The Colts host the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday in a critical matchup for both teams. The Jaguars are trying to stop a downward slide that threatens to put their postseason hopes out of reach. The Colts are trying to climb back from a deficit earned early in this season.
Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country has graciously offered to answer some questions leading up to this divisional matchup, and I have done the same in exchange. Here is what Ryan had to say about the Jaguars.
The Jaguars didn’t face a lot of turnover on their roster in the offseason, but don’t look like the same dominant defense-driven team they were a year ago. Where are they struggling?
That is the question. The most glaring issues in my opinion are that the Jaguars have struggled to create turnovers and get sacks. There have also been some issues playing zone coverage and maintaining gap integrity.
Another thing that is important to remember, though, is that Jacksonville’s offense has often put the defense in bad spots with turnovers and forced the defensive unit to often defend short fields and/or spend way too much time on the field, which eventually causes a breakdown.
All of that said, the defense has still been statistically solid pretty much all season long. The Jaguars currently rank No. 1 in the NFL in passing defense, No. 2 in total defense and No. 8 in points per game allowed. The unit struggles against the rush, though, giving up 123.2 yards per game on the ground (24th in the league).
Jacksonville has really struggled defensively over the past four games, but looked improved in the last outing against the Philadelphia Eagles. So, the defense has not been completely awful this season, but the national media just hasn’t given it as much as attention as 2017 due to lack of big plays and turnovers, and the struggles are certainly more prevalent.
Leonard Fournette looks like he might be able to return Sunday. How much do you expect he’ll play if he does return, and what impact can he have on the Jaguars’ offense?
It’s hard to say. Leonard Fournette is yet to even play four quarters of football total in 2018 due to a hamstring injury, and the Jaguars’ rushing attack has really taken a hit this year. Part of that is because of Fournette’s absence, part of it is due to injuries and poor play across the offensive line and part of it is due to the running game falling out of the game plan since the Jags were often playing from behind early in the past four games.
Fournette has been practicing in a limited capacity this week, and should be on track to play on Sunday. When Fournette did play, it was evident that Jacksonville wanted to make him the focal point and run the offense through its bell cow back. If the coaching and training staffs feel that he is healthy enough, I would expect that to continue.
I feel that Fournette’s presence should help Jacksonville’s offense, as he will command more attention and hopefully open up things in the passing game against a less than stellar Indianapolis defense. The Jags also recently acquired Carlos Hyde, and T.J. Yeldon will remain involved, so the Jags have the option of easing Fournette back into things as well. My fellow Big Cat Country writer, Filip Prus, wrote a great article this week analyzing whether or not the Jaguars will get back to their identify of running the football in the second half of the season.
If you could have made 1 offseason move to improve this team, what would it have been?
Most Jaguars fans would answer this question by saying that they would have pursued a quarterback, such as Kirk Cousins, but the truth is that the Jaguars would have never been able to/willing to match the fully-guaranteed contract the Minnesota Vikings gave Cousins. I also thought Blake Bortles earned the team-friendly extension he received due to his play in 2017 and in the postseason.
In 2018, Bortles has regressed again, and is a huge reason for Jacksonville’s continued struggles. But outside of Cousins, the free agent market wasn’t great, unless you were willing to take a gamble on guys like Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater, who was coming off of a serious injury. So, an upgrade at quarterback would have been nice, but wasn’t really plausible.
If it were up to me, though, I would have made sure to re-sign Allen Robinson or, at the very least, tried to trade for a solid receiver after he left in free agency. Jacksonville took a risk at the position by by re-signing Marqise Lee, who tore his ACL in the preseason, signing Donte Moncrief in the offseason, who has underwhelmed, and going with a largely young and inexperienced receiving corps. The results are a lot of dropped passes and lack of playmakers, and it has hurt the team’s performance.
How has the Jaguars’ rookie class looked so far?
By and large, underwhelming. However, the Jaguars drafted for depth over starters, and often went best available in the draft over need. Taven Bryan is getting reps as a rotational pass rusher, but is yet to really make his presence felt at all with zero sacks, tackles for loss or even quarterback hits.
D.J. Chark is starting to get more reps at the wide receiver spot, but so far has caught just 12 passes for 159 yards and zero scores, and he is also used on special teams. Safety Ronnie Harrison and linebacker Leon Jacobs get playing time on both defense and special teams, but haven’t had a huge impact for the most part. Jacobs is the “starting” strong-side linebacker (SAM), but the Jaguars play so much nickel package, that Jacobs hasn’t played more than 19 defensive snaps in any one game.
Meanwhile, Harrison generally plays 15-25 defensive snaps per game and has made a few nice plays. Punter Logan Cooke, the seventh-rounder, has had an excellent season, averaging 42 yards per punt with 18 of his 37 punts going inside of the 20-yard-line. The Jags also have a trio of undrafted free agents at the cornerback position in Tre Herndon, Dee Delaney and Quenton Meeks. Meeks and Herndon were forced into the lineup against the Eagles due to injuries to A,J, Bouye, D.J. Hayden and Tyler Patmon, and I though the rookies really held their own.
Do you think this team can get things going and make the playoffs, or are they finished? If they can, what do they need to do to make that happen?
It is definitely going to be a steep hill to climb, but I actually wrote a couple of articles about how Jacksonville’s playoff hopes are slim, but still very much alive, as well as projected win totals for the team. Basically, Jacksonville’s best shot of getting into the playoffs is winning the division, and the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans did them no favors on that front by both winning their games this past weekend.
With that said, the Jags, still face the Colts twice, and the Texans and Titans one more time each, so if Jacksonville is able to win all four of those remaining games, they’ll be in good shape. Easier said than done, though.
In terms of on the field play, the Jaguars must protect the ball better, and run the ball better on offense, and create turnovers and get pressure on defense if this team wants to make any sort of run at all. Turnovers and lack of big plays on offense, and lack of takeaways and sacks on defense, is what has doomed this team so far.
Jacksonville’s remaining schedule seems relatively favorable, but if I had to venture a guess right now, I would say the Jags end up with seven or eight wins and miss the playoffs.
Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to provide this insight and help us better understand the Jaguars ahead of Sunday’s game.