Jaguars defense embarrassing itself

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Linebacker Paul Posluszny conducted an interview that lasted nearly three minutes, but he really needed only one sentence to sum up the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive performance against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

"It was awful," he said.

That’s a pretty good way to describe it. Indianapolis rolled up 529 yards, Andrew Luck threw for 370 and four touchdowns, and held the ball for little more than 37 minutes. The Colts scored 30 points in the first half, which were the most points the Jaguars have allowed in the first half in their 20-year history.

"We should be playing a lot better than that," Posluszny said. "We’re making mistakes. We’re not playing together as a unit. We’re not very consistent.

“We’ll have Red Bryant make a great play and make a tackle for a loss and then we’ll get beat over the top for a 20-yard gain. We need to be much more consistent in everything we do."

This is a familiar refrain. Outside of the first half against Philadelphia in the second opener, the Jaguars’ defense has been terrible. In the last 10 quarters it has given up 112 points. It is confusing, befuddling, baffling, perplexing, puzzling -- any adjective you want to use.

The Jaguars’ defense was supposed to be better in 2014 after the additions of ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, tackle Ziggy Hood, and linebacker Dekoda Watson. It was supposed to keep the team in games longer to allow a young offense time to develop.

Instead, it has been a giant, ridiculous mess: The Jaguars are giving up 446 total yards, 306 yards passing, and 160 yards rushing per game. Oh, and 39.7 points per game.

Coach Gus Bradley seems to know why things are so bad, but he has not been able to get it fixed.

"It feels like 10 guys are doing things right and you have an opportunity for one guy to make a play and he didn’t make it," Bradley said. "We’ve got to train to be clutch. The message to them is when you get your opportunity called you have to make the play. I just think we missed on too many opportunities there defensively."

The most troubling aspect is that players seem to know exactly what to do but for whatever reason aren’t doing it. For example, safety Winston Guy was supposed to cover the back in the flat on Indianapolis’ first drive. Instead, he goes inside and Ahmad Bradshaw is wide open and catches an easy pass for 12 yards.

Posluszny believes people are pressing instead of following Bradley’s defensive mantra: Do your job.

"We’re not trusting the guy next to us," he said. "We have such a strong desire to do well that we want to do a little bit more and that’s when things start to break down. We have to realize everybody has a job to do, a very specific job, and each one of us has to take care of that and trust the guy next to him that they’re going to do theirs as well."

That’s what players have said after each of the first two games, as well. But, as we saw Sunday, nothing has changed.

"It’s unbelievable," Posluszny said. "We say that’s not our type of ball, that’s not us, but that’s what we’re putting out there. We should be playing better."

Game Balls: Jaguars vs. Colts

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21


Colts reporter Mike Wells' game ball goes to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who guided Andrew Luck to 370 yards passing and four touchdowns. Jaguars backup QB Blake Bortles get the honor from Mike DiRocco.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' plan for rookie quarterback Blake Bortles was for him to sit the bench and develop and then step onto the field as the team’s starting quarterback in 2015.

It was a smart approach, especially with the struggles that emerged along the offensive line and the three rookie receivers that made double-digit mental mistakes -- including running into each other on one play in Week 2. Unfortunately, that strategy imploded after just 10 quarters.

After a lackluster first half in which the offense gained only 55 yards, generated two first downs, and scored zero points, coach Gus Bradley benched veteran Chad Henne and handed the job to Bortles -- and not only for the second half of what turned out to be a 44-17 loss to Indianapolis at EverBank Field.

The Jaguars are Bortles’ team now, and there is no going back. They have committed themselves to riding it out with the talented rookie for the rest of the season, no matter how ugly things become.

"He’s going to go through some learning on the field," Bradley said. "Hopefully for us that learning curve means more good than bad. The challenge for us with him is just keep getting better. I think Blake really understands that’s what it's all about."

It will be ugly at times. It was on Sunday. Bortles, running to his right, threw a pass across his body toward the middle of the field that was so far behind receiver Allen Hurns that cornerback Greg Toler had an easy interception that he returned 47 yards for a touchdown. Bortles also lost the ball in his own end zone, tried to recover it, and had it bounce out of bounds for what would have been a safety -- except the Colts bailed him out by committing an illegal contact penalty to negate the play.

Bortles threw another interception on a deep ball to Allen Robinson and misfired on several other throws, including some that weren’t even close. He went 1-for-5 on his first possession.

"There’s going to be mistakes and that’s part of the game," running back Toby Gerhart said. "Especially for him. Defenses are complex, run checks, whatever it may be, there’s going to be times where he may not check it the right way. But we’ll live with it and make the most out of it."

They will live with it because Bortles also can make plays: Evading defensive end Bjoern Werner on a bootleg, scrambling to his right, and lofting a pass down the sideline to fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou for a 26-yard gain. That is the kind of play Henne hasn’t been able to make -- he was in a similar situation against Washington several times last week and was sacked -- but Bortles can make those plays over and over again.

"He kept plays alive," Bradley said. "He’s got really good instincts. Made some really good decisions and some good throws, and then some of throws that you saw I’m sure he wished he had back. But we’ll learn through those. I just love his mindset. I love the strength that he has. He is tough, hard-nosed, competitor and he will attack.

"And the team felt that part of it. I think it’s no coincidence that all of a sudden we blocked a little bit better; the receivers played a little bit better. He has a way to uplift people and uplift a team."

It certainly won’t be easy for Bortles, especially next week in San Diego. It’s likely he’s going to struggle in his first start now that teams will be game-planning to stop him. He’s going to see more exotic coverages and defenses are going to blitz him mercilessly, especially if the Jaguars' run game continues to be anemic and the defense continues to play poorly.

He might, at times, look even worse than Henne did in the first two-and-a-half games. In fact, it’s a virtual guarantee.

The Jaguars can’t go back to Henne, though. They have jumped on the Bortles train and it's going to be a rough ride in 2014, with the hope that the lumps they take now will make things much smoother next season.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Jacksonville Jaguars' 44-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

Posluszny gloomy: Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, one of the last players to leave the locker room, didn’t mince words when describing the way the defense played in the first half. "It was awful," he said. "We should be playing a lot better than that, but we’re making mistakes. We’re not playing together as a unit. We’re not very consistent." That pretty much covers the complete breakdown that allowed the Colts to run up 30 points and 330 yards (239 passing).

Henne understands: Quarterback Chad Henne was up front about being benched and said he expected it to happen after the offense’s abysmal first half. He said coach Gus Bradley had talked to him earlier in the week and said the offense needed to be better. "It was an uphill battle for me [on Sunday], and we both understood that," he said. "Like I said, if you’re not winning, things are going to be changed, and I’m one of those cases."

Getting a lift: Receiver Allen Hurns said he could feel a difference at EverBank Field when Blake Bortles ran out with the offense to start the second half. Not just on the first possession, either. "When he comes in the game, he’s getting all the love," Hurns said. "It’s a great atmosphere."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 44-17 loss to Indianapolis at EverBank Field.

What it means: The Blake Bortles era has begun in Jacksonville. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said last week that there were no discussions among the coaches to bench starting quarterback Chad Henne and insert Bortles as the starter for Sunday’s game, but that was before a lackluster first half in which the offense gained just 55 yards and generated just two first downs, and Henne completed 4 of 7 passes for 33 yards. Bradley decided to go with the rookie from Central Florida in the hopes of providing a spark, and Bortles did that. The offense at least looked functional and managed to put a drive together that resulted in points. Now that the Jaguars have made the move, there is no turning back to Henne. They have committed themselves to riding it out with Bortles the rest of the season, no matter how ugly things become. The offensive line still needs work, they are without tight end Marcedes Lewis, and the receivers are a still work in progress, so it’s going to be a mess at times, but it makes no sense to go back to Henne.

Stock watch: The Jaguars' defense didn’t get much help from the offense in the first half, but the unit didn’t exactly stuff the Colts on their first few drives when the game was still close. Indianapolis gained 330 yards, including 91 rushing, and scored 30 points in the first half. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 22 of 37 pass attempts, including a streak of 13 consecutive completions.

Tight end trouble: The Jaguars' troubling trend of struggling against tight ends continued on Sunday. Even with safety Johnathan Cyprien back in the lineup, the Colts' tight ends had a field day. Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and Jack Doyle combined to catch 11 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Entering Sunday’s game, the Jaguars had allowed opposing tight ends to catch 99 passes for 1,155 yards and 11 touchdowns in the previous six games.

Game ball: This sounds like the Bortles report, but his debut was really the only bright spot for the Jaguars. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He started 1-for-5 on his first drive and went 13-for-19 the rest of the half. He also threw a pair of interceptions, including one on a terrible throw across his body that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

What’s next: If Bortles does indeed remain the Jaguars’ quarterback, he’s going to have a tough task ahead of him because the Jaguars travel cross-country to play at 4:05 p.m. ET next Sunday in San Diego.

Jags turn to Blake Bortles at QB

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Blake Bortles era has begun in Jacksonville.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft replaced starting quarterback Chad Henne to begin the second half of the Jaguars' 44-17 home loss against Indianapolis at EverBank Field after the offense generated just 42 yards and trailed the Colts 30-0.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley announced after the game that Bortles would start next Sunday at the San Diego Chargers.

Bortles was the first quarterback taken in the draft after a standout career at Central Florida throwing for 7,598 yards and 56 touchdowns. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said earlier in the week that there were no discussions among the coaches to bench Henne for Bortles despite the offense's poor performance after a very good first half in the season opener against Philadelphia.

Since scoring 17 points in the first half against the Eagles, the Jaguars have scored just 10 points and Henne has been sacked 15 times, including a franchise-record 10 in last Sunday's loss to Washington.

The run game has generated just 122 yards through two-and-a-half games. Henne has completed 42 of 78 passes for 492 yards and three touchdowns with one interception this season, but he struggled against the Colts, completing only 4 of 7 passes for 33 yards. He also was sacked three times.

(Read full post)

Week 3: Games grab the headlines

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

SEATTLE -- After a horrible start to the NFL season, commissioner Roger Goodell got a break -- good football. Sunday offered great drama and great football storylines.

The Philadelphia Eagles won a 37-34 thriller over the Washington Redskins. The Denver Broncos tried to be more physical in their Super Bowl rematch. Even though the Seattle Seahawks  dominated the first half, Peyton Manning and a more physical defense battled back to tie the game in regulation before Seattle prevailed in overtime.

A gutsy Arizona Cardinals team stunned an undisciplined San Francisco 49ers squad in a 23-14 upset that sent shockwaves through the NFC West. Minus seven starters, the Kansas City Chiefs went into Florida and routed the Miami Dolphins 34-15.

Here is what we learned in an interesting Week 3.

1. 'Battle-tested' Seahawks prevail: You knew the Super Bowl rematch was going to be different. Broncos boss John Elway brought in three Pro Bowlers on defense to enhance the team's toughness, and Peyton Manning was going to run a more balanced and physical offense. It almost worked, but the championship experience of the Seahawks came through in the end for a 26-20 overtime victory.

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Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
Got questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I’ll try to answer a representative selection of them every Saturday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.

@ESPNdirocco: I know you're looking for a single issue that can be resolved and make everything better, but there isn't one. Responsibility for the tight end depends on the coverage. Sometimes it's a cornerback, sometimes a safety, and sometimes a linebacker. Guys are missing assignments and there have been a lot of blown coverages in the first two weeks, so part of it is a mental issue, too. Another factor is the lack of speed at linebacker. That position needs an upgrade in that area and rookie Telvin Smith helps, but that's only a start.

@ESPNdirocco: Adding a pass-rusher is the most logical choice and the upcoming draft appears to be a good one in that regard (provided some underclassmen declare). Some names to watch: Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Missouri's Shane Ray, and Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun.

@ESPNdirocco: Honestly, I don't think any running back would have had much success behind that offensive line the first two weeks. There just aren't a lot of openings for the backs, although there have been some that Toby Gerhart has missed. Part of the reason Gerhart has been on the field more is he's better in pass protection, and as we've seen the Jaguars need all the help they can get there. Still, I'd like to see Robinson on the field more, too, but I don't think giving him the ball and having him run inside is the best way to use him. Stretch plays, pitches, swing passes, screens, anything to get him out in the open field so he can use his elusiveness.

@ESPNdirocco: I like the changes. Cameron Bradfield played terribly last week and in the third preseason game. Sam Young has a good camp and he deserves a shot at right tackle. Remember, though, that he's only there until Austin Pasztor returns from a broken hand, most likely next week. The Jaguars' plan was to eventually drop rookie sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko into the starting spot at center but Jacques McClendon's poor play pushed that timetable up. He is more athletic and has more upside than McClendon. I don't see the Jaguars abandoning their scheme, which is essentially saying they're changing their offense. Getting better players and guys not blowing assignments and missing blocks will help the run game improve.

@ESPNdirocco: Who? If a player is available at this point in the season the chances are he's not very good or has severe limitations. Even if the Jags were to sign somebody off the street right now, they would have to learn the offense. That means they wouldn't be able to contribute much, if at all. A better option is practice squad player Kerry Taylor, who has been with the team since last season.

@ESPNdirocco: I don't mean to be flippant, but: See above answer. Any player the Jaguars sign now, whether it's a tight end or receiver or guard or cornerback, isn't going to be very good and would be zero help other than being another body. That's why they're available.

@ESPNdirocco: Blake Bortles' first start has less to do with record than with how well the offense and quarterback Chad Henne is playing. It also has to do with making sure that Bortles is completely ready to play. That was the criteria that coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell have set. If Bradley believes Bortles is ready to play and the offense struggles again this week, then we could see Bortles next week. But he also may not play until November, either. We'll just have to wait and see.

@ESPNdirocco: It has already started, on Twitter at least. There were harsh words directed at coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell early in the week after Bradley announced that Chad Henne was going to start this week. Fans are getting upset at the fact that 12 of the Jaguars' 14 losses under the Bradley/Caldwell regime have been by double digits. The honeymoon may be coming to an end.

@ESPNdirocco: Players are blowing coverage, missing assignments, getting out of position, and there have been miscommunication issues. All of that can be corrected or at the very worst minimized. However, the offense bears some blame, too. The Jaguars have had 28 possessions and 22 have lasted for five plays or fewer, including 14 that lasted three or fewer. That puts the defense on the field too much and doesn't give that unit ample time to rest and adjust between possessions.

@ESPNdirocco: That depends on how much the offensive line improves. Gerhart isn't the type of back that makes guys miss and creates plays out of nothing. He's at his best when he can get through the hole and use his size and strength to run over players on the second level. Well, there haven't been many holes. Gerhart isn't completely blameless, though, because he's missed several opportunities for sizeable gains. The run game is a work in progress and until everything meshes the Jaguars will continue to have trouble running the ball.

@ESPNdirocco: Two things, really: His tackling and his knowledge of the defense. The coaching staff was pleased with his development in his second season, especially in terms of his coverage abilities. The latter was evident after he went out late in the first half of the Philadelphia game. Johnathan Cyprien still has work to do, but he's the best player in the secondary by far.

UF's Donovan tells Jaguars to trust

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has had Brian Urlacher and Rick Pitino speak to his team over the past several months.

On Friday, it was University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan’s turn, and he spoke about the players developing a deeper relationship with teammates.

"His message was about trust and really a deep love for your teammate," Bradley said. "I think that is something that resonated with our players. I think that our players really are connected and are close and I think he challenged them to take it to another level."

Running back Toby Gerhart called Donovan’s speech "fantastic" and said he was touched by Donovan’s challenge to really get to know all of his teammates, not just a select few.

"We come in here and we always say, ‘I trust my guy next to me,’ but he said, ‘How far does that trust go?’" Gerhart said. "’Do you really know intimate details about that person? Do you know about his family life? Do you know if he’s having any type of issues?’ He said everybody is a broken and fractured individual on some level and he said, ‘Can you be there for that person and they can trust you on that level?’ It was a really interesting conversation.

"It’s definitely a bigger challenge when you have 53, 63 guys on a team, but I think you can break it down into units. You could be running back or offense or whatever it may be, and I think it’s something that we can take into consideration and listen and see, get to know people a little better."

Safety Josh Evans has heard Donovan speak before. Donovan addressed the UF football team several times during Evans’ four years with the Gators. Donovan’s message on Friday was similar and it stuck with the Jaguars players the way it suck with him, Evans said.

"As a matter of fact we just kind of talked about some of those things in our last meeting as a team, pretty much building on that and finding a way to being [connected] to one another and play hard for each other,” Evans said.

Shorts, Hurns probable for Jags

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
[+] EnlargeCecil Shorts
AP Photo/John RaouxCecil Shorts is looking to make his season debut.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars finally got some good news concerning their receivers: It looks like Cecil Shorts and Allen Hurns will be able to play against the Colts on Sunday.

Shorts (hamstring) and Hurns (ankle) are listed as probable for the Jaguars' home opener. That helps the offense deal with the loss of Marqise Lee, who is out with a hamstring injury. It appeared earlier in the week that all three players might not be able to play against the Colts.

This will be the season debut for Shorts, who missed 23 days of training camp and the preseason with a right hamstring injury and then felt tightness in his left hamstring on Sept. 4 and missed the first two games.

"I think that we'll see how he feels but it went pretty good out there," coach Gus Bradley said after Friday's practice. "If everything goes good and we get the report [that he hasn't had a setback], then he'll start."

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Prediction: Colts will beat Jaguars

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars are a mess right now, especially on defense, which was supposed to be significantly better and keep the team in games into the second half. In the past six quarters they have given up 75 points, 299 rushing yards, forced just six punts, and forced zero turnovers. All of that came without safety Johnathan Cyprien (concussion), but his return this Sunday isn’t going to solve the defense’s biggest issues: poor tackling (they have missed 35 in two games), players getting out of position and the line not holding its gaps. The Colts have a solid one-two running back punch with Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson, and you can expect coach Chuck Pagano to attack the Jaguars’ defensive front to see if they have fixed those issues. Things aren't much better on offense. The Jaguars are coming off a loss to Washington in which they yielded 10 sacks and the line has two new starters, including rookie center Luke Bowanko. Plus, receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) is out, receiver Allen Hurns (ankle) is iffy, and tight end Marcedes Lewis (ankle) is out for 6 to 8 weeks. Receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) will have limited reps if he plays. Not a lot of playmakers available for quarterback Chad Henne.

My prediction: Colts 24, Jaguars 10
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are planning on starting little-used veteran Sam Young at right tackle against Indianapolis on Sunday, but regular starter Austin Pasztor may see some playing time.

Pasztor suffered a broken bone in his right hand in the second preseason game and hasn’t played since. He practiced this week with a cast on his hand and he’ll have to wear that if he plays. He said it’s been a strange experience.

"Never done it before," Pasztor said. "I try to think about it, go through it mentally how it might affect me."

The cast covers Pasztor's entire hand, which obviously prevents him from grabbing. Since he’s a right tackle, it’s his outside hand, which makes it even more of an adjustment, he said.

"It’s good to be able to grab, because that’s really what you want to do when you’re blocking," Pasztor said. "With that being said, I still have my left hand to grab with and hopefully I’m able to use the club in a way that I can kind of grab with my left hand and have the club pushing his chest or the outside of his arm so it still kind of simulates holding on.

"You try and grab as much as you can at tackle but the guy’s swatting your arms and you’re running, so you don’t always have two hands on the guy. A lot of it’s blocking with your feet, so I’m hoping it doesn’t affect me too much."

RTC: Jags can't stop TEs

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Reading the coverage of the Jacksonville Jaguars ...

Tight ends are putting up monster numbers against the Jaguars, catching 99 passes for 1,155 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past 16 games. The Florida Times-Union's Hays Carlyon writes that the Jaguars have to shore that up to beat Indianapolis on Sunday because the Colts have a pair of good tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.

Hey fantasy football owners, ditch running back Toby Gerhart. That's the advice of's B.J. Rudell, who says that "by midseason, Gerhart will be a 25-45 yards-per-game, change-of-pace running back with almost zero fantasy value."

WJXT TV-4 sports director Sam Kouvaris and Cole Pepper debate whether the honeymoon is over for coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell in their latest podcast.

The T-U's Vito Stellino writes that the Jaguars' young receivers have met the challenge posed to them by Bradley. They've cut down on mental mistakes throughout this week.

The T-U's Ryan O'Halloran writes that although tight end Clay Harbor practiced for the first time since injuring his calf on July 28, he's unlikely to play against the Colts. He could make his season debut next week against San Diego.