AFC South: 081712 preseason obs

Some thoughts on the Jaguars’ 27-24 win over the Saints Friday night in New Orleans:

Justin Blackmon looked the part: I saw a physical, confident receiver who made himself available for Blaine Gabbert. On an early catch, he stopped and went backwards to allow a tackler to miss and gain some extra yards. And he pulled in a dart from Gabbert on a third-and-7, skipped a defender who tried for the ball and bolted into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. He wound up with four catches for 48 yards and the score. I thought it was a strong start that showed us a bit about who he can be.

Gabbert: A smooth and efficient night for the second-year quarterback. If he plays like this, the Jaguars are going to be a competitive team that surprises a lot of people making the too-easy prediction the Jags will struggle. He connected on 13 of 16 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and a 135.4 passer rating. Those numbers were enhanced a bit by replacement officials who were too quick with pass interference flags. But Gabbert was not sacked and he looked confident and in command, stepping up to deliver the ball with minimal concern about what might have been closing in on him. He fired one pass to Mike Thomas even as he was getting hit by Junior Galette. Take it all as a major cause for encouragement with him as he built on last week’s good showing.

Rashad Jennings and the run game: The Saints were not in a tackling mood, and the Jaguars took advantage. Jacksonville averaged 5.5 yards on the ground, with Jennings turning 11 touches into 62 yards. He continues to look like a starting-caliber back to me in the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew.

The rush: Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is not Jared Allen or Julius Peppers. But he’s not “just” a high effort guy, either. He was a real pain in this game, hounding Drew Brees as a consistent presence in the backfield. He can really be a tone setter. We also saw some flashes of just how dangerous Andre Branch’s speed can be coming off the other edge.

Coverage: The Jaguars got picked apart by Brees at times -- particularly on the nine-play, 85 yard drive that cut the Jags lead to 17-10 -- but that’s what the Saints can do. Jacksonville was without Derek Cox (hamstring) and Rashean Mathis (resting knee on turf) so the corner depth got work. William Middleton was draped on Devery Henderson when he made a strong, one-handed catch of a perfect 8-yard touchdown throw.

Winning it: Preseason results don’t mean much, of course. But you’d rather have the late drive to win a game than not, and Jordan Palmer provided it -- a 12-play, 74-yard march that ended with an 11-yard TD pass to undrafted rookie Kevin Elliott with 13 seconds left to provide the winning margin.
Brief thoughts on what we saw from the Titans in their 30-7 win at Tampa Bay:

Quarterback play: Jake Locker hardly seized the starting job in a big chance as the starting quarterback. On an early third-and-long he slid right, stepped up, pump-faked and threw a bad ball back toward the middle. It was over Kendall Wright, an easy pick for Ahmad Black who nearly took it back to the end zone. Damian Williams was open on one side and Chris Johnson may have been open on the other when Locker looked for Wright.

Locker made another bad choice in the second quarter, throwing for Wright in the end zone from the Buccaneers’ 14-yard line. Two defenders were in front of the rookie receiver, and the Titans were fortunate it wasn’t picked.

Later, Black clobbered Javon Ringer near the left sideline and was flagged for a personal foul. Locker’s ball for Ringer was uncatchable -- though perhaps Ringer wasn’t where he should have been. Jared Cook had a drop and Cook and Nate Washington were on top of each other for a pass in their direction.

Playing all but the last series of the first half, Locker finished 4-of-11 for 21 yards, the pick and a passer rating of 7.0.

Matt Hasselbeck didn’t play long, but hit on 4 of 5 passes for 29 yards and a 90.8 rating.

But it wasn’t a night that gave the Titans a lot of new information in sorting out what to do at quarterback.

Johnson: The running back was more explosive, more decisive and more effective than a week ago in Seattle.

He carried 10 times for 46 yards and scored twice, showing more purpose. CJ got some yards inside and looked like his old self showing the necessary patience and then getting outside and around the corner.

It’s the sort of stuff I needed to see in order to feel like he’s in position to get back on track once the games count. The Titans didn’t throw to him, so the level of his focus as part of the pass game remains unresolved.

Everybody who got carries produced for Tennessee. They amassed 216 yards, led by another nice night for Darius Reynaud (10 carries for 75 yards).

The defense: The Titans showed a solid pass rush, and while there was some blitz mixed in, a good deal of the pressure came from the defensive line, including three of four sacks. That’s encouraging.

Sen'Derrick Marks knifed through for a quick sack that also forced a fumble. Jurrell Casey was disruptive inside as well. And it wasn’t only the tackles. The ends were part of the action.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers did well to deflect a pass that was intercepted by Alterraun Verner for another turnover that set up points.

Tampa Bay was not at all threatening and doesn’t look like much of an offensive team.

On this night, the Titans ensured Tampa Bay never found much life. The Bucs managed just six first downs, 81 net yards and a long drive of 33 yards -- on their last possession of the game.