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Jaguars' first-half stock watch

10/30/2013

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With the Jaguars on their bye week, it's the perfect time to evaluate the first half of the season stock-market style:

RISING

Offensive line: The unit really struggled in the beginning of the season adjusting to the zone blocking scheme, which calls for the linemen to create movement along the defensive line rather than opening a specific hole and for back-side linemen to cut block. Center Brad Meester and guards Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley were not playing well at all, though Nwaneri and Rackley were dealing with leg injuries. Things looked bleak when the team traded left tackle Eugene Monroe to Baltimore after four games and rookie tackle Luke Joeckel fractured his leg the following game, but surprisingly the line has jelled and is playing significantly better. Young tackles Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor are growing into their roles and the line has been better in the run game. Pass protection has improved, too. After giving up 18 sacks in the first four games the line gave up 10 in the next four.

QB Chad Henne: Since taking over as the starter for Blaine Gabbert (hamstring) before the Denver game, the Jaguars have averaged 283 yards passing. Though Henne has led the offense to just two touchdowns, he has thrown only three interceptions in those games -- two of which came after passes were tipped at the line of scrimmage. He's having trouble in the red zone and has made questionable decisions, but he still gives the Jaguars the best chance to win. That is why head coach Gus Bradley has named him the starter "right now" even though Gabbert is healthy.

WR Mike Brown: Brown missed four games after fracturing a vertebra in his back in the season opener. He has caught 12 passes for 212 yards in the three games since his return, including five catches for 120 yards against San Diego. His development gives the Jaguars a reliable third receiver.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew: He had a slow start to the season, but he had legitimate reasons: He was coming off a Lisfranc injury, the offensive line really struggled and he sprained his ankle in Week 2. But he's starting to get rolling now. He had a season-high 25 touches (19 rushes for 75 yards, six catches for 47 yards) against San Francisco and he's showing some of the old burst and tackle-breaking ability that helped him lead the NFL in rushing in 2011.

FALLING

Third-down defense: The Jaguars just can't get off the field on third down. Opponents have converted 44.8 percent of third-down attempts, which is the fourth-worst total in the NFL behind Minnesota (51 percent), Cleveland (46.4) and the New York Giants (45). That's extending drives and taxing the defense, especially when the offense can't stay on the field (the Jaguars have 35 three-and-outs). The biggest problem is there isn't anyone making plays other than linebacker Paul Posluszny (two interceptions, including one for a touchdown).

Red-zone production: The Jaguars have scored only five touchdowns on 20 red zone trips this season. That's a TD conversion rate of just 25 percent, which is by far the worst in the league. The next closest team is Philadelphia (39.1 percent). The Jaguars haven't scored a touchdown in their last seven trips to the red zone. Poor play calls, bad passes, dropped passes, poor decisions ... it has all factored into their ineptitude.

Turnovers: The Jaguars defense has forced just seven turnovers (one of the eight fumble recoveries came on special teams). That's another indication of a lack of playmakers, especially in the secondary. Posluszny has two of the three interceptions; cornerback Will Blackmon has the other. Bradley said players have been in position to make big plays but haven't capitalized.

Pass rush: This year's pass rush isn't any better than it was in 2012, when the Jaguars finished last in the NFL with just 20 sacks. They've got 11 at the midway point, with defensive end Jason Babin and Sen'Derrick Marks leading the way with two. Those two are pretty much the only ones getting to the quarterback because they're first and second, respectively, in quarterback pressures with nine and six. The second half of the season will essentially be a tryout for defensive end Andre Branch, who was drafted in the second round in 2012 to develop into an elite pass rusher but he has just two sacks in 21 games.