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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars must do these two things better to make the playoffs

Roy Cummings

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Can Jaguars climb off canvas Sunday vs Steelers?

Florida Football Insiders

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It was January 14th of 2018 and the Jaguars were rematching the Steelers in the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs in Pittsburgh. Jacksonville had already upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh back in the regular season, and most across the NFL felt that Pittsburgh was going to get their revenge that cold western Pennsylvania Sunday.

As you probably know by now, the Jaguars stunned Pittsburgh in a wild 45 – 42 victory which only reinforced the success of their magical turn around season of 2017. Winning 10 games, the AFC South and two playoff games was almost unfathomable, when 2017 began in North Florida.

Still it happened.

But, “that was then, and this is now,” and with a season of expectation and anticipation having evaporated, as Jacksonville stands at 3 – 6 on the season, it’s once again the Steelers in front of them on Sunday.

However, this game will be at home at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

And the only question now for the Jaguars is: can the team that put together two great performances against the Steelers last year, climb off the canvas and get back on track for this season with another win against Pittsburgh?

There are positive signs for the Jaguars, even with their recent struggles, that say “yes.”

One of those is the return of the Jaguars best weapon Leonard Fournette, who while he didn’t have spectacular stats (24 carries 53 yards) in last week’s 29 – 26 loss to the Colts, was effective at times, including two Red Zone touchdowns.

The Jags and specifically quarterback Blake Bortles, have missed his presence and the fact that it sets up their play action passing game. Fournette had two big games in the wins over Pittsburgh last year, registering a hundred yards in both and scoring too early touchdowns (photo above) in the playoff win that set the tone at 14 -0 for Jacksonville.

Another positive sign is that the Jaguars defense has begun to play better of late. Even though they lost to the Eagles and Wembley Stadium three weeks ago, then came off the bye and lost to the Colts, they have been registering more pressure and sackss on the quarterback. And, in last week’s case, stymied Indianapolis for much of the second half of the game.

The Jaguars best chance to win is to get Ben Roethlisberger to commit turnovers, again, like he did in the two losses last year. He threw five interceptions in the first meeting in the regular season and had an interception and lost a sack fumble that was returned by Telvin Smith for a touchdown in the playoff defeat.

Will the Jaguars be able to rekindle some of that turnover success against “Big Ben?” It will be a big key.

This game was originally supposed to be a Sunday night Prime-time affair on NBC for all of the country to watch, but the network “flexed out” of that game. Now, CBS will show it, still to a large portion of the country, at 1 p.m. Eastern.

So yes, the Jaguars, but their season is not yet finished. If they can find a way to win here it gives them confidence that they can get back in the AFC Wildcard picture.

And we know, because we saw it twice last year, the Jaguars can play with and beat the Steelers.

Now will we see them show some pride, heart and good football in beating the Steelers again in 2018?

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Ravaged by injuries, Jaguars have to make best of offensive line options

Florida Football Insiders

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Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars and their fans were excited to get Leonard Fournette back a week ago for the match-up in Indianapolis. And Fournette’s presence, production and the threat of what he could do, helped Jacksonville have their best offensive game in over a month. Even though it was a 29 – 26 loss, there was at least some optimism about the way the offense played.

Now, for the bad news.

The Jags offensive line, which is already been ravaged by injuries early in this season, is in serious flux, once again and maybe, for good in 2018. This after the team announced Monday center Brandon Linder will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered in the second half of the game Sunday.

Linder, who signed a five-year $52 million extension last year had been one of the Jags most versatile and reliable offensive lineman playing both guard and center. However, he has had problems with durability over the course of the last four seasons. This includes him missing the final 14 games of 2015 with shoulder surgery.  The Jags will have to depend on reserve Tyler Shatley to take over at center starting Sunday against the Steelers.

Jacksonville already lost highly-touted second round pick from 2017, Cam Robinson, at left tackle after he tore his ACL in week 2. Further, high-priced offensive guard Andrew Norwood has battled a foot injury for much of the first half of the season, and hasn’t been what the Jaguars had hoped in run blocking, so far.

The Jags have picked up former first-round pick from the Giants, Erik Flowers (above), off of waivers earlier in October and he made his debut Sunday in Indianapolis. And, he left the game in the third quarter with a knee problem, but there is some good news for him.

Coach Doug Marrone believes that Flowers is having problems with tendonitis in the knee and said Monday Flowers should be able to practice this week and then, play in the game against Pittsburgh Sunday.

Fournette carried the ball 24 times for 53 yards and a touchdown Sunday, but the Jags also had 324 yards passing from Blake Bortles. Part of this was the play action being set up by having Fournette back, and they did put three touchdowns on the board in the loss. That’s more touchdowns in any game, since the home battle with the Jets eight weeks ago.

Jacksonville announced Tuesday afternoon that more O-line help is on the way, as they have re-signed a familiar face:

Omameh had started also for the Giants for seven games this season before being benched during their offensive struggles and is a former starter for the Buccaneers in 2014-15, too.

So the hope, is that similar offensive production that we saw on Sunday will continue, whether the makeshift offensive line in front of Fournette and Bortles is a “M.A.S.H.” unit or not.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars DB Jalen Ramsey implied Monday he wants out of Jacksonville

Florida Football Insiders

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Frustration is mounting in Jacksonville as the Jaguars dropped their fifth straight game losing Sunday in Indianapolis 29 – 26.

And as the cliche goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” However, the literal meaning of that phrase can now being taken by Jaguars fans and media with regards to controversial defensive back Jalen Ramsey taking to social media Monday morning to imply that he wants to get going out of Jacksonville.

Whether it was frustration, trying to be funny or just being honest, Ramsey’s tweeted mid-morning message is definitely going to stir things up. And, the clear indication is that the former fifth overall pick of the Jags in 2016, who’s playing in his third season on his rookie contract, is counting down the days to be gone from North Florida.

This is the latest in a series of headaches for the Jaguars front office and Coach Doug Marrone. It began in the offseason when Ramsey refused to come work out with his teammates during OTAs and instead, elected to remain training in Tennessee with his father at their training facility.

Now, that one is more easily explained and accepted, because Ramsey has trained there throughout his young adult life in the offseason. And ultimately, OTAs are supposed to be voluntary workouts anyway.

Still, the perception was that Ramsey was not wanting to be part of the team concept and around his teammates coming off of a playoff season, when the franchise was hoping to take the next steps.

Then came Ramsey’s decision to not show up at the beginning of Jaguars training camp due to the birth of his daughter. While he informed the Jaguars of his intentions in advance, the fact that Ramsey did not come to participate in practices and preparation for the season for five days of actual practices was another concerning hint that he’s not pleased with the Jags and the situation.

The subject was basically glossed over by the media in Jacksonville, but if winning and getting better with your teammates is a priority and your girlfriend and child did not have any complications during childbirth, why were you not with them within a day or so of the birth?

Next, came and ugly and embarrassing public skirmish at a Jaguars training camp practice, as defensive line teammates Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler got into a shoving match and had to be separated from teammates in full view of fans and media looking on. Ramsey joined in in threatening two different reporters to stop video taping the incident, even though they were perfectly within their right to do so covering the team.

Maronne suspended both Fowler and Ramsey for the entire week of practice with the Minnesota Vikings before playing the preseason game in Minneapolis. Fowler was traded two weeks ago to the L.A. Rams, while in the final year of his rookie contract.

Also, Ramsey’s comments in GQ Magazine and an online article also came out later that same August week  and in the article, Ramsey took shots at quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, rookie Josh Allen, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, too.

This obviously brought unwanted attention to Ramsey around the football world, at a time when the Jaguars would have wanted it toned down.

Now, the Jaguars are facing adversity on the field having lost five in a row to drop to 3 and 6 on the season and in last place in the AFC South.

It’s also interesting timing for Ramsey to be speaking out, half joking or not, because it’s after the trading deadline and the Jaguar still have Ramsay’s exclusive rights to give him a new deal through next season. They also have the option to pick up the 5th Year on his rookie contract, which would be 2020.

Another theory would be: that Ramsey is trying the  “if you complain loudly and long enough they will trade you” route to get out.

There is no disputing that Ramsey is one of the best one-on-one cover corners in football, but as we have asked frequently, at what point do all of the antics and drama off the field outweigh that?

This is especially, when you can potentially get something for him of substance in return or maybe, in a trade Ramsey.

However that’s a question for the off-season for the Jags. For now?

It’s another headache off the field from #20.

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