Jacksonville Jaguars: Brandon Weeden

Keenum-BabinGetty ImagesAre Case Keenum's Texans and Jason Babin's Jaguars on different paths as they near season's end?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The streaks the Jaguars and Texans are on entering tonight's game are ones that would have been hard to believe after the first two weeks of the season.

The Jaguars started 0-2 and played so poorly it looked like they would go down as one of the worst teams in NFL history. The Texans started 2-0, and while those victories were shaky, it looked like they'd be able to right the ship and be one of the top playoff seeds in the AFC.

Three months later, the Jaguars (3-9) are 3-1 since their bye and have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2010. The Texans (2-10) have dropped a franchise-record 10 consecutive games, including a 13-6 loss to the Jaguars in Houston on Nov. 24.

Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli break down the matchup:

DiRocco: Tania, the Texans felt like they were at rock bottom after losing to the Jaguars on Nov. 24. What's their state of mind heading into Thursday's game?

Ganguli: They were up for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. It was a big one for the Texans after the way the Patriots blew them out twice last season, and that was apparent in the game. The Texans' offense played what might have been its best game with Case Keenum at quarterback, moving the ball from start to finish. There were some positives in that game, but ultimately the loss officially knocked the Texans out of playoff contention. Now they’re playing for pride. They can still avoid the league’s cellar when the season ends. And while there’s a section of fans that cares about the No. 1 overall pick above all else, a win would mean a lot to the team.

The last time the Texans played the Jaguars, the Texans fell to 2-9 and the Jaguars rose to 2-9, causing the Texans to join the Jaguars with the worst record in the NFL. Now the Texans are there alone and the Jaguars have won three out of their past four games. Is that indicative of a turnaround, or of poor play by their opponents?

DiRocco: It's a little of both, but I'd say more that the Jaguars have improved. In the four games since the bye, they're much better against the run (68 yards per game allowed vs. 162), have recorded nine of their 20 sacks, and are plus-3 in turnover ratio. The offensive line has been more consistent and receiver Ace Sanders has begun to emerge as a reliable option. So they are playing much better than the first eight games, which they lost by double digits. But the Jaguars haven't exactly played against the league's elite: The four teams are a combined 18-30 and only one (Arizona) has a winning record. They haven't exactly had to deal with elite QBs, either: Jake Locker/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer, Keenum and Brandon Weeden. Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Jaguars are a better team than they were a month ago and have played well enough to win three consecutive games on the road for the first time since 2007.

Ben Tate looked pretty good against the Patriots, and it's probably not a coincidence that he rushes for 102 yards and the Texans nearly win. Is he back to 100 percent and is he the key for the Texans against the Jaguars? He really struggled in the previous meeting.

Ganguli: The running game just didn’t seem to get going in these teams’ last meeting, but Tate rebounded in a big way against the Patriots last weekend. He was asked if it was the best game the offensive line had played, and he said it was definitely one of them. Tate won’t talk about it, but he’s playing for a contract, as this is his final year with the Texans. The Texans’ offense needs him to be productive, and he was on Sunday.

It feels, from the outside, like a completely different season has sprouted for the Jaguars, whose nine losses all have been by double digits. Who has been the MVP of their three recent wins?

DiRocco: It hasn't really been one player, which is indicative of the growth the team has made since the bye week. Against Tennessee it was linebacker Paul Posluszny, who set the tone for the defense on the game’s first offensive snap when he knocked the ball loose from Chris Johnson and recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 19-yard line. Three plays later the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead and never trailed. Against Houston it was running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for a season-high 84 yards and one touchdown and had a season-high 144 total yards. Against Cleveland it was Cecil Shorts, who fought through two drops and dealing with cornerback Joe Haden. Shorts beat Haden on a double-move to catch the game-winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds to play.

The last time the teams met, the Jaguars held Andre Johnson to just two catches. What kind of game do you expect out of him on Thursday?

Ganguli: Johnson’s production in that meeting had as much to do with the shakiness of the quarterback as it did with Johnson. Keenum had a rough day with both his decision-making and accuracy. He was gun-shy, and it hurt him and his receivers. It was no surprise then that a better day for Keenum coincided with a better day for Johnson against the Patriots. He caught eight passes for 121 yards, becoming the second-fastest player in league history to reach 900 career catches. I think you’ll see something closer to that version of Johnson. I don’t see Keenum regressing to what he was 11 days ago.

To wrap up, let’s talk about Jones-Drew some more, a guy who is probably pretty happy with the events of the past week. His college team won its big rivalry game, his current team won again and he got to throw a touchdown pass. That followed a game against Houston with those 144 all-purpose yards. Do you expect similar production from him? And how thrilled was he to get to throw that touchdown pass?

DiRocco: Jones-Drew is riding a pretty good wave, isn’t he? He’s probably the most proud of the touchdown pass, which makes him the first non-quarterback to throw a TD pass in franchise history. It also makes up for his only other career pass attempt, which got intercepted. Jones-Drew’s production has increased the past several weeks because the offensive line has been more consistent and he’s more involved in the passing game. He says catching passes doesn’t result in as much pounding as running through the line of scrimmage, so he’s fresher in the fourth quarter. I expect him to get 20 touches tonight.

A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 32-28 victory against Cleveland:

[+] EnlargeDwayne Gratz
AP Photo/Tony DejakDwayne Gratz, right, and the Jacksonville secondary had its hands full with Cleveland's Josh Gordon.
Secondary issues: One week after holding Houston receiver Andre Johnson to just two catches for 36 yards, the Jaguars’ secondary was absolutely torched by Cleveland’s Josh Gordon: 10 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns, including a 95-yarder in the fourth quarter. Cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball each had their troubles with Gordon, and they got little safety help from Johnathan Cyprien and Winston Guy. Both seemed to be late getting over to help, and the one time Guy did get there in time he was penalized for hitting Gordon in the head. Guy also was the main guy to blame for the 95-yard TD because he went for the interception -- coming from behind Gordon -- instead of trying to hit Gordon and knock the ball that way or just make the tackle. Cyprien did get his first career interception on a pass thrown behind tight end Jordan Cameron.

Help needed: Rookie receiver Ace Sanders had his most productive day, and the Jaguars certainly needed it, with Cecil Shorts dealing with Browns cornerback Joe Haden (and two drops) and Mike Brown playing through a very sore shoulder. Sanders tied his season high with eight catches and set a season high with 67 yards receiving. He also carried the ball once for 4 yards on a misdirection pitch play. The biggest number, however, is six: Of his nine touches, six resulted in first downs. Shorts came up big late, but Brown had just one catch.

Improved pass rush: All the attention since the bye week has been on how much the run defense has improved, but the Jaguars’ pass rush also has been much more effective the past month. The Jaguars sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden three times on Sunday, including one by Jason Babin that resulted in a fumble that defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks recovered to set up a field goal. The Jaguars now have 20 sacks, which matches their 2012 total. They have recorded nine sacks in the four games since the bye and eight in the past three games. One thing they’re doing differently is rushing middle linebacker Paul Posluszny more often. He had a half-sack (along with Babin) against Weeden.

A Marks man: Marks had another big day: a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Marks’ fumble recovery and 15-yard return set up Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Marks has three sacks this season after recording just three in his first four seasons in the NFL. Marks, who signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars in April, has been the team’s best defensive lineman.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 32-28 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

What it means: It has been a while -- nearly three years, in fact -- but the Jaguars finally have a winning streak. Their victory over the Browns marks the first time they have won back-to-back games since Weeks 13-14 of the 2010 season. Jacksonville (3-9) has won three of its four games since the bye week. All of those victories have come on the road, which marks the first time since 2007 the Jaguars have won three consecutive road games.

Stock watch: It had been a pretty miserable homecoming for Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts, who grew up in Cleveland and played collegiately at Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio -- until the Jaguars' final drive. Browns cornerback Joe Haden had pretty much shut Shorts down and Shorts hurt himself with two drops. But he came up big when it mattered most, beating Haden for a 20-yard game-winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds remaining. On the other end of the spectrum, the secondary really struggled. The Jaguars had little trouble with Houston's Andre Johnson last week, holding the All-Pro to just two catches. But they appeared to be playing a man short because Josh Gordon absolutely shredded them for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon's last touchdown was a 95-yard catch and run in which safety Winston Guy went for the interception instead of the tackle and rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz chased Gordon for 20-plus yards and never dove for Gordon's legs.

Ace in the hole: With Shorts a nonfactor for most of the game and Mike Brown playing with a very sore shoulder, the Jaguars needed somebody to step up at receiver, and Ace Sanders did, catching five passes for 38 yards and carrying it once for 4 yards in the first half. Those don't sound like big numbers, but Sanders converted four third downs. He finished with a team-high eight catches for 67 yards, including a 25-yarder on the Jaguars' game-winning touchdown drive.

Turnover binge: The Jaguars went from trailing 14-7 to leading 20-14 in less than a two-minute span at the end of the first half thanks to three turnovers. Two were interceptions, which double the amount the Jaguars' secondary had entering the game. Rookie safety Johnathan Cyprien picked off the first pass of his career, which led to Maurice Jones-Drew's touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis to tie the game with 1:24 remaining. Gratz intercepted Brandon Weeden's next pass, which led to Josh Scobee's 44-yard field goal and a 17-14 lead with 52 seconds remaining. The Browns tried to drive for a field goal but defensive end Jason Babin knocked the ball from Weeden's hand and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks recovered the ball and returned it to the Cleveland 18-yard line with five seconds remaining. Scobee hit a 36-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a six-point lead.

What's next: The Jaguars will play host to the Houston Texans on Thursday night.

Five things to watch: Jaguars-Browns

November, 30, 2013
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s Jacksonville Jaguars-Cleveland Browns game at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio:

[+] EnlargeJoe Haden and A.J. Green
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBrowns cornerback Joe Haden has shut down some of the league's top receivers this season.
Shorts vs. Haden: Browns cornerback Joe Haden will likely match up exclusively with Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts. It’s a matchup that clearly favors the Browns. Haden is playing at a Pro Bowl level and is tied for the NFL lead with 16 pass breakups. He neutralized Calvin Johnson (three catches, 25 yards) and A.J. Green (nine catches, 58 yards in two games). Shorts is the Jaguars’ leading receiver (58 catches for 700 yards) but has struggled when defenses have made it a priority to take him out of the game.

Weeden returns: Jason Campbell is out with a concussion so Brandon Weeden will start at quarterback for the Browns. He has really struggled in his second season, throwing six touchdown passes and seven interceptions in four starts. The Jaguars’ secondary has just two interceptions this season and only one in the last seven weeks.

Pressure: Jacksonville’s offensive line has struggled in pass protection all season (37 sacks allowed) and it could be another rough day on Sunday. The Browns have 31 sacks and the production is pretty spread out: 15 players have at least one sack, including rookie Barkevious Mingo, who has a team-high four. The Jaguars gave up four sacks last week and quarterback Chad Henne took a beating all day.

Better against the run: The Jaguars’ rush defense has been significantly better since the bye week. In the eight games before the bye, the Jaguars were allowing an average of 162 yards per game rushing. In the three games since the bye, the Jaguars are allowing only 58 yards per game. Cleveland has struggled to run the ball, even before the Trent Richardson trade. The Browns are averaging 81.0 yards per game on the ground and have rushed for only one touchdown.

Moving up: Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew needs 108 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) to move past Jimmy Smith into second place on the franchise’s all-time all-purpose yardage list. Jones-Drew has 12,768 yards in 110 games. Fred Taylor is the record holder with 13,632 yards, which he accomplished in 140 games.

Jaguars fantasy breakdown: Week 13

November, 29, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Looking for some help with your fantasy football lineup? Every Friday I'll give you my opinions on which Jacksonville Jaguars players to play and sit, as well as which of the opposing players might be a good play against the Jags. For more fantasy football advice, check out ESPN.com's fantasy football page.


QB Chad Henne: Henne is coming off his best game of the season, although fantasy-wise it wasn’t much (239 yards and no touchdowns). But he stood in and took a beating and didn’t throw an interception or make any terrible throws. The big problem Sunday is that Browns cornerback Joe Haden will be shadowing top target Cecil Shorts. It’s not a good matchup. Verdict: Sit him.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew: He’s coming off his best game of the season, too: 144 all-purpose yards, including 84 yards and one touchdown rushing. He’ll get another heavy workload, but the Browns have the league’s No. 4 defense and they haven’t allowed any player to rush for more than 88 yards. Verdict: It’ll be tough going for Jones-Drew, but he’s going to get the work. He’s a viable option as a No. 3 back or flex player.

WR Cecil Shorts: It’s going to be a tough day for Shorts against Haden, who neutralized Calvin Johnson (three catches, 25 yards) and A.J. Green (nine catches, 58 yards in two games). Verdict: Sit him.

TE Marcedes Lewis: I’m still confused as to why he’s not a bigger part of the passing game. He has nine catches and his best game came against Tennessee, when he caught three passes for 39 yards. Verdict: Sit him until he starts getting more action.

K Josh Scobee: Sunday’s weather is going to be cold but the winds are only forecast to be 10 mph, so that shouldn’t affect the kickers much. Here’s an interesting stat: Scobee has made 58.3 percent of his field goal attempts of 40-49 yards in November road games in his career. His overall career field goal percentage is 80.5 percent. Verdict: Sit him.

Defense/special teams: The Jaguars have been very good against the run since the bye week (58 yards per game) and the Browns are having trouble running the ball (81.0 yards per game). Quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is completing 52 percent of his passes and has thrown for six touchdowns with seven interceptions, is starting in place of Jason Campbell. This is a good matchup for the Jaguars Verdict: Start them.


QB Brandon Weeden: He shouldn’t be on anyone’s roster at this point in the season. If you’ve picked him up for a spot start this week, then you’re probably not in the playoff hunt in your league, either. Verdict: Sit him.

FB Chris Ogbonnaya: Willis McGahee leads the Browns in rushing with 287 yards and has the team’s only rushing touchdown, but Ogbonnaya has led the team in rushing the last two weeks. He’s also fourth on the team with 36 catches. Verdict: If you have any Browns running back, sit them down – forever.

WR Josh Gordon: He’s a big-play receiver, averaging 18.3 yards per catch and has 16 catches of 20 or more yards. He tied a club record with 14 catches and set a club record with 237 yards receiving in last Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh. Verdict: Start him.

TE Jordan Cameron: He leads the Browns with 59 catches and six touchdown catches and he’s averaging 11.2 yards per catch. But the only thing you really need to know is he’s a tight end, which means he’ll carve up the Jaguars. Verdict: Like any tight end facing the Jaguars, he’s a must start.

K Billy Cundiff: He has been good from long range this season, making 8 of 10 field goal attempts from 40 or more yards. Verdict: If you don’t have a dome or warm-weather kicker he’s worth a gamble.

Defense/special teams: The Browns are the only team in the NFL to have not allowed a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher in the same game and their third-down defense over the last two games has been very good (5-of-28, 17.9 percent). The Jaguars’ offensive has struggled all season and gave up four sacks last week to bring the season total to 37. Verdict: Start them.

RTC: Bryan Anger in slight slump

October, 31, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Bryan Anger is dealing with a bit of a sophomore slump.

Expectations are always going to be high for the Jaguars' punter because he was drafted in the third round, but his numbers this season are down slightly from his rookie year in 2012. His punting average (46.8) is down a yard from last season and his net average has been less than 40 yards in each of the last two games, writes Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union.

"It's been a little bit of a slow start," Anger said. "I've had some inconsistent games. I'm not quite 100 percent where I want to be. I've just been ironing some things out."

One area in which he will try to improve is field position. Though he has put 12 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line, only three have pinned opponents inside their 10.

Here are some additional pieces of Jaguars content from around the web in our daily Reading the Coverage feature:

WJXT TV-4 sports director Sam Kouvaris and Cole Pepper look back at the first half of the season in the first part of their midseason report. Part two, in which they look ahead to the rest of the season, will be posted later this week.

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal ranks the league's quarterbacks in his midseason report. Chad Henne was No. 31, ahead of Josh Freeman, Brandon Weeden, and Blaine Gabbert.

Former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell said he regrets the comments about the team moving to London. Speaking on a Jacksonville radio station, Brunell said he just got caught up in the interview on the Mike & Mike show in ESPN Radio on Tuesday morning.

Some of the Jaguars' rookies have played well. Others have been invisible. I evaluate each of them here.

What players or areas of the team are rising and which are falling? Check out the stock watch.

Here are two items from the Jaguars blog: the weekly QB Watch and NFL Buzz video, in which I detail the top storylines heading into the bye week.