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Sam Kouvaris commentary: Mariota vs. Jaguars defense

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you want to consider most everything else on both teams being equal, it could come down to quarterback play this week for the Jaguars against the Titans.  As the number two pick out of Oregon, Marcus Mariota is a true rookie.  Blake Bortles is in the middle of his second year in the league.  Bortles has shown great improvement over his rookie year although he’s hit a bit of a plateau recently while Mariota has been impressive since day one.  His quarterback rating through 11 games is 92.0, good by any measure.

“That’s a pretty good quarterback rating,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said on Thursday. “I believe in the red zone that he’s really good. He’s done a great job for a rookie. Obviously, I think as our players do on our defense, rookies, as they play, the more they play the better they get and the more things they recognize, and those types of things.”

Babich agreed that Mariota is most comfortable with intermediate passing routes because of the offense he played at Oregon.   But it’s his ability to keep plays going and get out of trouble that Babich said he recognized early.

“Well, I think he can scramble and make some plays with his legs. He’s doing a good job of scrambling with vision and looking downfield and pulling it down … And I think that with slants and things like that, he’s really good with his timing and his accuracy.”

Just 18 days are between the two meetings of the AFC South rivals, so what they used in the first meeting doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll show up in game two.

“You can’t get comfortable because you think ‘We know those guys,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said a couple of times this week.  “You get to know their personnel but last time it was a short week.  They didn’t show everything, they’ll have some new players in the lineup.  We have to guard against thinking we know what’s coming.”

Babich agreed you have to look at it like a whole new opponent.  “It’s a little cat-and-mouse game, obviously the same thing – we’re looking at what they did versus us. In a game like this, your fundamentals – you have to make sure your fundamentals take over – and possibly do some things schematically, or whatever you need to do.”

Last week Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers took advantage of a Jaguars defense that seemed to regress to the same problems they created at the beginning of the year.  Part of that was Rivers, part of that was the defense just not playing well.  Not enough pass rush, not good enough play on the back end. 

“We were discouraged – starting with me,” Babich explained. “We were discouraged with the way we played, in particular in the second quarter. The guys came out, fought hard [and] gave up only 10 points in the second half. So, starting with me, I have to do a better job.”