While thankfully talk of the post-season has faded since last week’s loss to the Chargers, the Jaguars five remaining games will give them a glimpse to the future and a chance to put some numbers up that show they’re an improving team.
Facing the Titans today, they have a chance to win their 4th game in six tries and grab their fifth victory of the season, a number they haven’t reached since 2011
“Football, like life,” Owner Shad Khan said in London, “Isn’t a straight line up. There are some ups and downs.” Khan was referring to the overall picture of the Jaguars since he took over in 2012 and the assessment of General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley.
When you look at the big picture, no question the Jaguars are an improved and improving team. But when you see it game-by-game, play-by-play, the mistakes and consequently the losses can be discouraging. It’s not in his nature to be discouraged so Bradley chooses to see it from the other side of the equation.
“We’ve entered this next stage,’ Bradley said earlier in the season after one of several close, heartbreaking losses. “It’s a stage where we’re in these one possession games and we need to learn how to win those games.”
In the cyclical world of the NFL, the Jaguars should be an ascending team considering their draft position in the last four years and the money they’ve had available in free agency.
Showing that he didn’t think they were ready yet, Caldwell has been very conservative during free agency, taking players in their second contract phase who looked to have some years and some upside remaining in their career. This year’s class has provided some stability both short and long term on offense and defense. Based on the growth of their young players and what the expectation will be when it comes to wins and losses next season, it won’t be surprising to see a shift in the free-agent focus once 2015 concludes.
To a certain point, Caldwell and the Jaguars will be interested in short-term fixes and big-money free agents they haven’t competed for in the past. The losses of Sen’Derrick Marks, Dante Fowler and James Sample this season didn’t give them a chance to look at those three positions (interior Dine, Leo and safety) and those three have been deficient in their 2015 production. No doubt free agency will be a place the Jaguars look to fix that issue.
Still in the NFL’s concussion protocol program, Allen Hurns won’t play today, his first missed game in 27 NFL games. Marqise Lee should get the start after missing six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury. Lee has great speed and was a dynamic college player, but since turning pro, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Every time he runs a route, he’s one of those guys you expect to put his hand up and come to the sidelines once the whistle blows. If he can stay healthy and productive, it changes the whole dynamic for the Jaguars offense.
The same could be said for Rashad Greene who’s “suddenness” Gus Bradley has talked about during the week. Greene’s 63-yard punt return set up the game winning TD for the Jaguars in the last meeting between these two teams on November 19th. Adding him to the offensive mix creates matchup problems for a third corner or a safety trying to cover him in the slot.
Putting Toby Gerhart on injured reserve ended his season and possibly his Jaguars career this week. Bernard Pierce is listed as questionable and Dan Skuta will miss this game as well.
Today against the Titans it’s a chance to show that the Jaguars are capable of beating teams they’re supposed to beat. Going up against a team that’s “beatable” and taking care of business is something the Jaguars need to learn how to do in a business like fashion.
Across the board, the Jaguars are a better team than Tennessee and quarterback play will be the difference. If Blake Bortles starts to play better as he had earlier this year, the Jaguars will come home with a victory. But if he continues to struggle, especially in the red zone and if Marcus Mariota’s ball handling, running and intermediate passing game are successful, it’ll be tough to secure a road win in Nashville.