This week's Jaguars vs. Rams matchup promised to be sloppy and full of mistakes, and both teams lived up to that promise. The Jaguars had trouble stopping the Rams offense but only when Sam Bradford wasn't throwing the ball over his receivers' heads or at their feet.
St. Louis' defense didn't have much success stopping the Jacksonville offense, but Blaine Gabbert did his best to hand the Rams the ball at every opportunity. The Rams took advantage of three Jacksonville turnovers and wound up pulling off a 34-20 victory at home against the Jaguars, but it was far from an impressive performance.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, should feel better about their Week 5 performance than any of the previous four, but it still has plenty of issues to sort out. The offense had more success against St. Louis than any previous Jaguars opponent, but the defense continued to allow yards by the boatload and wasn't able to get off the field when it really needed to.
What did we learn about the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 5 of the 2013 season? Well...
After sitting on the sideline watching the first four games of the 2013 season, Justin Blackmon made his presence felt in a major way. His first target came on a busted coverage by St. Louis that left him wide open down the right side. Blackmon outran the Rams to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown, putting the Jaguars up 7-0 and giving them their first touchdown of the 2013 season in the first quarter.
Blackmon continued to make his presence felt, racking up a total of five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, and forced the Rams to account for both him and Cecil Shorts instead of rolling all their coverage in Shorts' direction. Justin was targeted nine times and was a major part of the game plan.
Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon combined to account for a total of 10 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns, while all other Jaguars pass-catchers put up a combined six catches for 60 yards. Blackmon's presence in the lineup clearly makes the Jaguars offense more dangerous.
Entering Week 5, Jacksonville had allowed a league-high 165 yards per game on the ground, and against the Rams they didn't reverse the trend at all. St. Louis, which entered the game last in the NFL with an average of 47.2 yards rushing per game, bullied the Jaguars defense for 143 yards on the ground on 36 carries.
St. Louis handed the keys to their running back-by-committee attack to newly appointed starter Zac Stacy and Jacksonville native Daryl Richardson, and they did not disappoint. Stacy racked up 78 yards on 14 carries for an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and Richardson received 13 carries and picked up 48 yards.
The Jaguars weren't able to get the Rams off the field on third down, allowing St. Louis to convert eight of 19 third downs for a 42 percent conversion rate. Jacksonville lost the time of possession battle by a huge margin (35:19 to 24:41), and the Rams' ability to move the sticks on the ground was a big part of that success.
It's already hard enough for a bad team like the Jaguars to win a football game, but it becomes next to impossible when they turn the ball over three times. Jacksonville fumbled the ball three times and lost one, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw two interceptions.
One Gabbert interception was picked off at the St. Louis 18-yard line by Rams safety Matt Giordano, who weaved between Jaguars offensive players and took it all the way to the end zone. The other Gabbert interception occurred after Jaguars safety Chris Prosinski blocked a Rams punt, giving the Jaguars possession at the St. Louis 25. Gabbert took the offense to the Rams' 4-yard line, but linebacker James Laurinaitis stepped in front of a pass intended for Justin Blackmon on fourth down, turning what was fantastic starting field position into a zero-point drive.
If the Jaguars want to win any games this season, they have to limit the turnovers. Neither their offense or their defense are good enough to keep them in the game if they continue to gift the ball to the other team.
With 3:50 left in the first quarter, the Jaguars ran Maurice Jones-Drew off left tackle for a gain of one yard. It seemed like a fairly routine play, but when the dust settled, Jaguars left tackle Luke Joeckel remained on the ground.
Replay showed Joeckel's leg was rolled onto by Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford, who made the tackle on Jones-Drew. It initially appeared to be a knee injury given the way Joeckel crumpled to the ground after the play.
After the game, Gus Bradley was asked about Joeckel's status going forward, and the team's official Twitter account relayed the news to followers:
Luke Joeckel has a high ankle fracture and is out for the season.— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) October 6, 2013
In the span of one week, the Jaguars will have gone from bookends of Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel to the inexperienced pairing of Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor. What was already a difficult task for the Jaguars offense just got a whole lot tougher.
There wasn't a ton of space in which to run, and the final stat line doesn't really reflect it, but Maurice Jones-Drew ran with the most burst he's run with all season. MJD flew through holes (when they were there), ran through tackles and lowered his head at the end of his runs.
Jones-Drew ended with a line of 17 carries for 70 yards and two catches for 16 yards, but the numbers definitely don't say it all. He looked fully healthy and more explosive than he has since before his foot injury last season.
The NFL's trade deadline is October 29, and the Jaguars seem likely to move more veteran players after sending starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to the Ravens for fourth- and fifth-round picks in next year's draft. However, general manager Dave Caldwell has specifically said he is not shopping Jones-Drew but shopping and listening to offers are completely different from each other.
Jones-Drew made himself more desirable with his performance against the Rams, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him moved for a fifth- or sixth-round pick in the coming weeks. There are definitely teams that could use a back of his caliber, and a late-round pick isn't much to give up for what could be a sizable upgrade at the running back position.
Sen'Derrick Marks has been the Jaguars' best defensive lineman through five weeks, and his numbers in the box score this week backed that statement up. He was credited with four tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and two passes defensed, and generally created havoc for the Rams' interior line.
Marks has consistently been the quickest Jaguars defender off the snap this season. He's shown quickness off the ball and strength to overpower offensive linemen. Marks had zero sacks or passes defensed entering this week's game, but he's been a force almost every week.
Signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract this year, Marks is a candidate to be extended by general manager Dave Caldwell. The Jaguars would do well to keep Marks around; he's earned a spot in the team's future plans.
Sometimes the best plays are plays that don't show up in the box score. The best play of Jacksonville's Week 5 matchup against the Rams was one of those.
The Rams' first drive was a three-and-out that resulted in a punt from their own 32-yard line. Punter Johnny Hekker boomed a kick to the Jacksonville 12, and Sanders had enough room to return the kick.
Sanders took the punt and headed to his left. He slashed through the Rams' coverage unit and headed for the sideline. LaRoy Reynolds cleared his path with a massive block on a Rams defender, and Sanders had clear sailing down the left sideline. He turned on the jets and outraced a couple of Rams to the end zone for an 88-yard punt return touchdown.
Sadly, there was a flag on the play. The call was an illegal block in the back, and the culprit was...Reynolds. Upon viewing the replay, Reynolds wasn't anywhere near the defender's back; it was simply a fantastic block and a missed call. The punt return was brought all the way back to the Jacksonville 7-yard line.
Ace Sanders' punt return that didn't officially happen was a great sign of things to come. With Sanders returning punts, the Jaguars have a weapon other teams will have to account for. Now if only the defense could force more punts...
The Jaguars' Week 5 matchup with the Rams seemed like the most winnable game left on their schedule. Alas, a win was not in the cards for Jacksonville.
The Jaguars still have five divisional games remaining, but the Colts and Titans are both playing extremely well, and the Texans are better than they've played through four weeks. Jacksonville still has road matchups with Denver, which looks like an unstoppable football machine, and Cleveland, which has shown a stifling defense and impressive playmakers on offense so far. The Jaguars also have a home game against San Francisco that will take place in London, and the 49ers are one of the league's elite teams as well.
Those eight games look extremely tough, and the Chargers come to town in two weeks. Quarterback Philip Rivers is playing better than he has in years in head coach Mike McCoy's West Coast offense, and though San Diego's defense hasn't played well to date, the Jaguars don't really stand a chance in an offensive shootout.
The Cardinals have struggled on both sides of the ball but still have Larry Fitzgerald and an aggressive defense. It won't be an easy matchup.
Buffalo is full of playmakers such as rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, wide receiver Stevie Johnson and an opportunistic defense led by Defensive Rookie of the Year front-runner Kiko Alonso. This also promises to be a tough game for Jacksonville.
I can't see the Jaguars winning more than three games in 2013, and the clock is ticking on their chances of even winning that many. They will likely be 0-8 entering their Week 9 bye with Denver, San Diego and San Francisco next on the schedule, and the going doesn't get much easier in the second half of the season.
Hopefully Jacksonville can turn it around and "get better" over their next 11 games, but I'm not optimistic. It's going to be difficult for the Jaguars to win more than two games this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if their final win total was one...or even zero.