It was certainly not a game when the schedule came out in April that everyone around the country “OOOed and AHHhed” about. Yet, the Rams and the Jaguars were both early season success stories in 2017, when they met at Everbank Field Sunday.
And, one obvious reason was on display again: better coaching makes a difference.
Yes, the Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick and signed veterans like Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye in free agency for their defense. However, we’ve well documented from the blowout win to start of the season over Houston until now, how Doug Marrone and his staff are getting more out of all their players and Jacksonville looks and plays, differently.
The same is true and then some for the visitors Sunday, the L.A. Rams.
The youngest head coach in the league (30 years old), Sean McVay, who by the way had zero head coaching experience at any level, has assembled a staff and coached up the Rams to a fantastic 4-2 beginning. Two big parts of the Rams turnaround are the improved mechanics and putting former #1 overall pick Jared Goff (above) in position to succeed.
He has been drastically better this year. Sunday’s numbers were just okay at 11-21 for 124 yards and a TD, but he managed the game and didn’t throw costly picks like he did all last year, and Ben Roethlisberger did vs. the Jags last week.
And, secondly for McVay ,is re-establishing Todd Gurley, as the premier back that they drafted three years ago. That continued Sunday, as Gurley went for another 116 yards on 23 carries in the win. The scheme and using Gurley in it have clicked week after week, so far.
Also big for the Rams is long time veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who most recently led the Broncos defense to their Super Bowl win over Cam Newton and the Panthers. He came over with the young McVay to bring experience and insight into areas where McVay needed it.
Results showed Sunday.
Yes, the Rams allowed Fournette to romp 75 yards for a TD on the very first play of the game, but after that? He carried 20 times for 55 yards. That’s called playing defense.
And after an early touchdown drive, they frustrated Jags QB Blake Bortles, picking him once and forcing them to punt eight other times. One those punts was blocked for an easy Rams TD and helped provide the 10 point margin of victory.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s defense had five more sacks Sunday, and there’s no disputing they are better coached and in better position to succeed each week.
Both teams have more to do and wins to get before you can measure great success this year.
But the Jags and Rams fans have to be encouraged by what they are seeing: your teams are better prepared before and during the games, now than they ever were the last few years for each.
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.
Jaguars QB Bortles doesn’t mind you coming over to his place
The Jaguars are “riding high” early on in the season after an impressive win against New England. Everyone is obviously loose, because of the success in 2017, and now, back-to-back wins to start this year have given a sense of confidence to the young squad.
An embattled fifth year quarterback Blake Bortles is on a serious uptick in his own playing career. Off yet another surprising game Sunday, where he threw for 376 yards and four scores in the 31 – 20 victory, Bortles has plenty of reasons to smile.
And, unusually, he has plenty of reasons to welcome total strangers who come to his door
Yes. You read that correctly.
Bortles made mention earlier this week about fans and even teammates coming to his house, unannounced, to “say hello,” maybe catch up on some Netflix and of course, talk about the success of the Jaguars.
Okay, we made the Netflix part up.
Still, for an NFL quarterback to make mention that he’s welcoming people to come see him at his home to talk up the team he plays for is definitely unusual.
Bortles elaborated jokingly to the media Wednesday after the Jaguars practice in preparation for their first meeting this season with the Titans:
QB Blake Bortles and LB Telvin Smith address the media following practice. https://t.co/144T5Ng7EK
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) September 19, 2018
“It’s a football town that loves their Jaguars, especially when they are playing well. You know, I don’t have a problem having a conversation with somebody at the door.” When asked whether the fans relate to him, Bortles continued, “I feel as though I relate to the city of Jacksonville and the people who live here….I’ve lived in Florida my whole life. I feel comfortable here. I’ve made a lot of friends here. Made a lot of good relationships. Really enjoyed being here.”
It’s a very juicy twist to the Bortles soap opera from a year ago, when Jags fans were ready to not only come to his front door, but pack all of his belongings and put them on a moving truck to get him out of town.
Yet, Bortles played steady and at times great football in the 2017 season, including Jacksonville’s stunning AFC divisional playoff win at Pittsburgh last year. He also played well in the AFC Championship Game resulting in a narrow lost to New England.
So, it’s understandable that Bortles has got the Jaguars fans filling up on his bandwagon, yet again.
However, one thing is for sure, in the NFL everything is fleeting and directly related to what you’ve done, lately. And with the Titans having swept the Jaguars a year ago, Bortles and his teammates know they have to get that corrected starting with Sunday’s home game at TIAA Bank Field.
Otherwise, any strangers at the Bortles home, who are decked out in black and teal uninvited, may not be as friendly coming up the driveway next week.
Look who tops debut of our FFI “Power Rankings”
With the NFL and college football in full swing, we have had some surprises and shocks.
The whole state of Florida has gone unbeaten in the NFL.
UCF and USF look like they might be the best college teams in the state.
Blueblood FSU has landed flat on their faces, while Miami and Florida each suffered early season defeats.
A few weeks into the season, here are how things are shaping up with our “Power Rankings.”
5. Miami Hurricanes- The Canes came into the season with high expectations after having one of their best seasons in recent memory in 2017. The year didn’t start how they wanted it to with a severe loss to the LSU Tigers, who look like they might challenge the Tide for the SEC West crown. Miami bounced back with wins against Savanah State and Toledo. They will need QB Malik Rosier to improve if they want to win back to back Coastal titles.
4. Miami Dolphins- Surprise number one, so far, are the Dolphins. The Fins are 2-0 for the first time since 2013. The Dolphins have beat the Titans and Jets, so we can’t put them higher than fourth, but the start is impressive. Miami’s defense has been good, and contributions have come from all over, as we wrote Sunday. Ryan Tannehill has been doing a stable job at QB as well. The Dolphins get the 0-2 Raiders this week before two road games against Foe Tom Brady and the also surprising Bengals.
3. UCF Knights- The “National Champions” check in at the number three spot this week. The Knights have cruised to victory twice so far this season. QB Mckenzie Milton looked unstoppable against the UConn Huskies, but wasn’t at his best against South Carolina State. The Knights got unlucky with Hurricanes again this year and lost out on playing an ACC opponent (North Carolina) yet again. UCF will play FAU this week before finally getting to play a power five school in Pittsburgh at home.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Surprise again, with Tampa Bay at number two. Can you feel the “Fitzmagic?” The Bucs sure can, as the 14 year vet has shredded the Saints and Eagles. The Bucs are at 2-0 for the first time since 2010. Todd Monken has done wonders for the offense with the playcalling, as well. With a Monday night date with the Steelers can the Bus keep it going on National Television?
1. Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jags claim the top spot this week coming in at 2-0 as well. The Jags are here partly to last season’s success, but not just that. The defense has done its job so far, but Blake Bortles was on fire vs. the Patriots. If Blake can continue to play the way he did against New England, then this team can become even more dangerous.
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