JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars’ first-team offense continues to have success moving the ball and generated two touchdowns Friday night in a 22-17 loss to Detroit at EverBank Field. The team’s biggest weakness in 2014 has made significant strides in the preseason, and the performance against the Lions is encouraging even with the Lions not playing several of their top defensive players.
QB depth chart: Holding steady? It was another good performance for Blake Bortles. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown and ran for 35 yards. He was victimized by two drops, too. He has completed 75 percent of his passes for 461 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions in the preseason. Chad Henne went 8-for-12 for 62 yards.
Maybe that dude could start: The pregame hype was about rookie running back T.J. Yeldon’s debut, but it was easily evident that right now Denard Robinson is the better back. That makes sense considering this is Robinson’s third season and Yeldon hadn’t seen any live game action until Friday night. Robinson was the Jaguars’ leading rusher in 2014 (582 yards) and continues to run aggressively, bursting into the hole and finishing runs with power. Yeldon may eventually be the better back but early in the season the starting job should belong to Robinson.
Who got hurt? The Jaguars lost two key players early in the game when right guard Brandon Linder went to the locker room with a toe injury and defensive end Andre Branch went to the locker room with a left knee injury. Linder is the Jaguars’ best lineman while Branch is the Jaguars’ second-best pass-rusher. He has been working with the first-team offense because Chris Clemons had missed the first three weeks of camp on the active/non-football injury list. Clemons returned tonight but if Branch’s injury is severe enough to cost him a significant amount of time the Jaguars will be in the market for a pass-rusher. There was a scary moment late in the first half when receiver Allen Robinson went down with a shoulder injury, but he returned to the game. Receiver Allen Hurns left the game in the first half with hip tightness and was held out as a precautionary reason, the Jaguars announced. Tight end Clay Harbor went down with an ankle injury early in the second half.
A surprise player who looks amazing: Amazing wouldn’t be the right word, but tight end Nic Jacobs showed up in the passing game with two catches for 39 yards. He’s primarily a blocker but with Julius Thomas (hand) out, he’s getting more chances as a receiver. He’s not going to replace Harbor or Marcedes Lewis in that respect, but it was a nice showing for the second-year player.
Rookie Watch: Yeldon talked earlier in the week about being eager to experience the NFL speed for the first time. He got an up-close look at it against Detroit. Even without defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Ezekiel Ansah the Lions swarmed all over Yeldon and limited him to 10 yards on eight attempts. He missed several holes that could have led to big runs and was unable to take advantage of his size (6-foot-1, 226 pounds) at the goal line. He barely got the ball across the goal line before being hammered and fumbling on his touchdown run. Rashad Greene had three receptions for 25 yards but two of those catches converted third downs, including a 17-yard catch on third-and-6 from the Detroit 21. The Jaguars scored their first touchdown two plays later.
When it was starters vs. starters The Jaguars looked...: Pretty darn good on offense, especially on third down. The Jaguars were 29th in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage (31.9 percent) but the first-team offense converted 10 of 12 third downs against the Lions, including the first seven. The running game wasn’t as effective this week against a Lions defensive front that was missing four of its top players and that’s concerning, especially if it turns out Linder has to miss significant time. Bortles looks like a different quarterback this season -- more composed and comfortable and in command of the offense -- and there’s optimism that once Thomas returns the offense will be more than just productive.
One reason to freak out: If Branch is out for any length of time the Jaguars are in bad shape when it comes to edge-rushers. Clemons would be the only proven rusher on the roster and his top backup, with Branch out, would be Chris Smith. He’s got some promise (three sacks in seven games as a rookie last season) but the Jaguars need someone more proven. Ryan Davis can take snaps at the Leo spot, but he’s better as an interior rusher. Outside linebacker Dan Skuta was going to get reps there, too, but he can’t play there full time. If Branch is out for any length of time the Jaguars may have to mine the waiver wire or look to any unsigned free agents for help.
Lewis shows up: Marcedes Lewis had only one catch for 7 yards in the first two preseason games but had three receptions for 51 yards against the Lions. One had a 24-yard catch-and-run on a crossing pattern on third-and-1.
No pressure: The Jaguars’ pass rush wasn’t effective in the first two preseason games, even with Branch in the lineup (three sacks), and it wasn’t any better against the Lions. The Jaguars didn’t sack Matthew Stafford or Dan Orlovsky.