The search for reasons why the Jacksonville Jaguars and specifically the Gus Bradley Experience aren’t working isn’t one that takes very long, but a simple idea remains at the heart of it all: They don’t show up.
The Jaguars have trailed at halftime in all but one of their games, including three times by two touchdowns or more. Thursday night’s trip to Tennessee was the latest, most public and most embarrassing installment of the trend, and it’s the one that makes you really start to wonder if this long rebuilding process hasn’t already run its course.
The nature of this column is to write immediately off a primetime game, which means doing some work at halftime and then revising it after the second half. This one came easy, because one half was all it needed to end. By every measure — the 27-0 score, the 354-68 disparity in yards, the 20-3 difference in first downs — they got walloped. The first half of the 36-22 final was truly reminiscent of what happens when a top-five college team faces a school you’ve never heard of, but this wasn’t even the New England Patriots they were playing. It was the 3-4 Titans.
The unique thought process the Jaguars have long applied to Bradley is that this would all work when the talent fits the scheme. Young talent like Jalen Ramsey and Blake Bortles could mesh on rookie contracts with expensive veterans such as Malik Jackson and Kelvin Beachum. Bradley and his staff were supposed to work once they could coach legitimate talent in straight-forward schemes.
The problem is, the Jaguars don’t ever seem prepared. They lead the league in penalties, they struggle with basic fundamentals such as tackling and they lose the scripted portion of the game. On Thursday, the miscues came in waves:
- They consistently blew contain in the running game, allowing DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to sweep the edge for touchdown runs.
- They committed three personal fouls, including a senselessly late out-of-bounds hit well after a ball fell incomplete.
- They couldn’t communicate properly on a third-down pass from Bortles to Allen Robinson, which should be the most natural part of the game plan.
- They couldn’t get off the field on defense on an obvious running play on 3rd-and-13 from the opposing 2, again because they badly blew contain.
Thursday night games are notoriously rough on the road teams, but this was the worst performance any team has given in the first half of a game this season. After two straight weeks, it begs the question of whether after four years, the Jaguars have tuned out the head coach who has a career record of 14-41.
It’s not my place to decide whether a coach should be fired, but I will say this: The Jaguars are the worst team in the worst division in the NFL. That can’t be progress from anything.
Here are some other quick observations from Tennessee’s thrashing of Jacksonville:
- If you want a young team that is progressing, look at the other team playing Thursday night. The Titans are now 4-4, which already doubles the wins they’ve had in each of the previous two years. More than that, the improvements are visible, not just in play but in the scheme and what the coaches allow players to do. They’re letting Marcus Mariota throw deep out of shotgun more. They’re working in some of his Oregon staples, such as the read-option pass he completed for a first down to Kendall Wright. And on Thursday, they seemed to work Henry in more than they ever have, as if cognizant of the wear that will eventually come to Murray. Mike Mularkey has a reputation as a stubborn coach stuck in the past, but it’s arguable that Tennessee’s offense has evolved more than any other since the start of the season.
- Something still is not working with Bortles. He continues to struggle immensely to spot open receivers or find solid footing under pressure, which is making him easy to gameplan for. It felt like people overreacted to his touchdown passes when games were out of reach last season, and between his footwork and his release, he still has a long way to go.
- It has to be encouraging for the Titans to see where Kendall Wright has come in recent weeks. After a middling couple years, he’s now gone over 80 yards and scored a long touchdown in two of the past three weeks. Tennessee’s biggest personnel deficiency has been its lack of speed outside the numbers, and that kind of home-run threat is exactly what a power running team needs.
- You also have to pump the breaks a little on the Titans after how bad the Jaguars really were on Thursday. Really, it was a perfect matchup at home against an erratic quarterback who struggles under pressure. That masked the area that should still feel like a gaping wound for Tennessee, which has allowed quarterbacks to throw for 336 and 350 yards the two weeks prior to this one. The Titans were barely challenged Thursday night, and really, they’re lucky they play in a division with Bortles, Brock Osweiler and an Indianapolis Colts team where Andrew Luck’s play doesn’t correlate much with winning.
Check back in with me next Thursday for the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hopefully, it’s better than tonight.