JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's not hard to like the improvement the Jaguars have made from the first of the year. They look like a NFL football team, albeit one that has a lot of holes in it, but they're competitive even if they're outmanned.
At home on Sunday, they held their own, even getting a variety of bad breaks in the second half thanks to a less-than-perfect officiating crew. A muffed punt, a questionable timeout and a very generous spot on a first down all went the Cardinals way.
Against Arizona, the Jaguars used their will, coaching and even some deception to take the lead early. Chad Henne has solidified his spot as the starting quarterback, mainly for just staying in the game and keeping the Jaguars afloat. He doesn't do a lot of great things, but most of the game he's making the right decisions and the other players on offense have confidence in him. Getting the team into the right play on offense and executing it when it's open is all the Jaguars want at quarterback right now, and a majority of the time, Henne is doing just that. Part of the problem on offense is who to throw it to. With Justin Blackmon out for the year, virtually nobody is open when Henne goes back to throw. When I asked Gus Bradley about the 50% increase in passing yards when Blackmon was in the game, he agreed that "He's special," but only said he'd expect more from everybody else on how to replace that kind of production. So far, that's not happening.
The Jaguars will have to get more out of guys like Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor and Stephen Burton if they're going to improve on offense. Note I didn't say "win games" because while that's always the ultimate goal, Bradley and company are still working on who can play as much as the final score.
Against the Cardinals they got production from guys like Danny Noble and Clay Harbor, but not enough from their offensive line.
At halftime the Jaguars had 12 yards rushing. If you're going to expect rookies or guys in their first season to contribute, you have to give them a chance in all phases of the game. They didn't convert a 3rd down in the first half and allowed Arizona to convert more than half the time. That's a stat that can usually point to the final score. If you're not getting off the field on defense and not staying on it on offense, your opportunity to be successful is pretty small.
Even bringing a blitz against Carson Palmer backfired as he found an open receiver time after time, converting first downs and even a 91-yard TD to Michael Floyd. Part of that was just bad coverage and worse tackling by Will Blackmon and the rest of the secondary but anytime Palmer had the time, he found somebody open.
While the defense did what they could (giving up one really big play but keeping the Cardinals to field goals) the offense couldn't muster enough after the first quarter and eventually the Jaguars came out on the short end of a 27-14 score.
Perhaps it's unfair to compare Maurice Jones Drew to the player he was two years ago when he won the rushing title, but in 2013 he's not nearly that effective. Maybe he'll never be. But coming off and injury, it might be the smart thing to do to offer him a one-year deal at the end of the season. He might not take it, figuring near the end of his career he wants to play for a winner but at least he's a known quantity. He can be one of those "bridge" players who keeps things going while the team is being rebuilt. In retrospect, I wonder if Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell shouldn't have kept a couple of those players around (Montel Owens, Daryl Smith) in order to create a locker room culture that at least had some memory of winning.
Going on the road for the next two weeks might be good for this Jaguars team. They continue to have a positive outlook despite the losses, and being away from the distractions of home could be the right tonic for a young squad. Of course, save for the trip to Tennessee, so far the right tonic for the opposition has been to have the Jaguars come to town.
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