Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Chicago Bears: Report Card Grades for Each Jaguars Unit
Overall, the team performed very well. The first and second teams were near dominant against the Bears, outscoring them 19-7 before the third team took the field.
The Jaguars’ offense performed well and utilized a fast-paced no-huddle offense at times. They were able to carve up the Bears’ defense, totaling 393 yards—301 of which were through the air en route to one touchdown pass. Quarterbacks Chad Henne and Blake Bortles both looked strong and in control of the offense when they were on the field.
While the passing game was crisp against the Bears, the Jaguars struggled to move the ball on the ground. Despite having starting running back Toby Gerhart back, the Jaguars managed only 3.3 yards per carry on 28 carries. For an offense that will rely on balance and ball control, this number is alarming.
On defense, the team picked up where it left off last week—in great form. The first-team defense was able to contain Matt Forte from gaining any positive yardage despite four carries. Moreover, the defense was playing as fast as I’ve ever seen. The Jaguars defense is far from perfect, but the speed and intensity they play with makes them extremely dangerous to opposing offenses.
Eventually, the Bears were able to get their offense going and were able to expose the Jaguars’ second-team defense. Jay Cutler was able to complete a four-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Marshall—the lone blemish on a relatively successful day for the first- and second-team defenses.
Despite the loss, as the game grew to a conclusion it was hard to not be excited about this Jaguars team. With so many young players developing into impact players and a franchise-caliber rookie quarterback displaying his talent, things are definitely looking up for the Jaguars.
Now, that’s not to say there isn’t room to grow. Let’s check out which players need to step up for the Jaguars in my post-game grades.
The quarterbacks were likely the most buzzworthy group of the night.
After a tough outing in Week 1 when Chad Henne was unable to find his groove, Henne came out firing. He looked incredibly calm and confident in the pocket, completing 12 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
What was most impressive about Henne was his ability to avoid pressure and deliver accurate passes on the run. He was like a different player in this game, making plays with his feet and challenging defenses with the deep ball.
Henne went from “game manager” to “playmaker” in one night.
Just when things couldn’t seem to get more exciting, enter Blake Bortles.
Once again Bortles was lights out, completing 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards. After a rough first attempt (a pass that was low and behind receiver Mike Brown), Bortles was able to connect on multiple big plays, which led to scores on two drives.
The best attribute about Bortles is his ability to stand tall in the pocket. He is incredibly poised for a rookie who is being rushed by massive athletes. Yet, time and time again he stands in the pocket and delivers beautifully placed throws. If it weren’t for a few drops, Bortles would have easily had a touchdown and about 30 extra yards.
The only downside of the group was Stephen Morris. The undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami struggled to make routine throws, and eventually threw the game-deciding interception.
It was a relatively mediocre night for a running back group that received a lot of opportunities to shine.
With the return of Toby Gerhart, there was a hope that the Jaguars would be able to move the ball with a little bit more efficiency. Although the coaching staff seemed committed to a balanced offensive approach, the rushing attack was only able to muster 92 yards on 28 carries.
The impact of Gerhart was felt immediately as the Jaguars gave the back six carries in the first two series. At times Gerhart looked like the tough runner you expected him to be, stiff-arming tacklers and breaking tackles. However, on a few occasions he was stopped too easily for a loss—something that will have to improve if the Jaguars are going to have a chance this season.
The most exciting player in this group was Denard Robinson, who flashed his speed on his way to 34 yards in just six carries. Robinson is finally settling into a defined role in the offense and has flashed in the preseason. With more performances like this, he could carve out a role in this offense.
Of the rest of the backs, rookie Storm Johnson seems to be a player who can develop into an all-purpose back. He is explosive through the gap and is shifty in open space. Additionally, he’s a valuable receiver out of the backfield. His night concluded with 14 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards.
The most disappointing player of the night was Jordan Todman. The veteran running back was expected to play a big role this year, but after generating only 2.3 yards per carry I’m having my doubts.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The one thing you have to account for here is injury. The team was without Cecil Shorts, Allen Robinson and Clay Harbor—key players with the first-team offense. That being said, the starting receivers Thursday night were Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns, both rookies.
All things considered, this group really played well.
Lee rebounded from a Week 1 performance in which he received criticism from his coaches. Lee looked smooth in his routes and confident catching the ball. Lee caught four passes for 27 yards and a touchdown despite being matched up against a premier cornerback in Charles Tillman.
Hurns was another pleasant surprise, racking up 74 yards on four grabs. Hurns runs really great routes and has deceiving speed. At first I thought he was just an extra camp body, but he’s proving to be extremely valuable.
Overall, this group really exceeded expectations. Marcedes Lewis and Mike Brown were two other strong performers who deserve some recognition. The Jaguars will really rely on Lewis this year, so it’s good to see he’s regaining his midseason form.
The offensive line remains one of the most concerning groups on this team. Last week, center Mike Brewster launched two snaps over Chad Henne’s head, and the rest of the offensive line allowed the quarterbacks to be under duress.
This week was a little better but there are still concerns.
Again, Brewster seemed overmatched against defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea, which resulted in a Henne sack. Eventually, rookie Luke Bowanko, who looked very good in his limited snaps, replaced Brewster and solidified the offensive line.
The most encouragement came from rookie Brandon Linder and second-year left tackle Luke Joeckel. I thought Joeckel looked fantastic against an elite pass-rusher in Jared Allen. While I think Joeckel could be more willing as a run-blocker, I was encouraged to see him with a solid game.
On the other side, I thought Linder was a rock. Linder is an athletic guard who is an extremely effective blocker—an attribute that was apparent Thursday night.
An overhauled defensive line has brought a lot of intensity to the Jaguars’ defense, an intensity that was on display Thursday night.
On the first snap of the game, defensive end Chris Clemons was able to pressure Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to force an incomplete pass.
Overall, the Jaguars defensive line has been phenomenal. They consistently generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the addition of Red Bryant has helped stabilize their run defense, which is a big reason why Matt Forte was unable to find any yardage on the ground.
The biggest factor that makes this unit so strong is their incredible depth. When you’re able to have Andre Branch and Tyson Alualu on your second-team defense, you’re probably doing something right. Add in rookie Chris Smith, who has consistently been able to generate pressure, and you have a really great mix of players.
While the defensive line registered only one sack, they were much more disruptive. This unit is the key to the defense's success. Based on how the team is playing, this unit is very good.
Without their leader, Paul Posluszny (injury), this linebacker group was forced to step up.
The biggest contributor continues to be rookie Telvin Smith. Despite being limited on the stat sheet, Smith is constantly involved in plays. The biggest play that Smith made was a tipped pass that ended up turning into an interception. This is the second week that Smith has made a big play, and he’s starting to really impress.
One of the biggest deficiencies of this group is pass coverage. The Bears were continually able to exploit the middle of the defense in zone coverage and when running the ball. These linebackers need to be more disciplined in their coverage assignments to ensure they aren’t giving up too much yardage.
With the exception of Smith, this unit is lacking players who step up. While some of the third-team guys (J.T. Thomas) made some plays, as a whole the linebacker group is struggling.
This secondary is another young, developing unit. Despite that, they’ve played quite well over the last two weeks.
Headlined by second-year players Dwayne Gratz, Demetrius McCray and Johnathan Cyprien, this unit is growing into a real force.
Gratz is proving to be one heck of a cornerback. Matched up against Brandon Marshall, Gratz was physical at the line of scrimmage and disruptive battling for balls. Marshall’s only reception came when Gratz wasn’t defending him, a touchdown catch against Will Blackmon.
All in all, this group kept the Bears to only 233 passing yards and forced an interception. They’re all involved in run support and are constantly leading this team in tackles.
It was good to see a physical team that crashed on the ball. This group is layered with playmakers and could prove to be very tough.
In short, Josh Scobee is as close to automatic as possible. Scobee completed all three field-goal attempts at distances of 49, 25 and 43 yards. Additionally, backup kicker/punter Kasey Redfern connected on his only attempt of 29 yards.
As for the Jaguars’ coverage units, the team was able to force a turnover and keep the Bears at a respectable kick return average of 22.2 yards per return. The coverage teams were quick to the ball and kept the Bears from getting great field position—that’s all you can ask.
The coaching staff came out with a great game plan Thursday night. The offense clearly wanted to execute a fast-paced balanced offense that kept the team unpredictable. On defense, they wanted to pressure the passer and play aggressive.
Both plans were successful.
The thing about the Jaguars and Gus Bradley is that they’re not always going to be great. However, they’re always going to feed off Bradley’s intensity and drive. This fiery, passionate team we’re seeing on the field is a product of Bradley’s contagious personality.
It’s hard to imagine a better coaching staff in the league. In two games, the Jaguars have looked very strong in games they could have squandered. Even more impressive is that they’re doing so while managing a potential quarterback controversy brilliantly.
|Wide Receiver/Tight End||B|
Overall, I believe this team took a big step toward a competitive future. The fact that they are competing so well with their first and second teams against quality opponents while having so many young developmental players is nothing short of astounding.
If the Jaguars can get their running game going on offense and tighten up their linebacker group on defense, this could be a team that surprises.
Nevertheless, we saw what the Jaguars were capable of Thursday night. Sure, they have room to improve but it’s exciting to see the fruits of the front office's labor.
Cumulative Grade: B