The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2016 season with its highest expectations in nearly a decade. An organization that hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2007 was expected to put together its strongest campaign in years. Once again though, the team stumbled out the gate, and through the first five games of the year, hasn’t begun to live up to the expectations just yet.
But that doesn’t mean all is lost. In fact, despite currently being under .500, the Jaguars still have everything to play for in a competitive, but relatively weak, division.
The question that remains unanswered still lingers though: Is this year’s edition of the Jacksonville Jaguars finally different from previous seasons?
After starting the season 0-3, it seemed like this could be a case of the same ol’ Jaguars. Head Coach Gus Bradley’s seat was already hot coming in to this season, and he certainly didn’t help his own case with the slow start. But in week four, the team came home from their annual trip to London with a victory over divisional foe Indianapolis, and this past Sunday, erased a 13-0 fourth quarter deficit to Chicago in Soldier Field and won 17-16 on a touchdown pass in the final minutes.
Now obviously neither Indianapolis or Chicago are great football teams this year, and neither game was a great performance by the Jags. But what I did see from the two victories is a team that showed some fight. But can they keep that fight up for an entire season?
The Jaguars trail the Texans by just a game and a half in the AFC South, and still have five games against division opponents. Jacksonville still very much controls their own path to success, if they are willing to take it.
We know the team has to improve in areas if it is going to compete. The offense has struggled thus far and it starts with the quarterback.
Blake Bortles’ mechanics have regressed back to his rookie season. His windup and delivery is back to being lower and longer, and that is cause for concern. He is also turning the ball over at a crucial rate. Bortles has thrown seven interceptions and lost two fumbles already this season. He needs to refine his mechanics and protect the football if the team is going to make a run.
The running game needs to also get going if the team wants to have success. Jacksonville ranks 31st in rushing, and will need to get T.J Yeldon and Chris Ivory going to alleviate pressure on Bortles and the passing game.
The defense has played well this season, and actually put the team in position to have two more wins at this point. Rookies Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue have shined to this point. After a sub-par effort covering Alshon Jeffery in the first half in Sunday’s game against the Bears, Ramsey stepped up his play in a huge way in the second half, and made the game clinching pass break-up against Jeffery on 4th down. Going forward in the season, the pass rush will need to be more consistent at applying pressure to the quarterback.
Does the team still have holes that need fixing? Absolutely. But after two straight wins, both away from home, the Jaguars have momentum, and have put themselves back in the thick of things in the AFC South. The next challenge comes at home on Sunday, when Jack Del Rio returns to Jacksonville with his Oakland Raiders.
Let’s see if Gus Bradley can light a fire under his team, and extinguish the one under his seat.