With the Jacksonville Jaguars on hiatus, otherwise known as the bye week, finding the usual story to write about becomes a bit of a challenge. Even with the teal and black taking Week 8 off, I can still find a nugget or two to compose for prose.
This Jaguars team has a different feel, a change of the old guard, a belief what is old is new again. This is the Jacksonville mentality – a mix of “ground and pound” with a dominant defense that punches teams in the mouth and continues to wail on them when they are on the ropes. This is a team that reminds me of the old Steelers and Raiders teams – minus an effective passing game.
It’s what Tom Coughlin envisioned when he took over as executive vice-president this offseason.
We spoke yesterday about what this team needs to do to continue the path to the playoffs. Now, we continue with who needs to step up in the second half of the season. Yes, there is still plenty to improve on.
Football fans will watch with interest to see if the Jaguars make another move before the Tuesday trade deadline. Other than wide receiver, I cannot see this team moving another draft pick for a chess piece.
Here are four players who need to make an impact in the second half of the season.
Any Wide Receiver – Allen Hurns became the first 100-yard receiver this year in a Jaguars’ uniform. There is a Catch-22 with the statement someone needs to step forward and become “the guy” in this receiving unit. The Jaguars aren’t throwing the ball a ton and the running game is the best in the NFL.
Allen Robinson is gone. Marqise Lee isn’t the player the team hoped he would become. Hurns has had moments. The play of Marcedes Lewis has been a pleasant surprise. He has four of Blake Bortles’ touchdowns this season.
If Dede Westbrook can give this team a spark with his speed and Lee can take his game to another level, the Jaguars may pass a bit more in the final nine games. I just want someone to emerge as the go-to wide receiver on obvious passing downs.
The Interior Defensive Line – This won’t be as long as the rant on the wide receivers. As John Oehser of Jaguars.com wrote last week, “It’s an area that needs to improve moving forward. The Jaguars’ run defense has looked vulnerable in three losses. If this team is going to win close games – and teams must win close games to get to the postseason – it must be able to stop the run.”
Enter Marcell Dareus.
The Jaguars’ brass saw a weakness and found a way to improve it. Whether Dareus is the answer will have a lot to do with how the Jaguars use their existing players â€“ Malik Jackson, Abry Jones and Sheldon Day, in the rotation. You cannot have a stout defense that gives up chunks of yards on the ground and expect to make a run deep in the playoffs.
This is also an area I can see this team addressing in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Jaguars face a tough running team in Cincinnati, then face the Los Angeles Chargers. Those two teams will test the interior of this defense. If Jacksonville makes the necessary changes on the line, which will force teams to pass more, then the problem is solved. Clogging running lanes will also allow Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue to rush the quarterback continuously.
Blake Bortles – He has decent numbers for the first half of the season. What you see is what you get with Bortles, who has hovered around 58 percent completion percentage for the majority of his career. The sack totals are down. The interceptions and fumbles are less. Bortles has looked more comfortable in this offense.
There are some who hate the term “game manager” when referring to a quarterback, but that’s what Bortles is most of the time. His games against Baltimore and Indianapolis are the exception, not the norm.
The one thing Bortles and the Jaguars coaching staff has to do is work on passing on third down. Relying on the run game works when this team has a third-and-short situation. Playing against the Colts did not miraculously fix this issue.
“We’ll continue week-to-week to try and find concepts and schemes within our system that allow guys to get open and create separation and pick up first downs. I think we’ve been, whatever the numbers are, 1-3 (yards), we’re really good. 4 to 6, we suck. 7 to 9, we’re pretty good,” Bortles said prior to the Colts game. “It’s like, 4 to 6, somebody just jump off sides and we’ll be alright. It’s kind of crazy because 1 to 3 and 7 to 9, I think with both of them, we’re above 60 percent, I think, or somewhere right around. Whatever the reason that 4 to 6 has just been the area that we’ve really struggled in.”
If the passing game stays the same, Jacksonville can win at least six of their remaining nine games. If it regresses, that number changes significantly. It means the progress Bortles has made took two steps backward.