The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback has dropped back 63 times in two wins this season and hasn’t been hit or sacked.
The Titans' ability to maintain the pressure at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday could be a big factor in their chances to pull what would be regarded as an upset.
“I think we’re doing good, to be ranked among the top teams in the NFL,” Titans outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said.
Jurrell Casey spoke of the need to get Dalton off his first read, which will force him to hold the ball a beat longer.
If Dalton is in that quick rhythm, the Titans need to bat down some balls at the line. End Ropati Pitoitua has two batted balls this season, outside linebacker Derrick Morgan has two (one of which was in coverage) and Wimbley has one.
Nose tackle Sammie Hill said getting a hand on a pass at the line qualifies as a big play.
“You’ve just got to come off the ball real tough and get your hands up,” Hill said. “We know he throws the ball real quick. So our biggest thing is when we know that’s a part of their game, we’ve got to work to get the push and then get our hands up so we can get batted balls.
“For us, batted balls are just as good as hit and sacks, too.”
The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran writes that the Jaguars could potentially start six rookies on offense in Sunday's home opener against Indianapolis: center Luke Bowanko, right guard Brandon Linder, tight end Marcel Jensen, and receivers Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
O'Halloran also writes that quarterback Chad Henne knows what he has to do to quiet the calls for rookie Blake Bortles: win.
Here's an interesting read on the jet sweep, a play that seems to be taking the NFL by storm.
Safety Johnathan Cyprien talks to Jaguars.com about returning from his concussion and getting the defense back on track.
In case you missed it, here's my story on the fact that Henne's job apparently was not in jeopardy this week.
You figured the Colts were acquiring a running back after Vick Ballard was recently lost for the season with a torn ACL. But it was anybody’s guess who that player would be.
Then at 6:19 p.m. -- 57 minutes and three tweets after his initial one -- the Colts announced that they had acquired Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns for a first-round pick.
OMG...the Earth is SHAKING!!!!! Shock and AWE is coming VERY SOON!!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Colts Nation...are you sitting DOWN!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Announcement coming SOON!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
This day of MONSTER TRADE,The Tidal Wave Of Deal making...Shocks the system of "..Didn't see THIS ONE COMING!!!!!!" Grig's Rollin' Dice!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Building a MONSTER for the BEST fans in the WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 19, 2013
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had pulled off the biggest trade of the 2013 season.
You immediately thought that the Colts had just acquired their running back of the future to go with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
The No. 1 overall pick and the No. 3 overall pick of the 2012 draft teamed together for years to come. They'd go hand-in-hand. They were the perfect match.
That’s what you thought, at least.
The trade has been anything but perfect for the Colts. You can argue that the Browns are winning the trade so far. The Colts gave up a first-round pick that they could have used to try and fix a hole on their roster. The Browns used Indianapolis’ No. 26 pick and moved up to No. 22, where they selected quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel and LeBron James’ return to Cleveland have made that city a focal point in the NFL and NBA again, even if Johnny Football is on the sideline waiting his turn to be the team’s starting quarterback.
They got a running back who was uncomfortable his entire first season in Indianapolis. He was indecisive with his running and he eventually lost his starting job to Donald Brown. Richardson averaged only 2.9 yards a carry last season.
Grigson did not respond to a message seeking comment for the story, but he said several times during the offseason that he would do the trade again if the opportunity presented itself. He referred to Richardson as their 2014 first-round draft pick, while also not shying away from the expectations he has for Richardson this season.
"Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability," Grigson said in training camp. "We’re all accountable here. ... He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53."
Richardson has been a different player after having an offseason to learn the playbook. He’s running with more force and he has gotten better at picking which holes to run through. If not for a fumble that later cost the Colts seven points, Richardson would have been one of the positive storylines against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday -- he rushed for 79 yards, his highest total since joining the team, and he’s averaging 3.7 yards a carry through the first two games.
Richardson may never live up to the expectations of being the No. 3 overall pick. The Colts would simply be happy if he at least played like he was worth the No. 26 pick they gave up in this year’s draft.
The clock is ticking as they wait for that to happen.
The Tennessee Titans had trouble stopping the run last week when Dallas running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 167 yards in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Titans at LP Field.
The Cincinnati Bengals, paced by the tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, improved to 2-0 last week in part because of the ground game. The running back duo sparked the win over the Falcons when it picked up all but six of the Bengals' 170 rushing yards and contributed in the receiving game.
All that suggests the Bengals have a slight advantage entering Sunday's Week 3 showdown in Cincinnati. Will Bernard and Hill continue feeding off each other and have another strong rushing performance against a poor rushing defense? Or will the Titans buckle up this week and make the necessary changes to prevent the Bengals from pulling a Murray on them?
ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to discuss that and more:
Kuharsky: We'll start with you, Coley. Andy Dalton has gotten spectacular protection. The Titans have eight sacks and have rushed well, with a lot of blitzes from the secondary last week. What has keyed the Bengals in this department, and are they perhaps susceptible to anything they haven’t seen yet?
Harvey: It starts with solid offensive line play. The players on the Bengals' front have done a great job holding their blocks in the first two games. Then you have to credit the Bengals' play calling. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has called plays that get Dalton to throw quickly, delivering the ball to receivers in the type of short and intermediate routes that he mostly excelled with last year. You also have to credit the receivers for running precise routes and getting quicker separation than they did at times last year. That was their key focus during the preseason. Plus, you have to acknowledge the running backs. Bernard leads the team in targets this season, and on at least three occasions he has bailed Dalton out of possible sacks by remaining close to the line of scrimmage after blocks. On each of those broken plays, Dalton yelled out Bernard's name -- "Gio!" -- before dumping off a quick screen that gained big yards.
Along those lines, Dalton deserves an enormous amount of credit for being savvy to do that and for throwing the ball away when he hasn't had adequate passing lanes this year. He is susceptible to getting sacked this week, but playing all 3-4 defenses in the preseason helped prepare the Bengals for this week's challenge.
Paul, Jake Locker and Dalton hail from the famed 2011 quarterback draft class. Locker was picked eighth overall by Tennessee, Dalton 35th by Cincinnati. And the rest has been history. It certainly appears the Dalton experiment has fared better. So what is it about Locker that continues to convince Titans brass that he’s the man for the job?
Kuharsky: Well, GM Ruston Webster wasn’t the primary decision-maker then, but he was on board with the Locker selection and obviously remains so. As he sold Ken Whisenhunt on the job, Webster also sold him on Locker having a chance to be an answer at quarterback under the tutelage of the new coach. Locker works his butt off, says all the right things and has the respect of his coaches and peers. He is capable of a game like he played in Kansas City, where he was poised even under pressure, threw a couple TD passes, distributed the ball well and led a strong effort. He’s capable, too, of a dud of a first half like he posted against the Cowboys, when he couldn’t do a thing right.
The Titans have invested a ton in the offensive line over the past two seasons, and Locker has perhaps the best stable of targets the franchise has assembled since it relocated.
They back him, but he’s not under contract beyond this year. Locker has to stay healthy and win over Whisenhunt with a good body of work or the Titans can turn toward sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger and someone else next year.
Count me among those who figured the Bengals would drop off at least a bit defensively with Mike Zimmer moving on to Minnesota. How have they dealt with his loss? And mandatory Pacman Jones question: What’s his role, how is he playing, and is he staying out of trouble?
Harvey: Let's get to the Jones question first. When he arrived in 2010 after his time in Tennessee and Dallas, part of the way he tried to reinvent himself was to drop his nickname in favor of his given name, Adam. Teammates still refer to him as Pacman at times, but people around the team have respected his desire to mostly go by Adam. In turn, he has respected them by mostly staying on the right side of the law. He had one verbal run-in last fall with a police officer that resulted in a citation. Also last fall, a judge found Jones not guilty of assaulting a woman at a Cincinnati nightclub in June 2013. The judge didn't think either party acted appropriately but noted that surveillance video showed where Jones had first been assaulted by the stranger with a beer bottle. Since then, Jones has gotten married and doubled his efforts to put his past behind him and not receive the type of notoriety that defined his days in Nashville.
As far as his role, that relates to the reason there hasn't been much drop-off following Zimmer's departure. The Bengals may have lost the beloved coordinator, but they lost only one regular starter from last year's defense in the offseason -- defensive end Michael Johnson. They remain chock-full of veteran talent with players, such as the 30-year-old Jones, who are playing the best in their careers. Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Leon Hall are playing at high levels in a defense that has the same scheme and foundation as before. It also helps that new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was already on the staff and was in charge of calling many of the blitzes that made Zimmer's scheme hum.
Although last week’s loss to Dallas was certainly deflating to a Titans defense that stopped the run well in Week 1, what was it that made Tennessee’s pass defense so effective last week against Tony Romo? How will Tennessee try to make Dalton's life as tough as Romo’s was last week?
Kuharsky: Don’t let the numbers fool you. They were "good" in pass defense against Dallas only because they were so busy getting run on that the Cowboys didn’t need to throw the ball. Dez Bryant had his way with them on the crucial drive that re-established who the better team was after the Titans closed to 16-10 in the third quarter. With top cornerback Jason McCourty out in the second half with a groin injury, Romo made the throws he needed to against Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Coty Sensabaugh and the rest of the secondary.
The Titans have rushed well, so Alex Smith and Romo didn’t have a lot of time to pick them apart. But Smith lacked weapons, and Romo lacked necessity. The Titans have limited big plays, which is a huge theme under defensive coordinator Ray Horton. If they can keep that up, the Bengals might have to earn their yards in smaller chunks.
What are the biggest differences between Jay Gruden’s offense and the one Jackson is using in his first year as coordinator with Gruden at the helm in Washington? If the Bengals are without A.J. Green, how dangerous can they still be?
Harvey: All you need to know is this: Dalton averaged 39.9 dropbacks in 2013. Through two games, he has averaged just 31.5 dropbacks. In short, the Bengals are passing less and running more. That was Jackson's charge this offseason when he said he wanted to instill a more physical, aggressive brand of offense from what the team had before. When the Bengals rushed 45 times last week with all but 10 of their carries coming inside the tackles, you could see exactly what Jackson was referring to. He wants to bruise defenses up front to open up the pass downfield.
Being without Green, as it appears they will be, will be a big loss. But considering the fact that Green was lost just six plays into Sunday's game and the Bengals still held up offensively, they should be fine passing to Mohamed Sanu, tight end Jermaine Gresham and the running backs. If it plays like it did last week, the Bengals offense can still be dangerous sans Green.
How fast is Delanie Walker, Paul? Outside of the AFC South we just see a physical, stodgy bowling ball of a tight end. But can he really be as dangerous in space as he seems to think?
Kuharsky: He was a terror last week. On his 61-yard touchdown catch, he bounced off a corner and galloped a long way, outrunning four Cowboys. Walker is a tough, smart player who was a good find. And Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end, is finding ways to use him just as Mike Munchak and his staff did in 2013. Walker can be a big matchup problem, depending on how a defense chooses to defend receivers Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Justin Hunter and backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey. Tennessee has another tight end who can do some damage as a receiver. Taylor Thompson was a defensive end in college, but he finally has caught on to what it takes to be effective on offense in the NFL at the position he started at.
The Houston Texans are 2-0, just like they were at this time last season when they lost in Week 3 and didn't win again all season en route to the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
The New York Giants are 0-2, just like they were at this time last season when they lost in Week 3 and didn't win until Week 7 en route to a 7-9 season and an offseason overhaul.
Well, someone should win in Week 3 this season because the Texans and Giants play each other at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Here are ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano with your preview of the game:
Graziano: Tania, what's going on down there? One thing we thought we knew about Ryan Fitzpatrick was that he would throw interceptions. But so far he hasn't. What's been the key for the Texans' offense in terms of taking care of the ball?
Ganguli: I had an inkling this might happen but was already taking so much heat for predicting eight wins for the formerly 2-14 Texans that I opted to wait and see. What we've seen is a quarterback making good decisions and doing exactly what the Texans have asked of him. He's had a lot of time from an offensive line that hasn't given up a sack, and he's had help from receivers who are keen to make life easy on him with their athletic ability and intelligence. He also hasn't faced very opportunistic defenses, which helps.
I had this game penciled in as a loss for the Texans before the season began, but having seen the Giants these first two weeks, I'm not so sure about that anymore. I guess I have the same question for you. What's going on up there? What do you make of this 0-2 start?
Graziano: Seems like more of the same to me, honestly. I think people in this market are starting to recalibrate their expectations of the Giants, and I don't think it will be long before the perception around the league catches up.
They are a rebuilding team in a league and market that don't allow anyone to say that out loud. Last year's team was one of the worst in the league, and its 7-9 record was deceptively good -- built on a run of backup opposing quarterbacks and some December wins against teams that had shut it down. To the Giants' credit, they didn't get fooled, and they went out in the offseason and rebuilt the roster. They signed more free agents than any other team, which isn't the way they like to operate, but they had no choice given all their holes.
The result is a work in progress. The offense was incompetent in the preseason and the opener in Detroit. It showed improvement (and some competence) in Sunday's loss to Arizona, but it's clear it takes a lot for the Giants to score and they lack any true dynamic threats in the offense. They are also weak in pass protection, especially in the middle of the line, where retirements and injuries have left them a bit short.
As I write that, I'm thinking about J.J. Watt (maybe because he's on every other commercial that comes on my TV). Should a Giants offense that's not very exciting and can't protect its quarterback reliably be panicked about that Houston defensive front, even without Jadeveon Clowney?
Ganguli: They could learn something from the way the Raiders played the Texans. Oakland planned well for Watt and kept him without a tackle Sunday, doubling him constantly. Of course, that was a week after he had one of the best games of his career (blocked extra point, fumble recovery, sack, batted pass, two tackles for loss). I would say, yes, they should panic a little. Beyond Watt, a guy to watch is outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who got a game ball after their Week 1 win, along with Watt.
The Giants should be equally concerned about what's been an opportunistic secondary in the first two weeks. Last weekend, the Texans' secondary forced two fumbles and intercepted Raiders quarterback Derek Carr once. Safety D.J. Swearinger has been part of three of the Texans' six forced turnovers. He is a character, and it's been working great for the Texans this year.
I know the Giants made a lot of changes on their defense. Do you see them ending Fitzpatrick's streak of clean games?
Graziano: Well, they're due, I'll tell you that. But it's hard to imagine they're the team to do it. The Giants are one of three teams in the league -- along with Pittsburgh and Kansas City -- that doesn't yet have a takeaway. Combine that with their five giveaways and the 0-2 record doesn't need a lot more explanation. Tom Coughlin and Antrel Rolle talked Monday about the need to force some turnovers and get some free field position. But especially considering they spent so much on the secondary so it would be the strength of their team, the inability of their defensive backs to get interceptions is one of the more puzzling aspects of their slow start.
The Giants gave up 124 rushing yards to the Cardinals on Sunday, which annoyed Coughlin as well. And they haven't been able to run the ball very well themselves. Do you imagine Houston will be able to control the game on the ground with Arian Foster?
Ganguli: Boy, that description of the Giants and turnovers sounds a lot like the Texans last season. They were never able to break out of it, and the 2-14 record reflected that.
Foster and the Texans' offensive line were dominant against the Raiders' run defense last week. Foster had 28 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown. The Texans ran the ball 46 times, a lot of it during garbage time, and threw only 19 passes. Foster already has 55 carries in the Texans' first two games, a number no running back has reached in the first two games of the season since Chester Taylor in 2006. The Texans aren't afraid to work him, and if they're facing another bad run defense, they'll be able to exploit it.
The Texans had growing pains offensively in their season opener, as it was the first time the entire starting unit played together in a game in Bill O'Brien's system. The Giants also learned a new offensive system during the offseason. Can you attribute any of the slow start to the learning curve there, and have you seen signs of improvement?
Graziano: I think that's part of it, and you definitely saw in the "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit that there were some issues with Eli Manning's footwork and his timing with his receivers. You see a zone run play every now and then where Rashad Jennings doesn't make the right cut. There's some learning still going on.
But I think the main problem, unfortunately for the Giants, is one they can't solve in-season. I don't think they have enough high-quality players at the key positions to run any offense and make it high-scoring. Victor Cruz is their best receiver, and he's a slot guy who's dropping too many balls. The interior of the offensive line is still a patchwork mess. Larry Donnell is catching passes at tight end, but he's still a liability as a blocker, which is hurting the run game. Will Beatty's performance at left tackle is inconsistent from week to week. They're just not very good, and it's hard to imagine that this 14 points per game trend is an aberration -- especially with another tough defense coming to town.
But we'll see. That's why they play the games and all that. Enjoyed the chat, Tania. Travel safe, and I'll see you Sunday.
Despite hedging a bit the day after a 41-10 loss to Washington, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday that there were no discussions among the coaches to bench Henne for rookie Blake Bortles for Sunday's home opener against Indianapolis.
"We didn't talk about putting Blake in there instead of Chad," Bradley said. "We talk about personnel every week and we talk about all the positions – ‘How's Blake doing? How's Chad doing? How do we feel about it?' -- but it was never, ‘OK, let's do this now.'"
However, there was a feeling that a change was at least being pondered on Monday when Bradley said, in part, "… and if you're asking me right now, yeah, Chad Henne is our starter." The "right now" qualifier made that Bradley's least emphatic endorsement of Henne and it provided some wiggle room for him to announce later this week that Bortles would indeed make his long-awaited debut.
"We really haven't talked about [starting Bortles]," Bradley said. "We just put all our focus on Chad and just said, ‘Hey, we feel good. He's the starter.' We just feel good about what he's done. I know that there's been some tough times and I know there's some things that it looks like there's been some struggling, but I think just the whole picture of it -- what he does, brings stability to the younger group. I think that given time that he can make some plays."
The offense has definitely been struggling. Since scoring 17 points in the first half of the season opener at Philadelphia, the Jaguars have scored just 10 points and Henne has been sacked 12 times, including a franchise-record 10 in last Sunday's loss to Washington. The run game hasn't worked (89 yards total through two games) and the offensive line has struggled even more than last season's unit did.
Rookie receivers Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson at one time or another have forgotten routes, run the wrong routes, broken off routes too soon, given up on routes, dropped passes, and even in one case run into each other. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said they were responsible for two of the 10 sacks against the Redskins, with the rest of the breakdown like this: backs (one), Henne (one), OL (six).
That's why a lot of the blame for the offense's poor performance being heaped on Henne's shoulders is incorrect, Fisch said.
"I think we're just worried about making sure that we don't blame Chad for something that maybe Chad wasn't responsible for," Fisch said.
As for Henne, he admits that he needs to make faster decisions, get the ball out quicker, be more accurate, and do a better job communicating protection changes and audibles. He also didn't mention that he's throwing to three rookie receivers, won't have tight end Marcedes Lewis for the next 6-8 weeks, and is playing behind an offensive that will have two new starters (center Luke Bowanko and right tackle Sam Young) this week.
"I think at times I'm doing as much as I can," Henne said. "I'm not saying that I'm playing overly great out there. I would say I'm playing better than I have in the past and doing some really good things and audibling and getting in the right plays and making plays out there, but there's always room for improvement.
"I put more pressure on myself than anybody else as I've said before, and the biggest thing is we need to win. I understand that."
Bradley said he spoke with Henne on Tuesday to make sure Henne understood he still had the coaching staff's support.
"We just had a good discussion yesterday," Bradley said. "I wanted him to feel our strength and I wanted him to know exactly what our thoughts were."
Which are: The job is still yours.
As with most mobile quarterbacks, we tend to ask if a guy should have run it on some of his throws and if he should have thrown it on some of his runs.
But when he stands in, or moves a bit and throws and the throw is poor, it’s somewhat natural to wonder if he should have run if he had space.
He threw high and behind Nate Washington on one early third down against Dallas, and after the pass fell incomplete, CBS analyst Troy Aikman pointed out how much room he had to gain a first down running if he had taken off.
What’s the gauge for deciding when to run it and when not to?
“I guess just feeling,” Locker said. “When you’re stepping up in the pocket and you feel like you’ve got a lane and you see some grass, you’ve got to take advantage of it. But there is a fine line between that and learning to stay in the pocket, trust the pocket and let things downfield develop a little bit.”
Locker’s backup, Charlie Whitehurst, said coaches may have had conversations with Locker about running. But in the quarterback meeting room, they have not really spoken about it.
“I do think it’s a feel thing, I do think you’re trying to sit in the pocket as long as you can and it is a last resort [to take off],” Whitehurst said. “There are some coverages where you may be thinking, ‘Shoot, if the first couple reads aren’t here, I’m taking off maybe a little earlier.’ I really believe you’re trying to complete the ball and running is a last resort.”
“The way we talk is all about throwing the ball, and protecting the ball, too.”
Coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t want Locker doing too much thinking with regard to when to run.
“I think if you try to get him too bogged down, to think about criteria when something is happening, that’s going to be detrimental to him,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ll talk about certain situations. But he’s got to have a feel for it. He’s a good player, he’s got a good feel for it.
“Every situation is different and you’ve got to play it based on what you feel and the way you see it.”
Linebacker Paul Posluszny (knee), cornerback Alan Ball (abdomen), receiver Allen Hurns (ankle), running back Toby Gerhart (foot) and defensive end Chris Clemons (illness) did not practice as the Jaguars (0-2) began preparation for Sunday's home opener against Indianapolis (0-2). Receiver Marqise Lee experienced tightness in his hamstring and was pulled from practice.
Right tackle Austin Pasztor (hand) and safety Johnathan Cyprien (concussion) returned to practice. Receiver Cecil Shorts III (hamstring) was limited.
Tight end Clay Harbor (calf) also did not practice. He hasn't practiced since suffering his injury on July 28.
Posluszny, Ball, Gerhart and Clemons are expected to play against the Colts. The situation surrounding Hurns, Lee and Shorts is uncertain and their status won't be decided until later in the week.
What they've been doing sounded a lot like what has made Watt who he is.
"A couple of the turnovers were just pure effort plays, which is awesome to see," Watt said. "Two of them especially, down the field, after a big play, and our guys just hustling to get the ball out and create something that’s a big deal. I think Romeo [Crennel]’s defense has done some different things for our team, but I think on a couple of occasions it’s personal individual effort by some of our guys, which is outstanding."
The Texans' secondary is playing like it never feels truly beat. That's one of Watt's hallmarks. His mind is always working to figure out what else he can do. His batted balls often happen when he has been blocked but then figures out how to impact the play anyway.
Swearinger's growth has been evident this season. Some of his teammates predicted it based on what they saw in training camp.
"He’s always been confident in his skills and what he can do as a player," Watt said. "One of the biggest things for him is knowing when to take his shots and knowing when to play within the defense. He’s continued to grow as a player, he’ll continue to grow as a player. It’s good to see."
Knowing when to play within the defense and when to freelance is something Watt does very well. So far this season, Swearinger has made important plays by taking the right chances. He garnered his sack that way in Week 1, striking at quarterback Robert Griffin III rather than dropping back as the play called him to do.
The Jaguars placed Lewis on injured reserve/designated to return on Tuesday with a left high ankle sprain, meaning he can't practice with the team for six weeks. It also means the Jaguars aren't likely to get much from the position while he's out.
The Jaguars have three tight ends on the active roster, but only two are completely healthy. Mickey Shuler has appeared in eight games and has caught just two passes since he was a seventh-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2010. Marcel Jensen is a rookie who spent the offseason with the Jaguars but was waived on Aug. 31 so the Jaguars could claim Shuler off waivers from Atlanta.
"[Lewis being out] definitely makes more of a sense of urgency," Harbor said. "I was doing everything I could to get back before but now to have a tight end down, that really puts a strain on the offense and the other guys in the room, especially when a veteran leader like Marcedes goes down."
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Harbor is a flex tight end, meaning he can line up in the slot, in the backfield, or out wide in addition to next to the offensive tackle as a traditional tight end. He caught 24 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns for the Jaguars last season.
It's had to expect Harbor to contribute much if he does play, though, because he was injured on the third day of training camp, missed the rest of camp and the preseason, and will have had, at best, two practices under his belt by Sunday.
"It's been awhile, over seven weeks," Harbor said. "I feel like just watching film, studying, just staying up over-doing some of those things will help the transition back to playing live football. It's been awhile, but there won't be much of a learning curve when I'm ready to go. I'm just trying my best to get healthy and get back out there."
Harbor can't help the Jaguars in the running game as well as the 6-6, 272-pound Lewis, who also is tied for the team lead with eight catches. That job will fall to Shuler (6-4, 247) and Jensen (6-6, 270), but neither comes close to being similar to Lewis as a blocker.
The Jaguars don't have a lot of options until Lewis returns. They could bring in other tight ends but they would have to crash-course the offense and it's unlikely they'd be able to find anyone available that would give them anything more than what Jensen, Shuler and practice squad player Michael Egnew can add to the team.
Bradfield, who was in the starting lineup because Austin Pasztor has been out with a broken bone in his right hand, was eventually benched for Sam Young.
That’s likely not going to be the only personnel change the Jaguars make this week in advance of Sunday’s home opener against Indianapolis. Rookie sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko could replace Jacques McClendon at center. Rookie receiver Marqise Lee hasn’t been executing at a consistently high level and might end up losing some reps, especially if Cecil Shorts returns from a hamstring injury this week. Lee won’t be benched, but rookie Allen Robinson is starting to come on (he was targeted a team-high six times last week) and could end up with more playing time.
Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds and cornerback Dwayne Gratz were benched for a bit against the Redskins, too. Gratz isn’t going to lose his spot, but it wouldn’t be unexpected if Watson got more playing time at Reynolds’ expense.
Though Bradley left a little wiggle room in his statement about Chad Henne remaining the team’s starting quarterback, it would be a huge surprise if he did make the decision to go with rookie Blake Bortles.
The Jaguars don’t have a talented or deep enough roster to make significant changes, but Bradley is following through on accountability, and Shorts said Monday that the blame for the 0-2 start should fall squarely on the players’ shoulders.
"Everything that happened [Sunday] was in our control," Shorts said. "It had nothing to do with the play-calling, nothing to do with the gameplan, nothing to do with that. It’s on the players to step up and get this thing rolling. Gus, [GM] Dave [Caldwell], [owner] Shad [Khan], they did everything they can. They’re doing everything they can. It’s on us."
But Andrew Luck and the offense don’t get a free pass, either. They’ve had their fair share of mistakes, too.
“Yeah, the friendly fire, it will kill you,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Just like I told them in there, it’s so hard to win at this level. It doesn’t matter how good you play, all the games come down to one-score games. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to eliminate friendly fire and you’ve got to finish games. You’ve got to put people away.
“We had a chance to put people away and we didn’t do anything in the first part of that third quarter. We got off the field on defense, but we couldn’t do anything offensively. We had our chances again and we didn’t capitalize.”
Here’s a breakdown of the Colts’ offensive miscues in the first two weeks of the season:
Week 1 at Denver
- Failed third-and-1 pass attempt at the Broncos’ 36-yard line. A delay of game penalty pushed the Colts out of field goal range.
- Luck tried to rush the offense to the line of scrimmage and attempt a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal from the Broncos’ 1-yard line. Luck was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, leaving the Colts without any points when they had a chance a chance to cut Denver’s lead to 10.
- Luck’s pass attempt to tight end Coby Fleener was tipped and intercepted at Denver’s 32-yard line with the Colts trailing 31-17 in the fourth quarter.
- Running back Trent Richardson fumbled at the Colts' 25-yard line. The Eagles scored five plays later to tie the game at 20-20 late in the third quarter.
- Luck threw an interception after Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin got away with a hold on receiver T.Y. Hilton. The bigger issue was why the Colts threw the ball when the clock was in their favor and they had an opportunity to score at least three points to extend their lead to 10 points with about five minutes remaining.
Tight end Dwayne Allen said it best after the game.
"There's no falling back on, 'We're a young team and we're still learning,'" he said. "The whole 'young' title is out the door. We're a football team, and we're an experienced football team."
It’s the battle of winless teams when the Colts (0-2) travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars (0-2) on Sunday. The Jaguars have to feel good about the opportunity for big plays against the Colts.
The Colts gave up 231 yards after the catch to the Eagles, which is the most they’ve given up in a game in the nine seasons that ESPN has kept video-tracking data, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Eagles running back Darren Sproles had catch-and-run plays of 57 and 51 yards. His 51-yard gain set the Eagles up to tie the score at 27-27 in the fourth quarter.
Poor tackling continues to be an issue for the Colts. Part of the problem could be that coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t allow tackling in practice or in training camp because he wants to help prevent his players from getting injured. Health is obviously a priority, but the downside to that is that the Colts are having a difficult time tackling.
The Tennessee Titans tight end raced about 37 yards to finish off a 61-yard touchdown in Sunday’s 26-10 loss to Dallas.
“My mindset is one guy is not going to tackle me, when he hit me, I just bounced. It really gave me the momentum to go down the field,” Walker said. “I saw on the Jumbotron there was no one there…
“I don’t know why people think I’m not fast. I consider myself a fast guy. I showed it. If I get those opportunities, I will break tackles and I will outrun people. That’s what I am here for.”
Former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, now the analyst on Titans radio, watched it unfold during the broadcast and said, simply, “Wow.”
Before going on to say he has seen great speed from Walker on special teams, former NFL tight end Ken Whisenhunt said he also was surprised and impressed by the show of speed.
"Delanie had more speed than I thought he did on that long run,” Whisenhunt said.
Struggle to move the ball because of poor offensive line play, a lack of playmakers, and a quarterback that doesn’t scare opposing defenses. Failure to stop the run, get off the field on third down, and make big plays on defense. Players talking about getting punched in the mouth by an opponent and failing to respond.
And a loss by double digits.
That last thing has happened a lot. In fact, it has happened a ridiculous amount of times -- really, an embarrassing amount of times.
Since the beginning of the 2012 season, the Jaguars are 6-28. That's humiliating enough. But it’s even worse than that because 20 of those losses have come by 10 or more points, including the first eight games of the 2013 season.
"Just hearing it, it’s definitely something you’re not proud about," said safety Chris Prosinski, one of nine current players that have played significant roles with the team over that span. "But I know for this team, looking back to 2012 there’s so much more difference between coaches, players, schemes, what-not. ...But the best thing to do is get back out there and practice and move forward."
The Jaguars have certainly been trying to do that but without much success. In fact, things kept getting worse. The Jaguars lost eight games by double digits en route to a 2-14 finish in the 2012 season. They lost 10 in 2013 and went 4-12. This season, they gave up 34 unanswered points in the second half against Philadelphia and lost by 17 points and lost by 31 at Washington last Sunday.
The Redskins loss marked the fourth time over the past two-plus seasons that the Jaguars have lost by more than 30 points.
Here’s further documentation to show how bad things have been since the 2012 season began:
- The Jaguars have been out-scored by 423 points in the 20 losses and have lost those games by an average margin of 21.15 points.
- In addition to the four losses by more than 30 points, they’ve lost nine games by 20 or more points.
- They’ve only lost three games by 14 or less.
The Redskins loss is arguably the worst loss the team has suffered since 2012. It wasn’t the largest margin -- that was a 41-3 blowout by Chicago in Week 5 of 2012 -- but the circumstances make it more troubling. The Redskins were already without Jordan Reed, one of the NFL’s top tight ends, and then lost quarterback Robert Griffin III and receiver DeSean Jackson in the first quarter.
The Jaguars had made a significant upgrade to the defensive front in free agency by signing ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, and that was supposed to allow the defense to keep the games close into the second half and result in more chances to win games. That didn't happen against Washington.
Washington still rushed for 191 yards, piled up 32 first downs, and converted 6 of 14 third downs.
Maybe it’s time to start asking if the franchise is in better shape now than it was two years ago.
"We have some work to do but I definitely feel like this franchise is headed in the right direction," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "[GM] Dave [Caldwell], [coach] Gus [Bradley], they’re doing everything they can. It’s on us as players to take control of these reigns and get things going."