By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – The Jacksonville Jaguars are winless through five games,
but they’ve got 11 more remaining on the schedule – whether they’re optimistic
about it or not.
So, given that reality, gleaning positives from early struggles becomes a
The Jaguars allowed a single offensive touchdown in an eight-point loss to
Pittsburgh last weekend – after giving up a minimum of 33 points in defeats
one through four – and the 372 total yards they gave up against the Steelers
marked the first time this season in which they held a foe below 400.
Not to mention they’re visiting a familiar old stomping ground in Tennessee,
where they ended a similar 0-8 skid that began the 2013 season.
“At the end of the day, our focus here is to get better and to correct the
things we haven’t been doing well,” cornerback Alan Ball. “Just playing for
four quarters (against Pittsburgh), that’s what I’m energized about. That’s
one thing we should build on.”
Still, while the defense showed signs of resuscitation, the offense could use
Jacksonville is second-from-last in the 32-team league in both scoring and
total yardage, with clips of 13.4 points and 272.2 yards, respectively, that
are better than only the Oakland Raiders – the league’s only other winless
Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has just one touchdown pass and four
interceptions in two starts since taking over from veteran Chad Henne, and a
picked-off throw in the fourth quarter against the Steelers was returned 22
yards for a decisive touchdown.
But it’s not as if his other weapons have been firing well without him.
The Jaguars’ 67 rushing yards per game are again ahead of just Oakland, and
two running backs – Toby Gerhart and Storm Johnson – were each hampered by
injuries last week, though both were able to fully participate in Wednesday’s
Gerhart, a fifth-year pro, came over from Minnesota in the offseason and was
expected to take over for the since-departed Maurice Jones-Drew, but he’s
averaged just 2.6 yards on 43 carries and scored once.
Rookie Marqise Lee caught eight passes for 73 yards in his initial two NFL
games, but has subsequently missed three in a row with a hamstring injury. He
had limited participation in Wednesday’s practice and is questionable for
Another first-year receiver, Allen Hurns, was a fantasy league sensation with
four catches, 110 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia in Week 1, but
the shine has come off since thanks to six dropped passes in four subsequent
games – including three last week.
He’s managed 12 catches for 170 yards and one score since the debut.
“It’s not acceptable,” he said. “It’s all about being consistent. When the
plays come to you, you’ve got to make them.”
As for the Titans, they’ve got some wound-licking to do as well.
Tennessee opened with an impressive win against Kansas City in Week 1 before
dropping consecutive decisions to Dallas, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Still,
it assumed a 25-point lead before halftime and looked ready to return to
winning last week against Cleveland, before 26 consecutive points from the
Browns transformed a thrilling triumph into the most agonizing of defeats.
It was the largest blown lead by a home team in NFL history, and quickly put
coach Ken Whisenhunt into damage-control mode going forward.
“It gives us an opportunity to learn from it,” he said, “and if we get in that
situation again and we win a game because of it. It doesn’t leave a mark.”
To make matters worse, safety Bernard Pollard was lost for the season with an
Achilles injury against Cleveland, and oft-dinged quarterback Jake Locker is
again questionable with a right thumb problem.
Locker did not practice on Wednesday and has already missed one start this
season after playing in just seven games last year. If he’s unable to go
against Jacksonville, it’s Charlie Whitehurst’s role.
“I fully believe that we’re going to be a good football team,” Whisenhunt
said. “It’s coming. We’re getting better. We’re going to be OK. We just have
to continue on this same track and be consistent.”
Tennessee is 29th in the league in scoring and 23rd in total defense, and it
has self-destructed at times while committing 55 penalties.
“Are we frustrated that we’re not better, we’re not playing better football or
we haven’t had more success? Sure,” Whisenhunt said. “Everybody wants to win.
That’s what this business is all about. I feel like our guys believe that what
we’re doing, we’re doing it the right way.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Ready to Break Through?
Whatever combination of Jacksonville running backs is available on Sunday
could find the ground-gaining landscape advantageous against a team that’s
been gashed for an average of 136.6 yards per game through its first five
outings. Johnson, a rookie who was drafted in the seventh round this spring,
debuted against the Steelers and went for an impressive 6.8 yards per carry.
Turning a Corner
Regardless of whether it’s Locker or Whitehurst calling the signals, expect
the Tennessee QB to pay particular attention to the status of Jacksonville’s
starting cornerbacks. Dwayne Gratz did not play last week against Pittsburgh
after sustaining a concussion, which led to replacement by second-year man
Demetrius McCray. McCray helped hold Antonio Brown to just two catches for 15
OK, Jaguars fans, this is your week. The momentum of a close loss, the site of
a maiden-breaking victory last season and an opponent reeling after a
deflating come-from-ahead home loss.
If coach Gus Bradley revs the emotional engines back to where they were
heading into Week 1 against Philadelphia, this could be the ideal convergence
of circumstances for Jacksonville to distance itself from Oakland.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Jaguars 17, Titans 16