick Foles or the rookie quarterback in Minshew.

Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone will be making the decision, and after falling 26-3 today largely due to the play of the team’s quarterback, it may be a no-brainer.

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