Jaguars vs. Vikings Take Two: A Deeper Look at Week 1
Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
My initial recap always requires a second look at the tape, because when there are four AFC South games to cover at once, I can't give my full attention to any one of them.
After rewatching the Jacksonville's 26-23 overtime loss to Minnesota, here's what I took away.
The game-day plots don't always match what the tape shows. In this case, it's hard to argue with "How Did That Just Happen?" as the primary plot line.
For most of the the game, it looked like the Jaguars were the better team. They dominated the first half of play, yet, somehow, wound up behind the Vikings in the fourth quarter.
Most of that was caused by the team stalling out three different times in the red zone. The Jags simply can't afford to give up scoring chances, and that's just what happened.
Minnesota made two enormous gaffes in the final two minutes, or the Jaguars would never have been in position to win. The inexcusable penalty when trying to run out the clock was what kept the Jaguars alive, and the coverage on Cecil Shorts would-be, game-winning touchdown was terrible.
The Jaguars did have a chance to win and let it slip away.
Blaine Gabbert played well, but I don't know that the Jags can win with the offense as it is designed. Once again, Gabbert rarely looked long and frequently checked down.
Even with the 39-yard touchdown pass, his YPA was just 6.7 for the game. Without that long throw, it was down under six.
Who was the hero of the game?
Gabbert is clearly transformed, and no longer looks like a disaster, but the Jaguars are going to have to push the ball downfield more often if they hope to win games. Gabbert still left plays on the field, like the inexcusable overthrow of Justin Blackmon near the goal line.
He's still spraying the ball, as he hit less than 59 percent of his passes despite a low YPA figure. On plays when he did look long, it did not seem like he had receivers open, but we'll have to wait for the coach's tape to verify that.
Gabbert deserves so much praise for how far he's come, but he's still got a ways to go before the Jaguars can win consistently with him.
The biggest star was Cecil Shorts who emerged as a viable third wideout. His excellent play on the late touchdown showed good body control downfield. If he can be a reliable target, the Jaguars offense will be that much better for it.
It's hard to pick out what exactly went wrong defensively for Jacksonville. The secondary gave up 10 yards a pass to Christian Ponder, so the blame has to fall there.
There were several balls batted up into the air that weren't secured by Jaguars. A play on any one of them could have turned a loss into a win.
In fairness, the defensive front four didn't generate enough push on most plays. Andre Branch was manhandled by Matt Kalil more often than not and didn't seem to get any heat on Ponder.
I'd criticize the run defense, but honestly, Adrian Peterson looked superhuman. I don't know that a lesser back would have had the same success against Jacksonville. As they say, "The other guys are on scholarship too!"
In this case, I think we'd all offer a scholarship to Peterson.
In every game, there's a play seems to turn the tide. In this one, the Jaguars had the ball on the Minnesota 8-yard line following a Ponder fumble.
On 3rd-and-2, Gabbert threw an incomplete to Maurice Jones-Drew, bringing up fourth down and a field-goal attempt.
Gabbert back-pedaled, never set his feet, felt pressure and dumped the ball off wildly. The Jaguars converted a field goal to cut the Vikings lead to 14-12, but it felt like a massive missed opportunity.
It doesn't matter that the pass was incomplete. What was troubling on the play was Gabbert's poor footwork. Bad feet make for bad throws.
Mike Mularkey had two questionable choices. First, he took a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line early in the game. That's rarely the right call.
Even if Jacksonville had failed to score, the Vikings would have been penned deep.
Second, his decision to punt inside of two minutes to play on 4th-and-10 was the wrong decision.
It worked out for the Jaguars, thanks to a terrible illegal cut penalty that essentially gave them an extra timeout. Had the Jaguars not gotten a gift from the Vikings, they would have received the ball at their own 24 with no timeouts and :38 to play in the game.
The odds of converting 4th-and-10 are much better than that. The decision paid off this time, but it took an extremely unlikely break to get there.
Keep an Eye On
Watch Jones-Drew going forward. He's still working into the offense, but he ran hard and looked like he has something to prove. I thought he played well against Minnesota and certainly would have been credited as a hero if they had pulled the game out.
He got the bulk of the carries and has to be considered the favorite to start Week 2. Rashad Jennings will still get some touches, but Jones-Drew is still the lead back.
The special teams play was shaky at best. There were two muffed punts, some shoddy tackling on returns and a blocked extra point. The extra point didn't end up hurting, however, as the Jags picked up a two-point conversion that offset it. Had the kick been good, they simply would have kicked an extra point on the second touchdown.
Special teams didn't cost the Jaguars the game, but it's something to watch in Week 2.
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