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Jags Ravens preview: Still learning?

Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts is brought down by Houston Texansfree safety Kendrick Lewis and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts is brought down by Houston Texansfree safety Kendrick Lewis and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. (AP photo by John Raoux)


BALTIMORE – At 2-11 most NFL teams are already making plans for the future. Players are lining up vacation time, golf trips and how quickly they can get away after the final game. For the Jaguars, that doesn't appear to be the case. With three games to play, it was business as usual for the team this week preparing to play in Baltimore.

And some observers think that's the problem.

During the taping of the Gus Bradley Show this week, I asked the Head Coach if his "no stress" philosophy allowed him to put some heat on the players to perform.

"There's pressure," he quickly responded. "They know there's pressure and hopefully it's self-imposed. Pressure to perform, pressure to get results."

That's where the Jaguars have faltered, producing results in 2014 that were different than last year. Finishing with a 4-12 record in 2013, most people inside and outside of the organization thought this was a 7 or 8 win team this year. But the rebuilding continued and as my colleague Cole Pepper has noted, for the second straight year it was just an extended preseason. A chance to evaluate, for players to start to understand and get used to playing in the NFL and for the coaches to find a team identity.

Perhaps the evaluation continues and players are getting more comfortable, but a team identity hasn't emerged. Former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus said this week on "Jaguars Friday Night" that he thinks that's a problem.

"You know what the D-Line's identity is, they get after you. The O-Line? Ehh? Who are they?"

Mostly, inconsistency has cost the Jaguars all season long, and some of that can be attributed to how young the team is this year. But that is starting to sound line an excuse and not a reason.

"They're not rookies anymore," former Jaguar great Tony Boselli said this week. "They've played 13 games, they've been through camp and meetings and all that stuff. They just have to get the job done now." They have started as many as nine rookie or first year players this year on offense, more than any team in the history of the league, but Boselli says the learning curve should be starting to flatten out.

"These guys are starting to see the same things for a second and third time. They should be figuring it out."

And that goes for Blake Bortles as well. He's thrown league high 16 interceptions to go along with his 10 touchdowns. He's gone through the "newness" phase and through the "don't turn it over phase" and now into the "I'm only in a light fog" phase. He's admitted "I'm killin' us" and last week felt the sting of unhappy fans when he and the offense couldn't get anything done in the second half.

While the Jaguars are still trying to compete and get better, the Ravens are starting a playoff push. In fact, this could be considered their first playoff game. Win out, and they're in the post-season.

Another good test for a young Jaguars team that will see how a very "professional" team operates deep into the season.

Hopefully they'll be learning enough to, as GM Dave Caldwell says, not have this same discussion next year.