Now that's what I call improvement.
The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the New Orleans 27-24 on August 17. That is utterly irrelevant.
Here's what does matter from the Jaguars' second preseason game.
Blaine Gabbert Does His Job Very Well
After watching Gabbert play this week, I'm more mystified than ever at why people praised him last week.
Gabbert's performance was vastly superior in Week 2.
What was most impressive about Gabbert's performance is that he was able to clearly execute Mike Mularkey's vision for the offense. Within the narrow confines Mularky set for him, Gabbert was flawless.
His numbers were strong, but they don't tell the story of what Gabbert was asked to do. He was 13-of-16 for 112 and two scores. What's telling is that despite Gabbert's outstanding completion percentage (something he was not capable of last year) his yards per attempt was still just 7.0.
Of course, seven yards a pass is basically the league average, and that's a major win for the Jags.
Mularkey has managed to simplify the offense for Gabbert so that he rarely if ever has to look more than 10 yards downfield. Against the Saints, Gabbert attempted a pass more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage just twice (three times counting a dubious pass interference call against New Orleans). He was 1-of-2 on those throws. Half of his passes traveled fewer than five yards past the line.
The genius of Mularky is finding something Gabbert can do well, and forcing him to stick to it. While his completion percentage was elite against the Saints, Gabbert wasn't spectacular. Spectacular isn't what the Jaguars need, however. The rest of the roster is so strong that all they need is average play from the quarterback and they'll win more often than not.
The Saints may be one of the worst defenses in football, but the Jaguars got better than average play out of Gabbert. On the few times he was asked to throw downfield, he often checked down and took a a short gain rather than pounding the ball and taking a bad sack.
If that can translate to the regular season, Jacksonville will surprise a lot of people.
Rashad Jennings Is the Real Offensive Star
Jennings isn't a popular person in Maurice Jones-Drew's house. He continued his strong camp and preseason with a dominant performance against the Saints.
He's shifty and powerful at the same time. If his health can hold up over the course of a long season, there's every reason to believe he could be a 1,300-yard rusher.
Of course, Montell Owens had a nice day too. Together the two backs piled up 93 yards on just 17 carries. Coupled with the fact that Gabbert took no sacks, perhaps I should have said the offensive line was the real star.
In truth, while the blocking was strong, Jennings did more than just run through big holes. He has something explosive about him. He looks dangerous with the ball and that's opening up time for the offense to work in the passing game.
Teams are going to have to respect the Jaguars running attack regardless of whether the NFL rushing champ returns or not.
Justin Blackmon Is Exactly What Jacksonville Needs
I've already detailed how the Jaguars rarely ask Gabbert to throw downfield. That's what makes Blackmon such a perfect fit for this offense.
On his first NFL touchdown, he showed the ability to take a short pass, break tackles and find the end zone. That's exactly what the Jaguars need.
Blackmon isn't a burner or a classic deep threat. What he is, is a receiver with elite ball skills and the ability to take a short pass and bust it for big yards.
When you take a limited quarterback with accuracy issues and you give him a weapon like Blackmon, it's amazing how much better he'll look.
The Defense was Good Enough
The defense held Drew Brees to 10 points in just under a half. That's acceptable, but not outstanding.
The truth is that while it's fun to beat New Orleans at home, this isn't a game Jacksonville wins in the regular season.
Judging any defense by what they do against Brees at home isn't exactly fair, but they gave up more than 10 yards a pass. Over the course of an entire game, that's going to translate to 30-plus points.
Jeremy Mincey's sack/fumble on Brees was a highlight, but the rest of the performance was lackluster.