For the first time in nearly a decade, the Jaguars are playing meaningful games in December. As coach Doug Marrone pointed out on Monday, though, making the playoffs is far from a foregone conclusion.
“If you don’t win in December,’’ Marrone said, “nothing good is going to happen.’’
That literally goes double for the Jaguars, who have two areas of play that they’re going to have to improve on if they’re going to maintain their winning ways through the most important month of the season.
The first is their running game, which was held to less than 100 yards rushing for the second time in as many weeks on Sunday and can’t seem to get lead back Leonard Fournette back on track.
Since his return from a two-week layoff due to an ankle injury, Fournette has run the ball 77 times for just 226 yards (2.9 per carry) and one touchdown, that coming Sunday against the Colts.
Those numbers suggest Fournette is not as healthy as he suggests he is, but other numbers suggest that what Fournette is suffering from the most is a lack of top-level blocking.
First of all, neither Chris Ivory (12 carries, 13 yards) nor T.J. Yeldon (11-36) have run the ball any more effectively than Fournette has over the course of the last four games.
Second, the Jaguars produced a hard number on Monday that explains just how poorly their O-line performed against the Colts, who forced 13 “bad running plays,’’ which are runs of 2 yards or less in situations outside of short-yardage.
At least five of those plays came as a result of a defender being left unblocked, and this on a day when the Jaguars were only missing one starter, left guard Patrick Omameh.
And it’s not like the Colts are among the league’s best run stoppers. They came into the game ranked 13th in the league in that discipline, so they’re really nothing more than adequate.
That’s not the case with three of the four teams left on the Jaguars schedule. Seattle, which is up next, currently ranks eighth overall against the run; Houston is 10th and Tennessee, who the Jags wrap up the regular season with, is third.
The only opponent left that’s not in the top 10 is San Francisco, so as Marrone said, the Jaguars are going to have to figure out a way to beat all those stacked boxes they’ve been facing because they’re not going away any time soon.
“People have made a conscious effort to stop us in the run game, but when you’re a good running football team, you should be able to run the ball when everybody knows you’re going to run it,’’ Marrone said. “We’re not at that level yet.’’
Nor are the Jaguars at the level where they can count on their defense to stop the run from one week to the next. They appeared to be getting there after Marcell Dareus arrived but they took a tumble on Sunday.
After allowing just 166 yards rushing in the first three games Dareus played in and 108 (on 31 carries) in the fourth, the Jaguars allowed the Colts to run for 141 yards on 26 carries (5.4) on them on Sunday.
It would be easy say that was an anomaly and it may prove to be, but there’s no doubt those numbers raised some concerns within the camp of a team that allowed an average of 138.6 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry through the bye week.
“Obviously we still have some work to do on that,’’ Marrone said of the rush defense. “We have to make sure that remains a focus.’’
It does indeed have to be a focus. For obvious reasons, the weather being the most obvious of them all, a team’s ability to run the ball and to stop the run become increasingly important as a season goes on.
And as we said, that goes double for the Jaguars, who are built to run the ball on offense and won’t be able to take full advantage of their best defensive weapons if they can’t stop the run there.
It’s safe to say then that if the Jaguars can’t figure out how to run the ball better and stop the run better, little to no good will come of these all important December games.
Titans smother Jaguars in low scoring win
It’s not a game that will go in “the Time Capsule” for NFL fans to watch decades from now, but Tennessee’s recent Mastery over the Jaguars continued Sunday with an ugly 9 – 6 win.
Both defenses played hard and played well, but in the end, the third of three Ryan Succop field goals with just over six minutes remaining was the difference, as Tennessee handed the Jaguars their first loss of 2018.
The Titans did not start franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota who has still been battling nerve problems from his elbow after a hit in the week 1 lost Miami. However, Mariota was forced into duty, when backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert suffered a concussion in the first quarter and could not return.
Speaking of not effective, the Jaguar offense would also qualify in that category. Playing for the second straight game without Leonard Fournette due to his injured hamstring, Jacksonville mustered only six first downs, 100 yards and 3 points in the first half.
The second half was about ball control and time-consuming drives. And Jacksonville punted twice and had a Josh Lambo field goal, but it was not nearly enough.
Blake Bortles, off of a four-touchdown game against New England last week, was mostly ineffective at sustaining drives, must less getting them in the end zone. He was 21 – 34, but for 155 yards only.
Backup running back TJ Yeldon carried seven times for 44 yards and third string running back Corey Grant 6 times for 11 yards. And, the credit goes to Tennessee’s defense, which smothered Jacksonville for much of the day at TIAA Bank Field by forcing eight punts for the game.
With the road win, the Titans assumes first place in the AFC South on the tiebreaker over the Jaguars, which combined with their season sweep last year means they’ve beaten Jacksonville three straight times.
Gameday- Jaguars host Titans in AFC South showdown
Who: Jaguars (2-0) vs. Titans (1-1)
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Spread: Jaguars by 9 1/2 (Courtesty VegasInsider.com)
The 2-0 Jaguars are ready to play host to AFC South rival Tennessee on Sunday and try to break the Titans 2017 headlock they put around Jacksonville in sweeping them.
Here’s what we are watching in their first match-up of the year Sunday:
Who’s running the ball in Jacksonville?
As we documented, both Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon are banged up and were limited in practice this week. Fournette is unlikely to play or even if he is, he may not be that effective with a hamstring injury suffered two weeks ago.
Yeldon had 51 yards rushing last week against the Patriots in Fournette’s absence, but he has a sprained ankle. Yeldon is also listed as questionable.
If Yeldon cannot go, the third running back is Corey Grant, a four year veteran, who has only started one game in his career. Grant did have six catches and four runs last week in the New England win.
QB Blake Bortles played well without Fournette throwing four TDs in the win. He desperately needs some rushing attack for drive momentum and to set up play action.
Who’s the QB for the Titans?
Marcus Mariota has been battling an injury to the nerve in his elbow after taking a hit in the week one loss to the Dolphins. Mariota did not play in their win last week against Houston and is officially questionable for this game in North Florida.
If he cannot play, veteran backup Blaine Gabbert will fill in as he’s done the last two games. Gabbert was just 13-20 for 117 yards and a TD pass against the Texans, but he didn’t have to have great numbers.
The Titans got a fake punt TD pass, played solid defense and still won.
It’s possible that Mariota may try to play, but Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel will have use of both QBs, too.
Which leads to, will the Jaguars D lock down the Titans?
It’s no secret that the Jags want to win with defense, and this game is no exception. They were really good against the Patriots last week holding Hall of Famer Tom Brady in check for much of the day. Jacksonville is fifth in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed in the NFL.
Plus, Jacksonville still has one of the most feared pass rushes in the league, as Brady found out the hard way last week. In a critical third quarter sequence, Bortles had thrown an interception, but right away, defensive end Dante Fowler got the ball back on a strip sack of Brady.
They will need plays like that to get the win and keep their perfect season in tact.
Jaguars may have to go deeper into running back depth chart Sunday
More concern for the Jaguars running back situation at the conclusion of Friday’s practice. This is because not only is Leonard Fournette still questionable to play with his injured hamstring, but now so too is his backup, T.J. Yeldon.
Both players were limited in practice on Friday for Sunday’s game with the Titans. Yeldon has a sprained ankle suffered during Sunday’s win over New England 31-20. He did carry the ball 10 times for 58 yards rushing last week, which was a solid performance.
Coach Doug Marrone was his usual non-forthcoming self post Friday practice, when it came to conversation about the injured backs. However, you can use previous precedence and injury designation to draw some conclusions.
For example, Fournette’s hamstring was bad enough that he never returned to the opening game with the Giants, and even though he and the Jaguars said the right things leading up to last week’s game, he was unable to practice fully, was listed as questionable, and they held him out of the Pats game.
And with the understanding that we are not in the Jacksonville training room and don’t know the full updates, the fact that now Fournette and Yeldon were unable to practice fully at all this week, has to be a concern for the Jaguars running attack.
If neither of those two are active or, let’s say they are active but not effective, the third string running back is fourth year veteran Corey Grant. The former undrafted player from Auburn has been active for 35 games in his career including all 16 a year ago and the first two in this season.
He has only one career start, but Grant against the Patriots last week had six catches for 56 yards and four carries for 13 yards. And he’s clearly who Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett will turn to to establish the ground game and the play-action for quarterback Blake Bortles.
Again, there’s always the possibility that they were just being precautionary with Yeldon’s ankle this week and that with 48 hours more rest and treatment, he will be ready to start.
But, let’s just say that if you have the former Bama tailback or Fournette, you might need to look at other options for your Fantasy Football lineup this week.
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