The Miami Dolphins get back to football tonight after Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, looking to improve on their 0-2 record as they visit the Jacksonville Jaguars. Miami has struggled early this season, with the defense giving up large chunks of yardage and the offense unable to find a rhythm early in each game. They will look to shake those trends on Thursday Night Football.
But, what can we expect to see from the Jaguars? What kind of season will they have? And, Gardner Mishew?
1. We should probably start this conversation in the obvious place, and I do not really have a specific question, so I will leave it open to your interpretation, breakdown, and expectations. Gardner Minshew?
I’ve been a fan of Minshew since he first stepped into playing meaningful snaps for the Jaguars, which was as early as the first week of the 2019 season after Nick Foles was injured. And really, I was a fan of his play before that while he was at Washington State in 2018, too. I want Minshew to be the guy in Jacksonville, and I don’t buy into the “Tank for Trevor (Lawrence)” talk. Going into the season there were of course questions about whether or not Minshew could carry the load for the Jaguars as a full-time starting quarterback, and even though it’s only been two games, that answer so far is emphatically “yes.”
Minshew has been incredibly efficient for the Jaguars so far, completing better than 75 percent of his passes for 512 yards and six touchdowns passes (tied for second in the NFL). He is also averaging nearly 7.9 yards per attempt. He did throw two interceptions this past Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, but one was because a rookie receiver inadvertently tried to catch a pass that wasn’t meant for him and the other was batted in the air at the line of scrimmage on Jacksonville’s final drive where the Jaguars were looking for a game-tying field goal or game-winning touchdown. The biggest thing with Minshew is that his teammates believe in him and see him as a leader. He was voted him as a captain.
Minshew plays with poise and seems to be a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s system. The offense runs so smoothly with him at the helm and can seemingly score a will — a big change of pace over the past few Jaguars teams. Minshew may be the best quarterback the Jags have had since Mark Brunell. I think he’s proven he’s not a fluke and while he is going to inevitably have bad games here and there (as just about every quarterback does), I think the Jaguars have found the franchise quarterback the team has been longing for for such a long time. Right now, he is signed to an extremely cheap sixth-round rookie contract, and an extension for him shouldn’t break the bank for a franchise with plenty of cap room to work with. I’m all in on Minshew, but he still has some things to prove.
2. During the Blake Bortles era, the strength of the Jaguars was clearly their defense. This year, they saw players like Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue depart, and are now 23rd in yards allowed this year (to be fair, Miami is 30th, but we will ignore that right now) and allowing 26.5 points per game. The defense does not seem as dominant as it has been the past few years. How would you attack the Jaguars’ defense?
The Jaguars’ defense — and the whole team really — is extremely young. In fact, Jacksonville has the youngest roster in the NFL with an average age of just 24.9. The team has 16 rookies (12 draftees and four undrafted free agents) and nine of those are on the defensive side of the ball. While not all of the rookies are seeing meaningful snaps yet, plenty are such as cornerback CJ Henderson, defensive ends K’Lavon Chaisson, and defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton (and plenty more on offense, but that’s a different story). So growing pains, especially on a defense that is being completely rebuilt, are expected.
You are right, that there has seemingly been a turning of the tides for the Jaguars. This is a team that used to have a dominant defense, which helped spur the 2017 AFC Championship game run, but has generally struggled on offense over the past couple of seasons. Now, it is the offense that is firing on all cylinders while the defense is often giving up big plays or points. While the team finally was able to shut down Derrick Henry and the Titans’ running game last Sunday (Henry has long terrorized the Jags), the defense put a little too much focus on stopping the run and not enough on containing the pass, as Ryan Tannehill lit Jacksonville up with four touchdown passes. The one thing I’ve seen that I do like from the defense is that after slow starts, the unit seems to rebound and step up in clutch situations. While the team fell just short against a good Titans team, partially due to a phantom pass interference call on Myles Jack late in the game, that has been promising to see some resiliency.
In addition to the Jaguars being young and inexperienced, defensive coordinator Todd Wash seemingly refuses to rush more than four players, and Jacksonville gets very little pressure and sacks. The Titans also had a lot of success throwing to tight end Jonnu Smith. So, as far as attacking the defense, if I were the Dolphins I am scheming Mike Gesicki all over the field, and I think he would be particularly dangerous in the slot. With a limited pass rush, Gesicki will have time for intermediate and deeper routes, too. Make the Jaguars commit to stopping him and then start handing the ball off to Myles Gaskin (or Jordan Howard or Matt Breida) and control the clock and keep the ball out of Minshew’s hands.
3. Turning back to the offense, Jacksonville seems to be an extremely creative offense, with a ton of misdirection and - as scary as this is after watching the Bills crush the Dolphins defense with it - the crossing route used to perfection to create space. What should Dolphins fans expect to see when the Jaguars have the ball?
I alluded to this earlier, but Jay Gruden has been a fantastic play-caller for the Jaguars thus far. Gruden and Minshew are meshing well together and it’s quite honestly been fun to watch (something that isn’t normally said about Jacksonville’s offense). As you said, Gruden’s variation of the West Coast offense uses a decent amount of misdirection. It also uses a fair amount of play-action, and a lot of pre-snap motion. You will see Minshew throwing a lot of short and intermediate passes, too. Minshew will also make plays with his feet outside of the pocket when he needs to.
You may also notice rookie Laviska Shenault lining up all over the field — wide receiver, running back, possibly wildcat quarterback, etc. The Jaguars also have a promising undrafted rookie running back in James Robinson. More on him shortly.
Here are a few scoring plays from the Jaguars this season that really show off some of the creative play-calling:
If the first two weeks have taught us anything, expect some Minshew magic.
4. It feels like we are still early enough in the season to ask this. What newcomer to the Jaguars this year excites you the most? Who has been a surprise? And, where are you concerned the Jaguars maybe overspent or overdrafted after two weeks?
As mentioned, Robinson as a UDFA is as big of a surprise as there is. The Jaguars made the head-scratching decision to release Leonard Fournette ahead of roster cut downs, and Robinson is proving why the team was comfortable doing that. After a solid debut against the Indianapolis Colts in the first game, Robinson stepped up against the Titans, recording 102 yards on 16 carries (6.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown, in addition to three catches for 18 yards through the air. He has dominated backfield touches and is the clear leader in the backfield.
I also mentioned Shenault, another rookie. He makes a difference in both the passing game and running game, and like i said, will even take snaps at quarterback in the wildcat. Defenses have to account for him at all times, opening things up for other playmakers such as D.J. Chark (who also demands a lot of attention from defenders) and Keelan Cole.
Defensively, keep an eye on the young trio of cornerback CJ Henderson and defensive ends K’Lavon Chaisson and Josh Allen.
As far as where the Jaguars may have overdrafted, defensive tackle Taven Bryan was a first-round pick in 2018. He has flashed from time to time, but still just hasn’t put it together on a consistent basis.
#Jaguars DT Taven Bryan has played about 76.5% of the team's defensive snaps this year, more than any other DL (including Josh Allen).— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) September 21, 2020
He has recorded one tackle and one QB hit.
5. What are realistic expectations for the Jaguars this year?
Going into the year, my expectations were low. I didn’t believe the Jaguars were going to be No. 1 overall pick bad, like most were projecting, but I was thinking a ceiling of five to six wins. The team, while talented, is just so young and experienced. Now, after watching them play for two weeks, I think that ceiling should be more around eight wins or so. Even with the expanded playoff field, I’m not sure Jacksonville gets in this year, but I’ve been really impressed with this team so far — especially with Minshew and the offense — and I think Jacksonville could be a real contender going into 2021. I just want to see improvement every week, so if that’s happening, I am not as worried about wins and losses, but obviously, the more wins the better.