The Jacksonville Jaguars may be a lot better than their 2-5 record if their performance against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football is any indication, but that doesn't really matter as far as most of America is concerned.
The Jags played inspired football against Baltimore to secure their second win of 2011, but it was still U-G-L-Y.
The learning curve for rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert hasn't been the accommodating, gentle slope enjoyed by fellow rookie phenom Cam Newton. Instead, it's been the equivalent of a sheer rock-face and Jacksonville's season has reflected that fact despite a significantly upgraded defense.
That said, nobody in the AFC South is running away with the division as both the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans already have three losses while the Indianapolis Colts have lost seven straight contests, as well as their collective pulse.
In other words, the Jaguars are right back in playoff contention with a win against Houston. With these five halftime adjustments, Jacksonville can do just that:
1. Lean on Maurice Jones-Drew
Some might say the Jaguars are already doing this, but for those quibblers, just add the word 'more' to the bolded script.
The Jags' QB situation is a mess until Gabbert gets a feel for the NFL game. Toss in the underwhelming stable of receivers and the rib injury Blaine sustained in the first quarter, and you've got the perfect recipe for as large a serving of MJD as is possible without both of Pocket Hercules' knees disintegrating on the gridiron.
2. Utilize Blaine Gabbert's Legs
Yes, Gabbert got dinged up on one of his jaunts down the field after getting flushed from the friendly confines of the pocket. So what? Call it another lesson learned by the youngster as his awkward slide can share some of the blame for that dent.
Regardless, the Texans are loading up on the run to stop MJD and still aren't having any trouble holding the passing game in check.
As a result, Blaine is looking at some wide expanses of green when he drops back to pass. Those are free yards if the QB and coaching staff wants to take them.
3. Get Control of the Texans' Ground Game
The Houston rushing attack has been surprisingly effective considering the Jags are fresh off a suffocating performance against the Ravens' mighty-mite Ray Rice. Obviously, not all offensive lines are created equally, but I'd wager Jacksonville still has the chops to contain Houston running backs Adrian Foster and Ben Tate.
Even more so when you consider the Texans are missing their all-world wide receiver, Andre Johnson.
4. Stretch the Field with Blaine Gabbert's Arm
Yes, I shuddered a bit when I typed that sentence and I'm not even a Jags' fan. Look, Blaine hasn't inspired the utmost confidence with his performances to date, but what does Jacksonville have to lose?
Houston is just packing in the defensive bodies to defend against the run and short dump-offs.
Even if Gabbert can't connect, the threat of a downfield passing game can only help (assuming he doesn't throw INTs in mass quantities).
5. Ratchet up the Defensive Pressure
It may be that the Texans' offensive line is just better than Jacksonville's defensive front, but that's not an acceptable excuse if you're in the Jags' locker room. This is the NFL where you've got to be better than your opponent or find a way to pretend.
Either way, the Jaguars need to put Texans' QB Matt Schaub on his back more often—whether by sending more men, blitzing more effectively or whatever. Otherwise, it's just a matter of time before Schaub connects for that big play.