Houston at Jacksonville: 5 Things to Know
This is one is important. As is next week, and the week after that and the week after that. For the next four weeks, the Jaguars must play football as if their lives depended on it. Because for some, their careers may actually be on the line as the 2014 season ends.
The best thing about the last month of football this season is that for now, the Jacksonville Jaguars are not the worst team in the NFL. They may be the youngest, but they are not the worst. If a team is what its record says it is, then there are still a chance to make some noise in these last four weeks. But first, they must get past Houston and most notably, JJ Watt.
If a win last week against the Giants taught the team and all of us, it’s that nothing is insurmountable and nothing is unattainable. This might be the youngest team in the NFL, but youth can be served if all the parts of the puzzle fit just right.
Here are five things to know about this game, according to Jaguars.com and senior writer, John Oehser.
WORTH THE WAIT
The Jaguars’ excitement over rookie cornerback Aaron Colvin is palpable. One reason is the rookie has played well at nickel back each of the last two weeks, with coaches grading him as making an impact on a little less than 25 percent of plays Sunday. Colvin has played well enough he likely will get an opportunity to start opposite Demetrius McCray, though perhaps not this season. But the other reason for the excitement is teammates and coaches genuinely feel good for Colvin’s success.
He spent the offseason, training camp and the first 10 weeks of the regular season rehabilitating after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament at the Senior Bowl in January. When Colvin returned a fumble 41 yards for the go-ahead touchdown Sunday in the fourth quarter, the celebration that ensued was about more than taking the lead in an early December game.
“They (teammates) saw his mentality and how consistent he was every day,” Bradley said. “To see something good like that happen for him – it was genuine. They were real excited for him.”
Good signs. The improvement shown by rookie quarterback Blake Bortles against the Giants has been well-documented. No interceptions. His first game-winning fourth-quarter drive. But Bradley said one play also showed what Bortles can be when he addresses some of the issues that come with being a young quarterback in the NFL. That play was the 30-yard touchdown to Lee, a pass Bortles dropped perfectly over Marqise Lee’s shoulder in the right side of the end zone.
Bortles has been inaccurate at times this season, and Bradley said Monday a lot of those issues have to do with footwork. “When it’s a three-step (drop) sometimes he takes two steps and throws off his back foot,” Bradley said. “Those things are what we have to clean up with him. When he does it right you see plays like he hit with Marqise.
You see the traits. We just have to challenge him to do it more often.” Look for footwork and fundamentals to be a major offseason focus for Bortles. The positive for him and the Jaguars is those are things a young quarterback can address and improve.
STACKING THE BOX
The Jaguars have been less effective running in recent weeks, and there’s a reason. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley on Wednesday said the area has been limited in part from teams playing extra defenders in the box. Running back Denard Robinson rushed for 127, 108 and 94 yards against Cleveland, Miami and Cincinnati in Weeks 7, 8 and 9 and has rushed for 60, 25 and 44 against Dallas, Indianapolis and the Giants the last three games.
“It’s more challenging because of that extra defender,” Bradley said, adding that until the Jaguars threaten defenses more consistently in the passing game, it will be difficult to improve the run significantly. “Do you pass and loosen that up a little bit?” he said. “Some of the explosive plays have got to happen for us in the passing game.”
TRIAL BY FIRE
The Jaguars in recent weeks have struggled in pass protection, and while focus has been on the offensive line, there are other issues. Robinson was at least partially responsible for two sacks Sunday and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said a reason is the second-year veteran has little experience in blitz pickup, having played quarterback at the University of Michigan and having played sparingly at running back as a rookie.
“We didn’t have him play third down very much so his pass protection was at a minimum last year,” Fisch said. “This year we really believe that there were big improvements in his pass protection. He had some isolation blocks last week that obviously showed up, and there were a couple of times that he got walked back. There have also been times this season where he’s done an amazing job of thudding guys up and picking up blitzes and seeing cross dogs and stepping right up in the A-gap.
And I think he’s done a really job for the most part in his pass protection and he’s done an incredible in his improvement from where he was to where he’s going to be. Now we just have to continue that process along.”
FINDING COMFORT IN THE OFFENSE
Lee, a second-round selection from the University of Southern California, caught 13 passes for 141 yards in the first 10 games, missing three games with a hamstring injury. In two games after the bye, he has nine receptions for 127 yards. He was particularly effective in a 25-24 victory over the Giants Sunday, catching a 30-yard third-quarter touchdown and a 22-yard slant for a key first down on the game-winning drive. Lee said Wednesday when he watches video of himself now, he sees a player closer to what he was in college, primarily because he has learned some moves and runs that worked in college don’t work in the NFL.
“At the beginning, it looked like I was very uncertain in terms of new looks you see … adjusting to them,” Lee said. “Early on, I was thinking about adjusting, then adjusting, rather than having it be natural and reacting to what you see. Now, I feel a little more comfortable as far as understanding what I’m supposed to do. … It took some time to sit back and see, ‘OK, some of the things you tried in college are not going to work in the NFL,’ so you’ve got to choose wisely when you want to lose a yard to come back. You have to be smarter.”