BAGSHOT, England – Senior writer John Oehser examines four key issues as the Jaguars prepare to play host to the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium in London, England, Sunday …
4. The players’ perspective. We begin this London Town Fabulous Four with a thought from Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis. When speaking to British and Jacksonville media at Pennyhill Park Hotel Wednesday, Lewis mentioned that he believed the Jaguars are “really close” to winning their first game and improving significantly. Observers took to Twitter, wondering how he could say such a thing, considered the 0-7 record with all losses by double digits. Lewis explained later that it wasn’t just Press Conference Speak, and that he and other veterans see the Jaguars being far closer than outsiders may believe. “People watch the game and say, ‘Oh, you get blown out,’” Lewis said. “But when you dissect it, the margin for error in this league is really is so small. Like when we have penalties, it puts us in bad situations, puts us in bad field position, and takes us out of converting third down to punting and giving them a short field.” Lewis said the key isn’t so much convincing fans and observers the Jaguars are close, but ensuring that a roster of players stuffed with first- and second-year players who realize hope is not lost. “When you’re in the league, most of the guys here are used to winning -- That’s why we’re here,” Lewis said. “It’s important for the older guys to say, ‘Look, just stay the course.’ Don’t get in the mentality of, ‘Here we go again’ or accept that. They just have to understand that we’re one play away from doing some things.”
3. Putting it aside. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said this week he wasn’t upset this past Sunday because of a lack of carries. Jones-Drew declined to talk to media after the game, and many linked that to his season-low nine carries. Head Coach Gus Bradley said he and Jones-Drew communicated by text following the game and had a productive conversation. Jones-Drew, who had rushed for more than 70 yards each of the previous two games, said he was upset that the Jaguars had taken a step back – and not about his carries. At the same time, guard Uche Nwaneri said without question the Jaguars need to get Jones-Drew more carries. “It’s a priority for us every week,” Nwaneri said. “Getting him as many carries as possible is always a good thing. Obviously the situation of the game can sometimes dictate whether or not that happens, but Maurice is an outstanding running back, obviously, and he’s been finding a good rhythm the last few weeks, and feeding him the ball is something that is always going to be important for us.”
2. Analytically speaking. Jaguars players this week talked about the loss to San Diego as a step back, and Bradley spoke of a lack of spirit. But analytically, the loss revealed what some players discussed this week – that progress continues in some areas. The offense graded positively according to Pro Football Focus, the first positive grade for the offense or defense this season. The defense had its second-best grade of the season, having scored an overall zero against Indianapolis and rating just below that this week. Offensively, wide receiver Mike Brown and guard Uche Nwaneri had positive grades, and offensive tackle Austin Pasztor had the team’s highest grade with a 3.6. Pasztor for the season has the highest grade on the offense, having started each of the last three games. Blackmon, wide receiver Cecil Shorts III and tight end Clay Harbor also have positive grades for the season. Cornerback Will Blackmon, a starter since Week One, has the highest overall grade on the team with 7.1 for the season, with defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks and linebacker Russell Allen also grading positively so far this season.
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. We would have opened Fab Four with this, but we close with quarterback every week, and so shall we close again. Still, the quarterback news this week was decidedly headline-worthy, with Bradley naming Chad Henne the starter and saying a healthy Blaine Gabbert would be the backup. If that news didn’t close Gabbert’s story in Jacksonville, it’s still very significant. It’s the first time since the first two games of his rookie season that Gabbert – who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury – has been healthy and not started, and Bradley’s words announcing the move were telling. Bradley said he wished he would have had a chance to talk to both players before speaking to the media about it, indicating this was more than simply letting Henne play another game while Gabbert recovered. Bradley also said the Jaguars were going to start Henne and see how things developed from there. That’s different than two weeks ago, when Bradley said his thought at the time would be to return to Gabbert when the latter was healthy. This doesn’t mean that Gabbert absolutely never will start in Jacksonville again, but it does appear that Henne will be the starter and have every chance to retain the job. What changed in two weeks? The simple answer is Henne played well enough in the last two games to earn a chance to keep starting, and that Gabbert thus far this season hadn’t done enough to earn the same opportunity.