The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t given the crowd at EverBank Field much to cheer about this season.
The team has lost both of its home games by a combined score of 65-5 and totaled just 383 yards of offense. But there’s some optimism for Sunday’s game against San Diego because the Jaguars are coming off their two best performances of the season.
They were both losses, but the Jaguars were in the game in the fourth quarter and had their two best offensive outputs of the season.
San Diego is coming off an impressive victory over Indianapolis, which put the Chargers squarely back in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Chargers reporter Eric Williams break down the matchup:
DiRocco: The NFL didn’t do the Chargers any favors with a Monday night game followed by a game in Jacksonville that kicks off at what would be 10 a.m. West Coast time. Is this much of an issue with the team and what, if anything, are they doing in terms of modifying their schedule to compensate?
Williams: Teams are always at a disadvantage traveling across the country while coming off a short week. Players injured during the Monday night game have a shorter recovery time, which makes it harder for them to get back on the field. San Diego receiver Eddie Royal suffered a toe injury against the Colts, so his availability for Sunday remains uncertain. The Chargers will travel to Jacksonville on Friday, giving them more time to get acclimated to the time change. San Diego also practices at about 11 a.m. PT during the week, so the body clock of the players should be used to getting up and being ready to compete at that time. Since 2012, the Chargers are 4-3 in 10 a.m. PT starts.
Jacksonville played the Broncos tough on the road, moving the ball on offense and forcing three Peyton Manning turnovers. How much confidence does that effort give the Jaguars as they try and get their first win?
DiRocco: That was by far the Jaguars’ best performance of the season, and the game was much closer than nearly everyone anticipated. And while the players were encouraged by the way they played, they were still disappointed in the outcome because they continued to make critical mistakes that extended drives or put the offense in a hole. There isn't anything but the normal level of frustration seeping into the locker room, though, because the players have bought into coach Gus Bradley’s “the process is important” approach. This means they’re concentrating on improving and becoming more consistent, which in turn will lead to victories. They feel good about themselves because they played better, but they can’t be too confident because they’re still winless.
A former Jaguars player, cornerback Derek Cox, has come under a little fire for the way he has played this season after signing a significant contract. What’s your take on how he has played and whether he’s been worth the money?
Williams: Cox deserves a full season of evaluation before we consider him an under-performer, but he certainly can play better. He signed a four-year, $20 million contract, including $10.25 million in guaranteed money, as San Diego’s No. 1 corner of the future. Cox made his first interception of the year last week against Indianapolis, is second on the team in pass deflections with four and has 26 tackles on the year. He’s played every game, even after suffering a minor knee injury against Dallas three weeks ago. But Cox also has been beat deep a few times, and has not made as many game-changing plays you would like to see from a shutdown corner.
Chad Henne is expected to get the start again Sunday while Blaine Gabbert continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Is either player the long-term answer at quarterback, or are the Jaguars looking to draft their franchise signal-caller in 2014?
DiRocco: One of the top priorities this season was to find out if Gabbert was the player around whom general manager Dave Caldwell could build the franchise. Six games in, however, they’re no closer to that answer because Gabbert has missed three games because of injuries. He hasn't played well when he’s been on the field, either. Henne has played well, however, and is coming off a 303-yard performance against Denver. That being said, neither of them appears to be the long-term answer. Gabbert has been maddeningly inconsistent and still makes the kind of throws that cause you to look around and go, “What was he thinking?” Henne is more consistent, but still leaves too many plays out on the field. The Jaguars are heavily scouting quarterbacks throughout the season -- Caldwell has already been to see Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater play -- and I’d be shocked if they didn't take one with their first-round pick in 2014.
Speaking of quarterbacks, what is it that has sparked Philip Rivers’ mini resurgence this season? Is coach Mike McCoy’s offense just a perfect fit for him?
Williams: McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have emphasized ball security and getting the ball out quickly, all while empowering Rivers to make more decisions at the line of scrimmage in the team’s new, up-tempo offense. So far it’s worked. Rivers is third in the NFL in passing yards (1,847), third in passer rating (108.7) and tied for second in the league in passing touchdowns (14). He’s had much better pass protection this season, getting sacked just 10 times through six games. Tight end Antonio Gates is healthy again, and the addition of Danny Woodhead has made teams pay for bracketing Gates. And the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen has given Rivers someone who can consistently win against one-on-one coverage on the perimeter.
Speaking of talented pass-catchers, Justin Blackmon is playing like the dominant No. 1 receiver the Jaguars expected when they selected him in the first round last season. But has he gained enough control over his off-the-field issues so that they do not affect his on-the-field availability again in the future?
DiRocco: That’s the biggest question with Blackmon, and so far the answer appears to be that he has. Teammates and coaches were impressed with the way he handled himself during his four-game suspension. He worked out pretty hard and gained eight pounds of muscle, attended meetings, got someone to throw with him at a nearby field and did some work in the community as well. He seems to have matured a bit, but there is a bit of a holding-their-breath feeling about Blackmon. It all comes down to how much football means to him and whether he makes smart decisions, but he doesn't have a great track record there.