The New York Jets take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Florida this Sunday. Previewing this matchup, Ryan O’Bleness over at Big Cat Country was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding the 2019 Jaguars.
1. In recent years the Jaguars have been a team driven by a great defense and limited by a poor offense. This year the defense has not been great. What have been the problems this year on defense? Why have the Jaguars suddenly become so poor at stopping the run?
This year’s defense is not quite as loaded as the 2017 unit that prompted the Jaguars to a deep playoff run, but still has many solid pieces. A lot of Jags fans believe the issues come from defensive coordinator Todd Wash’s scheme itself, and admittedly, when Jacksonville has struggled against the run, it has been because players were knocked out of their gap protections in the run game -- see Week 5 versus Christian McCaffrey and the Carolina Panthers. In the passing game, struggles with zone coverage concepts have hurt the team at certain points-- See Week 1 versus Kansas City Chiefs. Weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith decided to take a hiatus this year, and the linebacker group as a whole has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play. Jacksonville also just placed defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on injured reserve, which certainly doesn’t help matters. Of course, Jalen Ramsey -- both a generational talent and a headache for the team -- was traded away as well.
With all of that said, the Jags have rebounded over the past couple of games, holding Alvin Kamara to just 31 rushing yards (although he was dealing with an injury) and Joe Mixon to a mere two rushing yards on ten attempts (0.2 yards per carry). The Jags rank 12th in the league in points allowed per game (21.1), so it hasn’t been all bad, just not what we’ve gotten used to over the past few seasons. I would say the defense has not been detrimental outside of the Kansas City and Carolina games, and those are the only two contests where you can directly point to the defense for the loss.
2. The Jaguars have in recent years had an extremely talented roster, held back largely by a subpar quarterback in Blake Bortles. This year the Jaguars finally moved on from Bortles, acquiring Nick Foles, only to have Foles go down. Now Gardner Minshew is the man at quarterback, and, to many people’s surprise, he has thrived. What are your thoughts on Minshew? Is he the quarterback of the future for the Jaguars, and how good do you think he can be long term?
I am a big Minshew fan. His play has dwindled a bit the past couple of weeks, now that teams have more film on him and can game plan against him by keeping him in the pocket, but outside of the New Orleans Saints game, he been solid to very good in every contest. He’s now won Rookie of the Week five times in seven weeks, and has set numerous NFL and franchise rookie records. I think it’s interesting with Minshew -- he was a sixth-round pick with low expectations of even hitting the field this season, but boom, Foles goes down, and the Jaguars’ offense didn’t seem to skip a beat. He is an easy guy to root for with his on-field play and off-the-field personality.
In terms of if he is the future of the franchise or not, it’s hard to say because Foles -- who resumed practicing in a limited capacity this week -- can return to action as early as Week 11. The Jaguars invested a lot of money into Foles -- $88 million with $50 million guaranteed. Backup QBs don’t make that kind of money and it’s unlikely the Jags find a trade partner before the deadline, which is just a few days away. If Minshew continues to play well and win games, the team could opt to keep Foles on IR and then look to move him in the offseason. It’s definitely a situation to monitor, and I think there would be a lot of faith in Minshew as the long term answer on a cheap rookie contract, but maybe Foles is more of the “win-now” answer, which the front office may be more inclined to go with.
3. If Minshew is the answer, can these Jaguars still make noise in the playoffs this year? What is holding the Jaguars team back so far in 2019?
The Jags are in a competitive division in the AFC South. All four teams have at least three wins already, while Houston and Indianapolis each have four. It may be tough for the Jaguars to win this division, but there is certainly a chance. In terms of a Wild Card, I think the South gets at least one of them, so again, divisional games are going to be of utmost importance.
We’ve mentioned the struggles on defense and the question mark at quarterback moving forward, which are things that could hold the team back. But in the hypothetical sense that Jacksonville does get it, I could see this team getting hot at the right moments and making another run to the conference championship game. This is No. 5 rushing attack in the league with Leonard Fournette looking rejuvenated this season. This team will ground and pound and control the clock and, if the defense is on, will stifle you from moving the ball or gaining momentum. Other teams don’t want to face that come January.
4. How would you attack the Jaguars offense and the Jaguars defense if you were an opposing team?
I alluded to this above, but to stop Minshew, you have to make him “play in a phone booth.” Watch the tape from the Saints game. They kept Minshew -- who makes his best plays on the move -- hemmed in the pocket. They also bracketed D.J. Chark with a cornerback and a safety and took away Minshew’s No. 1 target. I’m not sure the Jets are going to be able to do this with their struggling cornerbacks and pass rush, but that is the recipe for success.
Against the defense, it’s simple but effective: make accurate throws in the exposed holes in the zone and get your quarterback into a rhythm passing. Call short routes to get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly and neutralize the pass rush of guys like Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Josh Allen. Take advantage of the Jaguars’ sometimes suspect run defense by calling inside zone plays and moving defenders out of their gaps -- the Panthers had so much success with this, they just kept calling the same play over and over again.
5. What is the one matchup the Jaguars have against the Jets on offense and on defense that has the best chance of giving the Jaguars a win?
Offensively, I don’t see Daryl Roberts or Trumaine Johnson being able to stick with Chark. He’s likely to have a big game and that’s going to be key for the Jags to move the ball. On defense, I think the Jaguars have to shut Le’Veon Bell down, so Jacksonville’s front seven against New York’s abysmal offensive line is a matchup that must be taken advantage of.