How can we tell the swagger has left the Jacksonville Jaguars?
How about listening to cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who set himself up as the NFL’s biggest talker this offseason, mumbling out a bunch of two- and three-word answers after the Jaguars were embarrassed 40-7 by the Dallas Cowboys:
Uncut Jalen Ramsey postgame: pic.twitter.com/xwmKO9ok0y
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) October 15, 2018
There’s only one telling comment from that postgame scrum. It came when Ramsey was asked if the Jaguars were the still the best defense in the NFL.
“We ain’t playing like it,” Ramsey said, in what was his longest answer.
What has happened to the Jaguars? They played very well most of last season, made a long playoff run that ended with a heartbreaking loss to the Patriots in the AFC title game, brought mostly everyone back and dominated the Patriots in a 31-20 Week 2 win. The past few weeks the Jaguars look unrecognizable — kind of like Ramsey going from ripping anyone whose name he could remember to channelling Bill Belichick.
They’re on a 1-3 stretch that includes an ugly 9-6 home loss to the Titans and two straight blowout losses to the Chiefs and Cowboys. They’ve been outscored 70-21 the past two weeks. The Chiefs loss made sense because K.C. can score on anyone, but it’s hard to figure out how the punchless Cowboys offense got over on them for 40 points. The Jaguars still rank second in the NFL in yards per game and yards per play allowed this season, even after the debacle Sunday, so we can assume the defense will be fine. There’s more talent on the Jaguars defense than any other in the league.
The offense is an issue, and we all know why. Blake Bortles is often miscast as a bad quarterback. Go back to the Week 2 game against the Patriots, when he threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns and was generally great all day. That’s not a bad quarterback. But what Bortles is, now that Nick Foles is back to the bench, is the most hot-and-cold starting NFL quarterback in recent memory. He’s incredibly streaky. And bad Bortles is really, really bad. We’ve seen that version for three straight weeks. His mechanics look sloppy again and his decision making has been bad. And there’s no way of knowing when Bortles will turn it on. He did so during a fantastic stretch late last season. He’s capable of that, or playing like he did against the Patriots. It’s just unpredictable.
That leaves the Jaguars in a tough spot. It doesn’t help that star running back Leonard Fournette has basically been injured all season and might not return until November.
There’s nothing the Jaguars can realistically do about the quarterback spot. If you want to come up with a trade scenario, maybe Eli Manning or Derek Carr, there’s a reason any quarterback would be available in a trade. The Jaguars could theoretically try to trade a fortune for Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater based on a few preseason games this season, but Bridgewater hasn’t played a regular-season game in a long time, he’d be learning a new offense and there’s no guarantee the Saints would want to trade him even if the Jaguars mortgaged the future. Any trade scenario seems like a fantasy or just the next quarterback problem. It’s a scary thought, but the Jaguars seem stuck riding the Bortles roller coaster this season.
There are two things in the Jaguars’ favor: The AFC South isn’t good, and the schedule is soft. Here’s what the Jaguars have remaining:
Week 7: vs. Houston
Week 8: vs. Philadelphia
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: at Indianapolis
Week 11: vs. Pittsburgh
Week 12: at Buffalo
Week 13: vs. Indianapolis
Week 14: at Tennessee
Week 15: vs. Washington
Week 16: at Miami
Week 17: at Houston
The toughest games are against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, who have struggled themselves at times. The Eagles game is in London while the Steelers contest is in Jacksonville. The Jaguars aren’t going to run the table, but which games would you pick them to lose the rest of the way?
The Jaguars have looked bad three of the past four weeks, and that’s a concern. The worry about Bortles’ current slump, or when his next one will start, will always be an issue. But the Jaguars still look like a good bet to make the playoffs, and they should be a handful once they get there. The defense should rebound, the schedule is very soft, the AFC South is winnable and then the Jaguars will hope Bortles plays decent more often than not and then gets hot for a few games in January. The last part of that will determine if the Jaguars can repeat what they did last season. Stay tuned.
Here are the power rankings after Week 6 of the NFL season:
32. Arizona Cardinals (1-5, LW: 31)
David Johnson’s dip this year is staggering. In 2016 he averaged 4.2 yards per rush and 11 yards per catch. This year he’s at 3.2 and 7.9, respectively, which is terribly inefficient. Since I don’t assume Johnson forgot how to play since he was an All-Pro in 2016, I’ll wonder if the Cardinals could be doing more to get him the ball in advantageous situations.
31. Oakland Raiders (1-5, LW: 30)
Cornerback Gareon Conley, a 2017 first-round pick, has struggled and then on Sunday he played zero defensive snaps. All three of his snaps came on special teams. Of all the things in Oakland that are going wrong, the Raiders can’t afford for Conley to be a bust too. Add that on the fact that the Raiders are reportedly shopping 2015 first-round pick Amari Cooper in a trade, 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph doesn’t play anymore and 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller is struggling. That’s a bad stretch of first-round picks.
30. Indianapolis Colts (1-5, LW: 29)
Here were the players who had at least 30 yards for the Colts on Sunday: Marlon Mack, Eric Ebron, Chester Rogers, Marcus Johnson, Zach Pascal, Mo Alie-Cox, Nyheim Hines. Not many of those guys aside from Ebron and perhaps Hines (or Alie-Cox, if you need a good offensive rebounder) would be playing a significant role for most NFL teams. And still the Colts put up 428 yards and 34 points on a good Jets defense. A lot of that came in garbage time, but still. Yes, the Colts are 1-5, but over the next few years as they build a team for Frank Reich and Andrew Luck to work with, they’ll do some damage.
29. New York Giants (1-5, LW: 27)
I’m at a loss to explain how Pat Shurmur and Case Keenum were so good with last year’s Vikings but are both struggling in their new roles. It’s not like the 2017 Vikings had a perfect offensive situation (good defense and receivers but poor offensive line and no Dalvin Cook for most of the year). It’s impossible to believe both aren’t good at their roles because of last season. I’m unsure which one rebounds first.
28. San Francisco 49ers (1-5, Last Week: 32)
The 49ers deserved better on Monday night. Aaron Rodgers just beat them in the end. But they played hard, again. Kyle Shanahan is doing a great job putting C.J. Beathard in positions to succeed. It’s hard to be too positive about a 1-5 team, but I’m impressed with how they’ve handled themselves after Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury. The results just aren’t there.
27. Buffalo Bills (2-4, LW: 28)
I don’t even know what to make of the fact that for most of the fourth quarter on Sunday, it looked like the Bills were going to improve to 3-3 with road wins against the Vikings and Texans. Head coach Sean McDermott squeezes the most out of his talent. But I seriously question him for voluntarily choosing Nathan Peterman to be his starting quarterback for a game in each of the past two years. Now we wait to see if Josh Allen’s elbow injury allows him to start this week.
26. Denver Broncos (2-4, LW: 26)
In Denver, you’d think the Broncos would turn into the 2007 Patriots if they’d give Chad Kelly a chance to play quarterback. Let’s just say the fans in Colorado really like him. What’s more pressing is that I’m not sure Vance Joseph would survive a loss at a bad Arizona team on Thursday night. If the Broncos were so inclined, they’d have three extra days to make a move, and it’s hard to believe John Elway would stay patient if they fell to 2-5.
25. Houston Texans (3-3, LW: 22)
You won’t find many .500 teams less impressive. And this one is tied for first place. If Frank Reich didn’t go for it, Jason Garrett did go for it and Nathan Peterman didn’t give the game away, I’m not sure the Texans aren’t looking for a new coach this week. But, that’s life in the NFL. Sometimes you hit all the green lights for a while.
24. Atlanta Falcons (2-4, LW: 24)
It’s good to get a win and stay relevant, but it’s not like the defense solved anything. It’s hard to see the offense winning enough shootouts to get this team in the playoffs, no matter how good Matt Ryan and friends have been.
23. Tennessee Titans (3-3, LW: 19)
A couple weeks ago, I was buying into the Titans. Not anymore. The offense is awful right now, and it’s not like it didn’t have talent. I’ve always been a believer in Marcus Mariota, even when he struggled last season, but I’m not buying his stock anymore either.
22. Cleveland Browns (2-3-1, LW: 20)
It was telling to hear quarterback Baker Mayfield take the blame for the Browns’ 38-14 loss to the Chargers, although he played through an ankle injury he suffered when he slipped on a first-down marker on the field, his receivers dropped numerous passes and the defense gave up a ton of big plays. “Anytime you don’t do your job, I’m at fault for the majority of that,” Mayfield said according to Cleveland.com. “I’m going to be very hard on myself.” There were many things that went wrong other than Mayfield, but that’s what you want your quarterback to say.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3, LW: 16)
Firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith probably had to happen, but two years ago he was a hot name in the head-coaching market and the team was happy to sign him to an extension. Do we believe Smith forgot how to coach or are there other issues that firing Smith won’t fix?
20. Dallas Cowboys (3-3, LW: 23)
I’ll keep saying it: Dak Prescott wasn’t playing great but he was never Dallas’ biggest problem either. He’s still good enough to take Cole Beasley and any other castoffs the front office has given him and play well in a 40-point game against the Jaguars. If you think Prescott is holding the Cowboys back, you haven’t watched them closely enough.
19. Seattle Seahawks (3-3, LW: 21)
Doug Baldwin’s 91-yard day was huge for Seattle. Tyler Lockett has finally found consistency and if Baldwin is back to himself, it gives the Seahawks’ passing game a chance. Baldwin gets a bye week to get even healthier, too.
18. Detroit Lions (2-3, LW: 17)
Receiver Kenny Golladay has been a revelation, although his talent was obvious as a rookie last season. Even with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, it feels like the Lions need to feature Golladay even more. He might be special. We’ll see if he gets more targets after the bye.
17. New York Jets (3-3, LW: 25)
Sam Darnold looks like a good pick, and tight end Chris Herndon might be too. Herndon, an intriguing fourth-round pick out of Miami, caught his first career touchdown Sunday. If he continues to develop, he’ll be a nice piece for what looks to be a surprisingly good offense.
16. Miami Dolphins (4-2, LW: 18)
Albert Wilson has been a nice free-agent addition: 23 catches, 15.6 yards per catch and four touchdowns. It’s surprising the Chiefs never got more out of him.
15. Washington Redskins (3-2, LW: 15)
Of all the teams in sole possession of first place in the NFL through six weeks, the Redskins might be the one most people couldn’t name. But it’s true, they’re all alone atop the NFC East. A home game against the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon will go a long way in determining if they’re going to remain in the division race all season.
14. Green Bay Packers (3-2-1, LW: 12)
Fun, exciting win. But as the Packers head to their bye, they can’t feel great. They haven’t put together one complete game yet, except maybe against the lowly Bills at home. Aaron Rodgers cures a lot of ills, and he did so on Monday night, but they have to play better than they have.
13. Chicago Bears (3-2, LW: 9)
It’s hard to believe the Bears’ defense, which had looked so good through the first quarter of the season, let Brock Osweiler torch Chicago in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Bears got incredibly fortune with Kenyan Drake’s fumble at the goal line in overtime and still couldn’t win. I don’t think that’s a sign the defense isn’t as good as we thought, but it’s a regrettable loss. Playoff teams find a way to win games like that.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2, LW: 11)
No way around it: That was a crushing loss to the Steelers. And now the Bengals go on the road to face a very good Chiefs team. That’s a tough turnaround.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1, LW: 14)
Imagine if that final drive, after the Bengals scored late to take a lead, had failed. And remember, the Steelers were going to face a fourth-and-10 but a defensive holding call gave them a first down. Instead of a full-scale panic, the Steelers won the game late and now everyone thinks they’re back on the right track. Never forget how thin the margins are in the NFL.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3, LW: 8)
Think about this: The Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette fourth overall, seven picks ahead of Patrick Mahomes. It’s far from a guarantee that Mahomes would have developed like he has with the Chiefs. But it’s a reminder that running back gambles early in the draft often aren’t worth it. Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara went in the third round last year, well after Fournette, who can’t seem to stay healthy.
9. Baltimore Ravens (4-2, LW: 13)
The Ravens gave up 34 points on a Thursday night to the Bengals. In the five other games, the defense has allowed 3, 14, 14, 12 and 0. There were a lot of suspect opponents in that run, but Baltimore’s defense looks like one of the best in the NFL.
8. Carolina Panthers (3-2, LW: 5)
Receiver D.J. Moore, the team’s first-round pick, lost two fumbles in the first two quarters. But he rebounded well, with four catches for 59 yards and an 18-yard run. That’s a good sign from the rookie. The Panthers still need Moore to play a big role in their passing game.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2, LW: 10)
Philip Rivers is getting a lot of praise and some very early MVP love, but this is an important stat: He’s tied for 22nd in the NFL at 32.3 attempts per game, and that’s inflated by 51 attempts in a Week 1 loss to the Chiefs. He has thrown it more than 30 times in just two of six games. Rivers doesn’t need to do it all, and he’s been quite efficient as a result.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3, LW: 7)
The best thing going for the Eagles is that the rest of the NFC East isn’t scary. Philadelphia looked last Thursday night like they’re ready to make a run.
5. Minnesota Vikings (3-2-1, LW: 6)
Latavius Murray was fantastic in a 155-yard day on Sunday. It says something about the depth of the Vikings that they can be without Dalvin Cook, and can plug in someone like Murray.
4. New Orleans Saints (4-1, LW: 4)
The Buccaneers are slumping. The Falcons won Sunday, but they’re 2-4 with a bad defense. The Panthers lost a winnable game at Washington. All of a sudden the Saints are looking like a heavy favorite in the NFC South.
3. New England Patriots (4-2, LW: 3)
There were so many things to like about Sunday night’s game, but let’s not overlook kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He hit all nine kicks (five field goals, four extra points) and there was no doubt that he’d hit the game-winner as time expired. There’s something to be said about having a reliable kicker.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-1, LW: 2)
I won’t move the Chiefs down for a few reasons: There’s no shame in a last-play loss at New England, and their entire body of work is still very impressive. I can’t imagine someone watching the Chiefs play Sunday night and thinking less of them afterward. They were good, the Patriots were just slightly better at home.
1. Los Angeles Rams (6-0, LW: 1)
I still can’t believe Cooper Kupp was OK after being carted off following that horse-collar tackle. I thought he was done for a couple months at least. It turns out Kupp sprained his MCL, and the Rams are lucky he didn’t make it worse playing in the second half. It seems like a poor decision to let him play the second half.
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