The Jacksonville Jaguars are 2-1 after the bye. They completely shut down an effective Houston Texans offense last week, holding Andre Johnson to two catches for 36 yards and once again stopping the run, holding Ben Tate and Dennis Johnson below 100 yards rushing.
It looks like the concepts that Bradley has been preaching to this young team are finally taking effect as the young Jaguars have begun to gel over the last 3 weeks. Game after game, they have collectively stopped the run, and have scored quick, opening drive touchdowns. For the real Jaguars fans who are still watching the season, who had realistic expectations, and who understood that playoffs are way, way down the road, this is the most important time of year for the Jags. Stop that silly talk of losing for draft position. This team is just hitting its stride, and is granted a huge opportunity down the stretch to become a hot team heading into the 2014 season.
The rest of the schedule is nothing like the first half of the year where the Jaguars played the likes of Denver, Kansas City, Seattle, San Diego, and San Francisco. They now get Cleveland, Buffalo, and division rivals Tennessee, Houston, and Indianapolis again, two of which they’ve already beaten. It all starts with Cleveland this Sunday.
This young secondary, which is starting three rookies, has faced some steep competition this year: Demaryius Thomas, Dwayne Bowe, Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald. This week it doesn’t get any easier as they handle one of the hottest wide receivers in the league, Josh Gordon. Gordon absolutely torched Ike Taylor and the Pittsburgh Steelers last week to the tune of 14 catches for 237 yards and a TD. The week before that he squared off against the Bengals’ staunch defense and scorched them too with 5 grabs for 125 yards and a TD. On the year Gordon has 54 receptions for 988 yards and 5 TDs. He’s a big play receiver who the Jaguars will have to constantly account for at all times.
Jordan Cameron started off the season smoking hot. Over the first four games, he accumulated 360 yards and 5 TDs. Since then, however, over the last 7 weeks he’s only racked up 301 yards and one TD. The reason? When Hoyer the Destroyer was under center, he developed a nice rapport with Cameron. Even if there’s no Hoyer this Sunday, Cameron is still a matchup nightmare, and can still present a number of problems for a defense. He’s a big, athletic, tight end who is too big for a corner, but too fast for a linebacker. Thankfully, Poz is fully healthy. Our linebackers and safeties better be ready for this guy.
Two weeks ago when Cecil Shorts III squared off against Patrick Peterson, Peterson held Shorts to 22 yards, much to Shorts’ dismay. This week, it doesn’t get any easier as Joe Haden will be on Jacksonville’s top receiving threat. Haden has completely shut down some of the league’s best receivers, including Calvin Johnson who had a mere 3 catches for 25 yards. Haden is hands down a shut down corner who completely takes his side of the field off the grid. He has 44 tackles and 3 interceptions on the year, and is one of the sole reason’s for Cleveland’s 4th ranked defense.
So. With all this artillery, why oh why am I so optimistic the Jaguars can march into Cleveland and build on the momentum of last week’s win? Brandon Weeden, that’s why. Weeden isn’t Brian Hoyer. Weeden isn’t even Jason Campbell. Brandon Weeden was selected in the first round of last year’s draft by the old regime. Michael Lombardi, Cleveland’s new GM and avid Blaine Gabbert hater (with good reason), wasn’t very high on last year’s two first rounders. He shipped one off to Indy, and the other has pretty much been neutered. Weeden has thrown for 6 TDs against 7 interceptions and is the owner of a 23.9 QBR on the year. If Jacksonville’s defense can play Weeden the way they played Case Keenum, they can stay in this game and hopefully pull out another gritty road win.
A road win would set up Jacksonville for a national primetime showdown with division rival Houston on Thursday Night Football. Heading into that game on a 2 game win streak would set Jacksonville up for a prime opportunity to show the world just how much improvement they’ve made since last year, and that in itself is way more exciting than losing for draft position.
-David R. Johns