AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
The NFL draft has come (finally) and gone and now it’s time to take stock of how it affected the teams around the AFC South.
The division was clearly the worst in the NFL in 2013, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans combining for just 13 victories. The Texans had the No. 1 overall pick and the Jaguars were two spots behind. That means those teams needed a lot of help.
The Texans nabbed perhaps the best pass-rusher of the past 15 years in Jadeveon Clowney to pair with J.J. Watt but didn’t address an obvious need at quarterback until the fourth round.
The Jaguars surprised everyone by taking quarterback Blake Bortles with their first pick, then adding a pair of receivers in the second round, including first-round talent Marqise Lee.
The Titans went substance over style with their draft but did nab one of the top three offensive tackles in Taylor Lewan and may have found a replacement for Chris Johnson in Bishop Sankey.
The Colts had the fewest draft picks in the league (five) but didn’t address perhaps the team’s biggest need.
Division reporters Michael DiRocco (Jaguars), Tania Ganguli (Texans), Paul Kuharsky (Titans) and Mike Wells (Colts) help you figure out what it all means.
Have the Titans added enough to their hybrid 3-4 defense to make a leap?
Michael DiRocco: One of the key things about coordinator Ray Horton's defense is that it demands versatility, especially among the linebackers. They have to be able to play multiple spots, and that requires speed and athleticism. The addition of Wesley Woodyard from Denver certainly helps, because he can play inside and outside. Drafting Avery Williamson, however, doesn't seem to fit. He's an inside player who doesn't run well. I do like tackle DaQuan Jones, though. He can play multiple spots on the line. The one thing the defense is missing is a big-time pass-rusher and that's the key to making the defense work.
Paul Kuharsky: I don't know. The four primary outside linebackers can turn out to be a good group. I think Kamerion Wimbley will be a lot closer to the player the Titans paid big money to in 2012 now that he's back to the position in a favorable scheme. And Shaun Phillips was a smart signing considering production and price. The system is also a better fit for Akeem Ayers. I'm not as certain about Derrick Morgan, who's listed as a defensive end/linebacker but worked in position drills with the linebackers at the pre-draft voluntary minicamp. Ropati Pitoitua is much more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, and he's certain to play end in the three-man front. The Titans have a lot of candidates to play with him and opposite him, but none scream that they will consistently get into the backfield. Jurrell Casey was excellent last season with 10.5 sacks. I feel certain coordinator Ray Horton won't do anything to mess up the good thing the Titans have going with Casey. The pass rush will be better. But better enough? I would have liked to have seen a young edge guy added in the draft.
Mike Wells: It may eventually work in Tennessee, but don't be surprised if it takes a little time for the defensive players to adapt to the 3-4 defense. Ask Colts linebacker Robert Mathis if you need further proof. Mathis shifted from defensive end in the 4-3 defense to outside linebacker when coach Chuck Pagano brought his 3-4 defense to Indianapolis in 2012. Mathis went from 8.0 sacks in his first year under Pagano to 19.5 sacks last season. The Titans have some players who are familiar with the 3-4 scheme. Shaun Phillips (9.5 sacks in 2012 with San Diego), Wesley Woodyard and Kamerion Wimbley have all played in the 3-4 at some point in their careers. But will the rest of their defensive teammates pick it up right away? I'm not convinced it'll happen.
Will the Colts regret not trading up to grab a top safety to replace Antoine Bethea?
DiRocco: The Colts had only five picks, so that didn't give them a lot of ammunition to trade up. It would have been too costly to jump into the first round because it would have meant dealing future picks. The real problem is they failed to address the position in free agency, when there were several options available. That magnifies their failure to find a safety in the draft. Why is it a problem? Two reasons: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. To take the next step in the playoffs, the Colts are going to have to go through Denver and/or New England, which means dealing with Manning and Brady. The Pats pounded the Colts on the ground in a playoff victory last season, but the key to beating those teams is stopping the pass.
Kuharsky: There are going to be positions on virtually any team where the top guy on the depth chart doesn't look like a sure thing and the competition isn't topflight. The Colts believe Delano Howell can be an effective successor to Bethea and that they have sufficient guys to supplement him. Through an excellent career with the Colts, Bethea was a guy who consistently got to the right place at the right time and was a very sure tackler. It will be tough for Howell to match that. The bigger concern in my eyes is if LaRon Landry gets hurt and the Colts need another safety to step up. But given their lack of picks this year, trading up for a guy would have been awfully difficult and they certainly shouldn't dip into their 2015 picks.
Wells: It was going to be tough for the Colts to trade into the first round because they only had five picks total in this year's draft and very little interest in giving up a first-round pick in next year's draft. They are steadfast in saying running back Trent Richardson is their first-round pick. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward was the best cover safety in this year's draft. He was the 30th overall pick by San Francisco. I didn't think not addressing safety would be an issue at first with Mathis leading the way on what should be an improved front seven. There wouldn't have been as much pressure on the Colts' secondary. But as everybody knows, Mathis has been suspended for the first four games next season, leaving the Colts without the 2013 league leader in sacks. I think the Colts may regret not trading into the first during Mathis' suspension, but they'll be fine with Delano Howell, the likely starter, when it's all said and done.
@MikeWellsNFL Lots of S were drafted early, so that leads me to think lots of good veteran S will be waived. No regrets, claim 1 on waivers.- Ben Meyer (@TheBigBenDiesel) May 15, 2014
Were the Texans right to wait until the fourth round to draft a quarterback?
DiRocco: Nope. They blew it, especially when they could have made a move back into the last part of the first round to get Teddy Bridgewater -- which is what Minnesota did. The Texans also could have taken Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo but instead went with a guard at the top of the second round. Coach Bill O'Brien did turn Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg into very good Big Ten QBs, and I'd rather have either of those guys than Tom Savage, who somehow became the hottest QB prospect in the weeks before the draft. The Texans are still talented enough to be a playoff team with the right quarterback in place. O'Brien apparently believes he can find one among Savage, Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum. Andre Johnson clearly doesn't agree.
Kuharsky: The Texans have a major question mark at the most important position on the team. But it's not like they could have waved a magic wand to get a guy, or that one of the more highly regarded quarterbacks in the draft would have been a sure thing. I imagine they would have opened the second round with Teddy Bridgewater if Minnesota hadn't traded into the last pick of the first round to take him. After that, it's wise the Texans didn't force a pick. But Tom Savage hasn't played a great deal of football in the past few years and I think a lot of people won't be surprised if the Titans do better with sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger than the Texans do with fourth-rounder Savage -- not that the odds of a pick in either range panning out into a reliable long-term starter are any good.
Wells: Yes. No Andrew Luck and no Robert Griffin III in this year's draft. There was no need for the Texans to use the No. 1 pick on a player they hoped could be as good as Luck one day. Teaming Jadeveon Clowney opposite J.J. Watt on what is already a solid defense gives the Texans better hope than with one of the quarterbacks selected in the first round. Give the Texans a serviceable quarterback with that defense and who knows what can happen. The highlight of taking Johnny Manziel -- in the first year at least -- would have made the Texans a national draw. But in the end, all that counts is wins and losses. Clowney will help the Texans win more games next season than what Manziel or any other quarterback taken prior to the fourth round would have.
@taniaganguli I would say yes. It's obvious Bortles could've been taken but we filled more needs by waiting. Still got our 'Prototypical' QB- Ryan Brackenridge (@GHS_Forever) May 16, 2014
Will Blake Bortles be the Jaguars' starting quarterback at any point this season?
DiRocco: I say yes, but I'm not as sure about when. This may sound like a cop-out, but it really depends on how he progresses. If he picks up the offense, fixes the lower-body issues that are preventing him from throwing the ball as hard and accurately as he can, and makes the transition from the spread offense, then he'll get on the field. I can see that happening by December, and if that's the case, then he'll get a start or two. At the very worst, he'll get a drive or a quarter within some games to get his feet wet.
Kuharsky: I really believe general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley will look back on what the previous regime did at quarterback and be super cautious. The Jaguars had no intention of starting Blaine Gabbert as a rookie. Then they cut David Garrard just before the season, watched Luke McCown struggle and had no choice. I don't know how much better Gabbert would have been if he was eased into NFL life, but it certainly would have been better for him. If Bortles needs time, they will resist temptation to start him even if Chad Henne struggles. In a way, this is an offensive line question, because if Henne gets hurt, they may not have a choice. They'll have three new starters in the interior to go with a healthy Luke Joeckel at left tackle. That group should fare better and increase the chances Henne is good to go for the whole season.
Wells: He has to be. It likely won't be in Week 1, but I expect it to happen at some point because the Jaguars aren't going to win the AFC South with Luck at quarterback for the Colts. More than 2,000 fans did not show up at the Jaguars' minicamp to watch cornerback Aaron Colvin. That was all about Bortles. The Jaguars need something to bring the fans out. The only highlight of the area is the nearby Atlantic Ocean. No offense to Chad Henne, but Bortles gives the Jaguars the best opportunity to bring some kind of excitement to the city. Look at it this way: He can't do any worse than Blaine Gabbert.
More Mojo: Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said he wants to get Maurice Jones-Drew more than the 17 carries he had against St. Louis last week. That’s a solid plan, but the Jaguars are going to have to do a better job early in the game of getting the running game going. The Jaguars ran for 49 of their season-high 96 yards in the fourth quarter. They were able to do that because it was a seven-point game. If they’re able to have success on the ground early, they can get Jones-Drew more work and shorten the game.
Henne time: As I wrote in the Stat of the Week post on Thursday, having Chad Henne at quarterback is actually good news for receivers Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since Henne joined the Jaguars in 2012 he has done a much better job than Blaine Gabbert of getting the ball to Shorts and Blackmon. Henne has thrown nearly twice as many touchdown passes to Blackmon and Shorts as Gabbert (nine to five) and less than half the interceptions (four to nine).
Moreno problems: Everyone talks about Manning and his trio of receivers, but running back Knowshon Moreno has quietly had a solid season. He is third in the AFC in rushing (331 yards) and his success makes Manning’s play-action fakes even more effective. The Jaguars gave up 143 yards rushing to the Rams last week and are last in the NFL in rush defense (160.6 yards per game).
Ace in the hole: Ace Sanders did what he was drafted to do last week: He returned a punt for a touchdown. It was called back because of a questionable illegal block penalty but Sanders flashed the speed and elusiveness that make him a good returner. A couple big returns could provide a spark for the offense, and if he can take one back for a touchdown he’d be the first Jaguars player to do so since Mike Thomas against Indianapolis on Dec. 19, 2010.
There are, however, plenty of interesting storylines in this one. Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan was once the front-runner to be the Rams’ majority owner before Stan Kroenke exercised an option to purchase the team.
Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert is a St. Louis native and returning for his first game in his hometown as the much maligned starter.
Those are just a couple of the topics to watch heading into this week. ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup.
Wagoner: Well, Mike, it looks like there may not be two teams struggling more right now than the Rams and Jaguars. Jacksonville is losing by an average of 24.5 points a game and the Rams have lost their past two by an average of 24. It’s a bit of a broad question because everything seems to go hand-in-hand in this league, but what would you say is the main thing causing the Jags to struggle so much through the first quarter of the season?
DiRocco: Like you said, it’s hard to list just one reason, but if I had to pick one, it would be that some of the veteran offensive players the team had counted on haven't performed. The defense has issues but it’s serviceable. The interior of the offensive line -- Brad Meester, Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley -- has not played well, and that has pretty much doomed the running game. Left tackle Eugene Monroe wasn't playing that well, either, but he is one of the better young tackles in the league and his departure via trade to Baltimore will affect the stability of a line that already has given up 18 sacks. Maurice Jones-Drew doesn’t look the same, but he has had very little room to maneuver. With Justin Blackmon suspended for the first four games, third-year receiver Cecil Shorts wasn’t able to be the playmaker the offense needs and has compiled most of his catches in the second half when the games have been out of reach. Plus, tight end Marcedes Lewis has played just two snaps this year because of a calf injury.
Speaking of not performing, what is the Rams’ stance on Sam Bradford? Is he in their long-term plans or are they getting ready to move in a different direction since he hasn’t developed the way they expected?
Wagoner: The Rams insist Bradford is their guy. As recently as last week, there were reports that they’d sign him to an extension were he willing to do it now. That was before last week’s game against San Francisco but that one game surely didn’t change their mind. Bradford had some good moments in the first two games but has struggled the past two weeks, but it’s not all on him. The offensive line has been battered, the Rams have no run game to speak of and there aren’t many receivers making plays after the catch.
While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks, Blaine Gabbert is coming home to St. Louis this week and it looks like the Jaguars are sticking with him. What has held him back from developing and how much longer do you expect Jacksonville to keep him as starter?
DiRocco: Several things. He’s had three head coaches, three offensive coordinators and three offensive systems to learn in his three seasons. That would be tough for anyone to handle, but consider that Gabbert was only 20 years old when he entered the league. Plus, he’s had some injuries (toe, shoulder, forearm, ankle, thumb, hand) that have cost him eight games. He hasn’t exactly had an all-star lineup of receivers at his disposal, either. All that being said, Gabbert still has some of the same issues he had as a rookie: He’s hesitant to take shots down the field, he makes questionable decisions with the ball and he rarely steps up into the pocket to avoid pressure and make throws. The 2013 season will be his chance to prove to new coach Gus Bradley and new GM Dave Caldwell that he can be a franchise quarterback. If he struggles again, the Jaguars will almost certainly go quarterback with their first-round pick in the 2014 draft, which is looking more and more like the No. 1 overall selection.
Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans teams were tough teams that popped you in the mouth again and again, even on offense. Has he gotten the Rams to that point yet?
Wagoner: I thought that he had; last year’s team was as tough and feisty as any in the league. Save for one or two games, they battled tooth and nail to the very end. So far this year, there has been a clear regression in all areas, including that toughness. They brought linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar back this week and he should at least give them a boost in that regard. There are a lot of tough players in that locker room, but for whatever reason, it’s not coming through on Sundays. You mention the idea of popping a team in the mouth on offense. Most of that is predicated on the run game. The Rams have none to speak of right now; certainly no Steven Jackson or Eddie George or any other backs that have had success under Fisher.
Of course, it seems if the Rams were going to ever get a running game going, this would be the week for it. It looks like teams have been able to run all over the Jaguars this year. How much of an issue is that in terms of opening up everything else and allowing offenses to do pretty much whatever they want?
DiRocco: The biggest problem with the Jaguars’ run defense is it has given up too many big runs. The Jaguars gave up seven runs of 20 or more yards against Oakland, one against Seattle and one against Indianapolis. It’s mainly due to blown assignments. For example, defensive end Jason Babin got caught inside on Terrelle Pryor’s long run off a read-option play. Those big plays are one of the reasons the Jaguars have given up the most yards rushing in the NFL (657, 164.3 per game), but it’s also partly due to the fact teams have been up big on the Jaguars and are trying to run clock. Opponents are able to take advantage of play-action and make plays over the top, which is compounded by the fact that the Jaguars are starting a pair of rookie safeties.
The Rams are obviously in a division that includes two powerhouse teams in Seattle and San Francisco. We know the Jaguars are not even close to being able to contend for a playoff spot, but how far away are the Rams?
Wagoner: Further away than most everybody thought entering the season, at least in their current form. The Rams raised hopes around here last year, going 7-8-1 and posting a 4-1-1 record in the NFC West. They then went out and had an offseason that drew critical acclaim for their moves in free agency and the draft. Right now, none of the things that needed to come together to push the Seahawks or Niners have come to fruition and one could argue that Arizona is at least even with the Rams in its rebuild. This is again the youngest team in the league and it should be better in November than it is right now, but the youth is no excuse for the backward steps we’ve seen to this point.
Oakland showed a flash of life in a 21-17 loss at Indianapolis last week and Jacksonville struggled mightily in a 28-2 home loss to Kansas City. Many see the Raiders and Jaguars as the two most downtrodden teams in the NFL, but somebody has to win, right? It’s not like they can play to a scoreless tie, unless … in any event, these two hook up Sunday in Oakland.
Paul Gutierrez: So, the Jaguars are the 32nd-ranked team in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings, and the Raiders are 31st. Not exactly a clash of the titans, but there were several silver (and black?) linings in Oakland’s 21-17 loss in Indianapolis last week. Primarily, the play of newly anointed starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor. To a man, the Raiders said there is no such thing as a moral victory. Yet there was a feeling of promise in the Raiders’ postgame locker room not felt in a while. What was the feeling like in the Jags’ locker room after they not only lost their starting quarterback, but lost the game to Kansas City in such dispiriting fashion, and does it already feel like another long season is in store in Jacksonville?
Michael DiRocco: Disappointment, but not just at losing. The offense played poorly in all phases, which was somewhat surprising because it had shown signs during the preseason of being competent. Most troubling was the play of the offensive line, especially the interior, where center Brad Meester and guards Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley really struggled. Six sacks and not crossing midfield until the fourth quarter was embarrassing. But the Jaguars were missing starting receiver Justin Blackmon (suspension) and starting tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf), so that mitigates things somewhat. While the team believes it can certainly play significantly better than that, the veterans are realistic and understand that this is one of the youngest teams in the NFL and the new regime has begun a rebuild that will take three years. You've got to feel for Matt Flynn. Goes to Seattle and gets beat out by Russell Wilson. Then ends up in Oakland and gets beat out by Pryor, who played well in the season opener. He made a lot of plays with his feet but certainly has a way to go as a passer. Is he the long-term answer for the Raiders at quarterback or will we see Flynn at some point this season?
Gutierrez: Yeah, the humanistic side has to feel for Flynn’s predicament. Then the snarky side comes out and thinks he and his millions -- remember, he signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract extension with $6.5 million guaranteed after the Raiders traded for him this spring -- will be just fine, thank you very much. But your point is taken. Especially since Flynn was second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie’s handpicked choice to be this rebuilding franchise’s, ahem, franchise quarterback. And really, the case can be made that Flynn is a better prototypical NFL quarterback than Pryor. But that’s with a solid offensive line and a strong running game and trusted receivers. The Raiders, really, are still looking for those things. So until that trifecta comes in for Oakland, the playmaking Pryor is the Raiders’ best hope for winning games. Even if he was not the new regime’s choice and it inherited Al Davis’ last draft pick. At this point, it seems Flynn is destined to be a career backup, albeit a well-compensated backup. And speaking of clipboard holders, what’s taking the Jags so long to ink Jacksonville’s favorite son, Tim Tebow (you knew there’d be a Tebow question somewhere, right?), especially with ticket sales needed and Chad Henne being no Blaine Gabbert, and vice-versa? Or is it too soon?
DiRocco: The Tebow ship has sailed for the Jaguars. General manager Dave Caldwell said earlier this year that the Jaguars were not going to sign Tebow -- who at the time was still under contract with the New York Jets -- "even if he's released." He's sticking to that. As for the ticket sales argument, there's no way to quantify whether sales would increase and by how much if he was signed. Plus, the Jags are actually doing pretty well in the ticket department. The team hasn't had a blackout since 2009 and averaged at least 62,331 fans at every home game over the past three seasons. The No. 1 task for the new regime is to find out whether Gabbert can be a franchise quarterback and the player around which to build the team over the next decade. The only way to determine that is for him to play the entire season. Barring a rash of injuries to free-agent quarterbacks, I just don't see a scenario in which Tebow returns to his hometown. Sebastian Janikowski, who went to nearby Florida State, is one of the more colorful players in the NFL. There are a lot of colorful stories floating around about him both in the locker room and off the field. What's your favorite -- at least among the verified ones you can tell?
Gutierrez: Wow, you caught me off guard. This is, after all, a family website, no? I kid. Kinda. But yeah, the evolution of the wild child formerly known as Jano (he hates that name, by the way) has been a unique experience. He is now a doting father to twin girls. No word, though, on how strong their kicking legs are yet. Off the field, he’s become a proficient golfer. When he arrived in Oakland as a first-round draft pick way back in 2000, he had never touched a club before in his life. Then Shane Lechler, his long-time running, er, kicking mate, introduced him to the links. Now? He’s a regular in the Lake Tahoe Pro-Am. Then there was the time he had to punt for an injured Lechler against Kansas City in the rain. It was as ugly a punt as it was effective -- the Chiefs player fumbled the ball away and the Raiders recovered. It went down in Oakland and the crowd loved it. Speaking of guys known by one name or simple initials, how much does MJD have left in the tank for the Jags? Can a return “home” this weekend rejuvenate him?
DiRocco: That is a good question, because there is some uncertainty regarding whether MJD can again reach the level at which he played in 2011, when he led the NFL in rushing. He did miss 10 games last season with a foot injury. Nobody expects him to rush for 1,600 yards but he does need to be a 1,000-yard rusher for this offense to be effective and help take a load off Gabbert/Henne. Another thing to consider is that Jones-Drew is in the final year of his contract. He'll need prove that at 28 he's still one of the league's better backs in order to have a chance to sign the kind of deal he wants -- whether it's in Jacksonville or elsewhere. Speaking of running backs coming off an injury, hasn't that been the biggest knock on Darren McFadden? What kind of odds would you give on him playing all 16 games?
Gutierrez: Ouch. The biggest knock on Run DMC has been his inability to stay healthy throughout his career. He has never played in more than 13 games in any of his first five seasons and he has missed 23 games in his career. He insists he’s not injury-prone, though, and that each injury is a freak occurrence. Maybe, but based on his track record, it’s not a question of if McFadden gets hurt but when, and how the Raiders are equipped to deal with his absence. Harsh? Maybe, but also true. And based on that history, odds are low that he'll play all 16 games this season. Then again, he is in a contract year. And after being neutralized last week by the Colts to the tune of 48 yards on 17 carries, what better time for him to get going than against the Jags? In two career games against Jacksonville, McFadden has carried the ball 35 times for 176 yards.
He’s just not sure if coach Gus Bradley is thinking the same way.
"My job is play as well as I can and hopefully just keep the job," Henne said Wednesday. "That’s how I’m going to play it, and I’m going to prepare as the starter and play my best and show the coaches that I can get the job done."
Henne is starting against the Raiders because Blaine Gabbert suffered a cut on the top of his right hand during the Jaguars’ season opener. He needed 15 stitches to close the wound, and the medical staff was worried about the risk of re-injury and infection. Gabbert had beaten out Henne for the starting job midway through the preseason.
Gabbert struggled in the Jaguars’ 28-2 loss to Kansas City, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. The offensive line gave up six sacks; Gabbert was playing for the first time in three weeks because of a fractured right thumb; and he was without two of his top three pass catchers because of suspension (receiver Justin Blackmon) and injury (tight end Marcedes Lewis). The main task this season for Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell is to find out whether Gabbert can be the player around which the team is built.
So it would be a surprise if Gabbert didn’t reclaim his starting job whenever he is medically cleared, whether that’s next week, ahead of the Jaguars’ game at Seattle, or the following week, for their game at home against Indianapolis.
Bradley hasn’t said that Henne would remain the starter if he plays well against the Raiders -- and he’s had several chances to do so.
He did say, however, that he has no problem if that’s the way Henne is thinking.
"That’s good. I would hope he would say that," Bradley said. "He’s a competitor and that’s why we’ve got confidence in him playing. I really wanted him to go out there and capture this and be at his best. That was our conversation today. I said don’t wait until Sunday to compete. That’s too late."
Henne, in his sixth NFL season, has started 37 games in his career with Miami and Jacksonville. After Gabbert suffered a forearm injury in the 10th game of the 2012 season, Henne relieved him and played the rest of the season, throwing for 1,869 yards and 10 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
Fast-forward: Gabbert suffered a cut on the top of his right hand late in the game that required 15 stitches to close and he will not play in Sunday’s game at Oakland. Chad Henne will get the start, and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. In the first nine games of the 2012 season, the Jaguars averaged 263.6 yards per game, 185.3 passing yards per game and 14.1 points per game under Gabbert before he went on IR with a forearm injury. The team averaged 326.3 yards per game, 233.3 passing yards per game and 15.3 points per game in the final six games in which Henne started.
Job safety: The Jaguars’ top priority this season was finding out if Gabbert can be a franchise quarterback and the player around which to build the team under new GM Dave Caldwell and new coach Gus Bradley. One game certainly isn’t enough to make that determination, so Gabbert will return as the starter even if Henne plays well against the Raiders.
Prediction: Top receiver Justin Blackmon is suspended so No. 2 receiver Cecil Shorts (60 career catches) becomes the main target. The rest of the receivers -- Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Stephen Burton -- have a combined 11 career catches. Could be another rough day.
Preseason: 31 | Last Week: 29 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002
Well, that didn’t take long.
Thanks to an abysmal performance in a 28-2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, the Jaguars have dropped to last in ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings. They began the season ahead of the Bills, Raiders and Jets. Those teams are now Nos. 29, 31 and 27, respectively.
There’s no chance to even argue against the drop to last place, either. The Jaguars had only 178 yards of total offense and Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith was hit only four times in 34 drop backs. There are plenty of other stats to show how poorly the team played, but listing them all is just piling on.
Here’s what was written in today's Power Rankings comments to accompany the last-place ranking:
"The Jaguars' offense didn't cross midfield until the fourth quarter. The Raiders present a chance to get back on track, but Seattle looms in Week 3."
- Starting left guard Will Rackley suffered a lateral sprain to his left knee but Bradley said he may be able to practice on Wednesday. It’s the same knee that Rackley injured in the preseason. "We’ll re-evaluate it as it goes the next two days," Bradley said.
- Bradley said it’s too early to determine if tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) will be able to play against Oakland on Sunday. "We’ll see how he does the next few days," Bradley said. "We may have a chance to get him back."
- The Jaguars have received permission from the NFL to bring suspended receiver Justin Blackmon to California with them next week. Blackmon is suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy but a new league rule allows him to attend meetings but not practice. The Jaguars play at Oakland on Sunday and at Seattle on Sept. 22 and are staying in California between the games. They asked the NFL to allow Blackmon to travel to the West Coast and be with the team. He will fly to California on Sunday night or Monday morning and return to Jacksonville when the Jaguars depart for Seattle.
- Justin Forsett has played in 76 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak by a running back in the NFL. Forsett missed all of the preseason with a toe injury but was healthy enough to play in the season opener against Kansas City. "I’m trying to catch Brett Favre," joked Forsett, who caught a team-high four passes for 22 yards and ran once for 7 yards against the Chiefs. It’s not exactly the same streak, though, because Favre set the NFL record for consecutive starts at 297 games.
- Bradley wants his players to celebrate more -- not that they had many reasons to last Sunday. "I would love to see our guys have more excitement on the field and more enthusiasm," Bradley said. "When a big play is made, a critical play, I would like to see them share that celebration with their teammates. Something simple as going up there and patting them on the head or whatever the case is to show that emotion. But I think right now our guys are more, ‘I’m going to do my job, take care of my responsibility, and if I do that right that’s good.'"
Might that be the best thing for the Jaguars’ offense?
Henne sparked the offense in the final six games of the 2012 regular season. Gabbert started the first 10 games of 2012 and suffered a forearm injury after throwing just two passes in the 10th game. In those first nine starts by Gabbert the Jaguars averaged 263.6 yards per game, 185.3 passing yards per game, and 14.1 points per game.
Those are significant increases in yardage and it would seem Henne would be the better option in 2013. However, he didn’t show enough during OTAs, minicamps or training camp to convince new general manager Dave Caldwell or new coach Gus Bradley to name him the starter. Even after Gabbert missed the second half of the preseason with the thumb injury and didn’t start throwing again until the weekend before the opener, Bradley decided to go with Gabbert against Kansas City.
Now he’s got no choice and Sunday may present Bradley with an interesting dilemma. If Henne plays well against the Raiders -- which held Andrew Luck to just 178 yards passing on Sunday -- one week after Gabbert played so poorly ...
"That would be a good thing," Bradley said.
But that would mean a quarterback controversy, especially if Gabbert is cleared to play the following week against Seattle.
"We don’t even think like that," Bradley said. "… We hate to see anybody get injured but because of that competition that we had where the total reps were close to 370 apiece through the whole process there’s one good out of that in that now we have a guy that’s seasoned and has played a lot of football for us. We have a lot of faith in Chad. I know that he’s a guy that we felt strongly about going through the whole process and hopefully we won’t miss a beat."
Maybe a better figure of speech might have been better there, because the offense certainly had no rhythm in the Jaguars’ 28-2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It started with Gabbert, who completed 16 of 35 passes for 121 yards with two interceptions. One of those interceptions came when he threw a screen pass right at linebacker Tamba Hali, who walked into the end zone with a 10-yard touchdown return.
Gabbert had a total QBR of 1.2 -- the range is 1-100, with 50 being average -- and ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote that Gabbert’s yards per attempt of 3.46 was the seventh-lowest in an NFL game (minimum 20 attempts) since 1960.
Granted, the offensive line played poorly (six sacks), the Jaguars were without top receiver Justin Blackmon (four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy), and Gabbert was playing with a hairline fracture in his right thumb after not playing for 22 days. But an angry fan base is tired of hearing excuses for why the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft isn’t getting any better.
So they’re getting their wish with Henne -- for this Sunday, at least.
It's unlikely to be a long-term switch because Bradley and Caldwell have to find out if Gabbert can become a franchise quarterback and the only way that can be done is on the field.