4. A familiar look. We begin this pre-Lions Fabulous Four in an area starting to take on a familiar look. We speak of the Jaguars’ defense, which for the first time this season in the last two weeks has played like the defense that ranked No. 6 in the NFL last season. The defense struggled through the first five games, but registered two sacks against Oakland two weeks ago and two more against the Packers last week. It also held Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers under 200 yards passing and the Packers to a season-low 238 yards as a team. A major difference? The return to health of three defensive ends, Austen Lane, George Selvie and John Chick. Lane and Selvie have improved the Jaguars’ run defense, and Chick provides another legitimate pass rushing threat. “When you have depth, you can rotate guys in,” Lane said. “That means people are going to be fresh going into the fourth quarter. We have a rotation, and I think it’s working great. “ Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny agreed, and said the presence of Lane and Selvie has allowed the Jaguars to move end Jeremy Mincey inside at times on pass rushing downs, creating a pass-rushing package far more potent than early in the season when Mincey and rookie Andre Branch essentially were the only edge pass rushers. “We can bump Mincey down, we can keep (Andre) Branch in there, we can bring in John Chick,” Posluszny said. “We have three defensive ends rushing. We can do some things out of those looks. It adds another element, especially when we get in pass rush situations. We can do our full package. When you have guys who are playing who don’t get all the reps, we scale down the package a lot so we can focus in on exactly what we need to do and play fast. When we have our guys, we can do some different stuff, show some different looks, run some different pressures. A lot of that stuff has been very successful for us.”
3. Finishing kick. We don’t usually get supersaturated with statistics in Fabulous Four, but there are two this week worth noting. We’ll hit on red-zone efficiency in the next entry, and while that’s a huge focus, another trend is noticeable to those who have attended Jaguars home games this season – that is, the struggle to score late in games. Head Coach Mike Mularkey considered it important enough to speak to the team about it Wednesday. Of the perception that the Jaguars have been a bad home team, Mularkey said that’s not quite true, that the Jaguars have played well at times, but haven’t finished games. “We have just failed, especially in that fourth quarter and especially the last time we were here, but I don’t want anybody to think we come in here and lay an egg,” Mularkey said this week. With the exception of a Week 2 loss to Houston, he’s spot on. The Jaguars played well early against Cincinnati, leading 7-3 and having a chance to lead by more if Kyle Bosworth hadn’t fumbled an interception and had Rashean Mathis held a potential Pick-Six. The same was true in a loss to the Bears, a game that was tied with five minutes remaining in the third quarter before a flurry of mistakes and a struggling run defense led to a 41-3 Chicago victory. It’s a trend the Jaguars need to break Sunday against the Lions. The Jaguars are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t scored in the fourth quarter at home this season while the Lions have averaged more than 14 points a game in the fourth quarter on the road.
2. Git ‘er done. The question was asked this week – and we paraphrase here – “if the Jaguars moved the ball so darned well Sunday, how come they only scored 15 points?” The answer was pretty simple. The Jaguars didn’t score in the red zone, settling for field goals on two of three possessions inside the 20. That statistic doesn’t include two other possessions when the Jaguars made it to the Packers 20 and 22, with a field goal and fumble ending those two drives. That’s 19 potential points not scored, and although no NFL team is perfect in the red zone the Jaguars have missed on opportunities all season. The Jaguars’ offense has struggled to reach the red zone, averaging less than two opportunities a game, and they have scored touchdowns on just 38.46 percent of red-zone trips, the fourth lowest percentage in the NFL. It’s not surprising red-zone success wouldn’t come immediately as their yardage total increased last Sunday. Moving between the 20s often comes more quickly, and an efficient red-zone offense usually is the domain of the experienced, high-functioning quarterback. Of the top six offenses in red-zone touchdown percentage, five are New Orleans (Drew Brees), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), Denver (Peyton Manning), New England (Tom Brady) and Atlanta (Matt Ryan). “To be able to go from having good drives and stalling and kicking field goals to just consistently putting it in the end zone, that’s a huge step,” Jaguars center Brad Meester said. “It’s step we have to take. We’re going to get there. Steps like that are important, and to close out some of those games is another huge step. It’s a growth step that we’re looking to achieve.”
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. We’ve covered Blaine Gabbert about every way imaginable on jaguars.com this week, what with him coming off his best game in the NFL. And there’s little doubt he remains a focal point this week. While it’s correct to temper the enthusiasm over his first 300-yard passing game, it’s equally important to remember the strides Gabbert made the last two weeks aren’t just statistical; they’re real “quarterback” things that make you believe they can continue. The Packers game wasn’t just about Gabbert throwing for a lot of yards. It was about him consistently making the right throws, and maybe just as importantly, throwing a lot of passes (49) and not having any of those passes put the Jaguars in negative situations. I received a few emails this week critical of Gabbert “dinking and dunking” against Green Bay, but I saw a quarterback who made the correct decisions a lot of the time. For the most part during his 21 starts he has done that and with the exception of a two-interception-for-touchdowns loss to the Bears earlier this season, he hasn’t had a wheels-are-off-interception-the-other way game. Mostly, what you had to like on Sunday was that Gabbert overcame adversity. Not only did he play with a shoulder injury, he had a stretch during the third quarter in which he struggled and in which the Jaguars went three series with no first downs. In the past, that quarter often turned into an entire half and a dismal post-game feeling. Against Green Bay, he and the offense pulled out of the funk, and while the Jaguars only produced a field goal in the fourth quarter, they twice drove into Packers territory. That’s not enough, because it didn’t produce a victory, but if it turns into a trend, this could be remembered as a critical stretch for the Jaguars and for Gabbert.