Starting the game, the Jaguars defense looked like it had a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Last in the league in just about every measurable category, their pride is injured. Former Jaguars defensive end and current radio color analyst Jeff Lageman said as much in the pregame show,
“These guys are veterans. Two won a Super Bowl last year. Nobody is more frustrated and angry than they are. I expect them to play better.”
He turned out to be prophetic early on. When you look at the array of talent on offense for San Diego, it’s hard not to shudder based on the Jaguars lack of ability to stop anybody. Phillip Rivers is one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. Antonio Gates might go to the Hall of Fame. Add a running game and wide receivers who can fly, and you have the makings of a blowout.
But early in the half the Jaguars defensive line put the stops on the Chargers running game and harassed Rivers enough to keep it close.
The offense also did it’s job, putting up 12 first downs in the first half on 15-17 passing by rookie Quarterback Blake Bortles. Making his first NFL start, Bortles looked poised and made the tough throws when he needed to guiding the Jaguars to 14 points.
Give Rivers credit though. He was 16-18 in the first half for 207 yards and two TD’s, the last one a beautiful crossing route to Eddie Royal (his second TD catch of the day) beating Winston Guy to give the Chargers a 17-14 lead. Giving up 17 points to the Chargers in one half is respectable, only trailing by 3 after 30 minutes is like being on a different planet than last week.
To start the second half, the Chargers took the kickoff and marched down the field in 9 plays, a 24 yard Rivers to Malcolm Floyd TD pass for the score. 24-14 SD. Demetrius McCray was in man coverage against Floyd and Rivers got just the coverage and time he was looking for. When a backup corner comes in the game, the top QB’s recognize it and go after them.
When you go with a rookie QB you’re going to have growing pains. Bortles was baited into an interception by veteran DB Brandon Flowers. While Cecil Shorts didn’t do him any favors by just standing there, Bortles didn’t see Flowers hiding behind Shorts and thought he was open. Instead Flowers stepped up and picked it off. The defense held them to a FG, 27-14. Bortles will learn not to throw that pass but Shorts has to keep moving after he sits in his spot and isn’t the primary target.
Through three quarters the defense had only given up 22 yards on the ground but a whopping 353 in the air. I wouldn’t say the offense didn’t help a bit because they did put together a few sustained drives but somewhere, pass coverage and pass rush aren’t getting the job done. Once Gratz left the game the Jaguars were putting together makeshift coverage, especially in their nickel package and Rivers always found the open man.
I wasn’t sure what Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch was doing on offense in the 3rd quarter either, constantly going to the short route and some kind of misdirection. Nothing downfield. Maybe he didn’t think the young offensive line could protect well enough but occasionally you have to air it out. And even though they had some success with Gerhart running the ball on third and short, they didn’t stick to it and turned it over on downs. If you have a power back on your roster, give him the ball, twice if necessary, to gain a yard.
The rest of the game was try this, try that for both teams. Bortles did make an incredible athletic play to hit Clay Harbor on 3rd down for 30 yards to keep one drive alive. Last week, he threw that ball in that situation across the field and it was picked off. He admitted after the game he learned from that play and looked downfield instead.
While there are no moral victories in pro sports, this one felt a little better with flashes of what the possibilities might be.
“It’s about consistency,” Zane Beadles said in the locker room. “Blake’s right, you have to make those plays over and over and while we did it in the first half, we didn’t in the second.”
The defense is suffering from almost the exact same thing. First and second down are going well, but big chunks of yardage are being given up on third down, especially to teams that can throw the ball.
“We need consistency,” Andre Branch said. “All of us need to do our job. On every play. It doesn’t work any other way unless you do your job and trust what we’re doing.”
I wouldn’t say Branch called out any of his teammates but it was obvious that he was biting his tongue, not naming names but knowing where the problems lie.
Somewhere in the secondary, the Jaguars need help and need to get the kind of consistent play that would give them a chance to stay in games. Josh Evans replaced Winston Guy in the lineup this week, but with the injury to Dwayne Gratz, Guy was pressed into service in the nickel package. He was the player chasing Eddie Royal on his second TD. That’s the kind of play that lacks consistency and enables other teams to get the big play.
This week the Jaguars will work on that, but if they don’t get it fixed, the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger will have a similar day as Phillip Rivers.
And nobody wants to see that again.