JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The Jaguars have now won six straight at home against their AFC South rivals the Indianapolis Colts – but Sunday’s win might have been the most improbable of them all. A 7.5-point underdog entering the day, the league’s youngest squad got contributions across the board. More than one national pundit called the Jags’ win “the upset of Week One.”
In this sports reporter's opinion, it was a game the Jaguars not only needed to win: it's one the more veteran, 2019 Jaguars would've lost. Think the Week 2, last-second loss in Houston (Jalen Ramsey-Doug Marrone sideline fight and all). Or the 13-6 dud of a loss to the Saints. Both had a lot of "would've," "should've," "could've." All options were seemingly exhausted Sunday, and seemingly everyone contributed.
“I think a lot of us sometimes tend to lose faith in team, just the word ‘team.’ And this team has really instilled that faith for me,” Marrone said following the Jaguars’ 27-20 win Sunday, their first season-opening win at home since 2018. “With no disrespect to any other team I’ve been on, outside of just being a line coach and having your own room, this is the closest I’ve felt to a team since I’ve been a head coach.”
Love him or hate him, agree or disagree with him: since owner Shad Khan gave Marrone more executive power in December 2019, the fourth-year head coach has been steadfast in what he wants. Team-first mentality. No nonsense. Execution over improvising.
It’s still early. The "buy-in," the "culture shift" appears to be happening.
But what does it all mean?
Here are five takeaways on this, the "Monday Morning After."
1. Penalties didn’t pile up
Six penalties for 61 yards is nothing to cry home about. But when you consider the Jaguars averaged 8.2 penalties per game in 2019 – good for second-to-worst in the NFL – that stat speaks volumes. Only one of those six penalties was against the offensive line, who were much maligned in the penalty department in 2019. Now second-year right tackle Jawaan Taylor had 16 penalties last year, second-most in the league. Of the six penalties Sunday, only one was a false start at the line of scrimmage (Dawuane Smoot with an encroachment penalty. The veteran defensive tackle also had a roughing the passer penalty). Sure, crowd noise wasn’t nearly the factor it normally is, but the discipline at the line of scrimmage was noticeable. Again: just six penalties!
(Especially considering that “pass interference” call on Myles Jack was a bit questionable)
Speaking of Jack: one year ago Sunday, he was ejected from the Jaguars 2019 home opener against the Chiefs for fighting. This year, when Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell tried to flex in Jack’s face late in the third quarter, the second-year captain held up his hands in defense and walked away. Campbell would be issued a 15-yard taunting penalty. Sure, the Colts would eventually still score a field goal on the drive – but they could’ve been set up for an easy touchdown if Jack had been the one issued the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
It’s the type of growth the Jaguars needs to see from one of their more veteran players, especially a captain.
2. Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson
The story of James Robinson, the first undrafted rookie running back to start a game in the modern NFL era, was always going to go one of two ways: instant impact or bust.
Thankfully for the Jaguars, it turned out to be the former.
The Illinois State grad “only” had 62 yards on the ground, but 56 came in the first half. That included bursts of five, nine, three, six and 11 yards on the Jaguars’ opening drive alone. His lone catch lit up the Internet. I can speak for those of us in the press box when I say: our eye balls about left our heads almost every time Robinson touched the ball. Was the offensive line actually creating these massive holes? Was it a product of Robinson’s heralded vision? Both? (probably)
“The coaches told me to just be you and that’s what I did. I didn’t go out there trying to be someone else and someone that I wasn’t,” the soft-spoken Robinson said post-game. “I think, after the first carry, I was like, ‘Okay, I ran it now. It’s my first NFL game, but after that first play that’s gone, now you’ve got to play.’ I just went out there to be myself.”
The Jaguars like him just the way he is, too.
“I’m so happy for him. A guy who really got overlooked in the whole process. He is a guy that I identify with,” Robinson’s quarterback, Gardner Minshew, said. “Coming out of high school a very productive player, but didn’t get recruited like he should. Super productive in college, but didn’t get scouted like he should. He’s a great football player and I’m super glad he got the opportunity to get out there and he made the most of it.”
Minshew must be happy to finally have a running back.
3. This may just be the surface of Jay Gruden's offense
Minshew was 19 of 20 for 173 yards, yes. But those 19 passes went to 10 different targets. Tight ends James O'Shaughnessy and Tyler Eifert -- both of whom Minshew has shown tremendous repertoire with throughout training camp -- had just one catch each. Third-down back Chris Thompson had just two catches and zero rushing yards.
From what we've seen in practice, there's still plenty the Jaguars didn't get on tape just yet that they could unleash in the weeks to come.
Prior to his ACL tear, O'Shaughnessy had touchdowns in two of his final three games of 2019. In the third game, he caught three passes from Minshew for 57 yards. Even with Jay Gruden now calling plays, the Minshew-O'Shaughnessy connection will resurface. It's part of why Eifert was signed: this offense needs tight ends to thrive (also a fullback -- shout-out Bruce Miller for his first catch and NFL game in three years).
We saw so much of Chris Thompson in training camp, it's hard to believe the Jaguars would completely abandon him now -- especially given his relationship with Gruden, who he has played for for five-plus years. Add in recent signee and fellow scat back Dare Ogunbowale (not to mention Devine Ozigbo when he returns from Injured Reserve), and the Jaguars have more than enough in their running back room to keep opponents guessing.
Do-it-all rookie Laviska Shenault lined up in the wildcat once on Sunday, rushing for three yards. He added another rush for seven yards. This won't be the last we see of him lining up all over the field either.
Keep your head on a swivel this fall, folks.
4. More than Henderson, young secondary steps up
The No. 9 overall pick in this past April’s draft will rightfully get most of the post-game love: C.J. Henderson tallied five tackles, three passes defended, and an interception in his NFL debut. He was undoubtedly the MVP of the defense Sunday.
But he wasn’t alone.
After Henderson’s running partner, Tre Herndon, was banged up on the second Colts drive of the game, fellow rookie Chris Claybrooks was forced to step in. The Colts immediately tested Claybrooks on the very next play, a six-yard completion to Zach Pascal, but which Claybrooks quickly put a stop to with sure tackling. Claybrooks would add two more tackles on the Colts’ final, desperation drive.
For perspective: a JUCO product that transferred to Memphis, Claybrooks played just 18 games in two years for Mike Norvell. He didn’t even play cornerback until he got to college. He was a wide receiver/running back. The Jaguars drafted him to be their return specialist.
Plenty of media members and Jaguars die-hards alike scratched their head when fellow rookie Luq Barcoo was listed as a healthy scratch. But Claybrooks proved he is capable of being the Jaguars’ third corner.
Additionally – even if at this point he doesn’t feel like a youngster – I’d be remiss if I didn’t also pay tribute to Andrew “Dewey” Wingard. The second-year player and former undrafted free agent stepped in in the fourth quarter when starting safety Jarrod Wilson suffered a hamstring injury. More than not missing a beat: Wingard came up with the critical, second interception of the day.
“We had guys step up. One of our safeties comes out of the game, Andrew [Wingard] goes in there and comes up with a great play. I mean, really great play. He’s sitting all over it, he sees it, he drives on that ball,” Doug Marrone singled out post-game.
Of the Jaguars eleven defensive backs, five are rookies. It’s a position many worried about. Maybe they shouldn’t be.
5. What do we make of the run defense?
… because after all: even if the Colts got away from the running game in the second half, they gashed the Jaguars early on. Maybe this is where some of the worry should be directed (yes, I know, the Jaguars also failed to record a sack. But by the second half, they were getting pressure on Philip Rivers and the best offensive line in the league).
Colts' running backs Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines’ combined line on the opening drive of the game: eight yards, three yards, six yards, 12 yard-touchdown. Mack added an 18-yard run on the next drive (he later left with an Achilles injury). The Jaguars run defense improved following Mack’s departure – whether that was due to the Jaguars or rookie tailback Jonathan Taylor remains to be seen – holding Taylor to 22 yards on the ground. There was also the critical, fourth-down stop on the Jaguars' 2-yard line in the first quarter. That came prior to Mack's exit.
It was a grand total of 88 rushing yards for Indy, which, when you consider the Colts rushed for more than 200 yards against the Jaguars in their first meeting last year, is not too shabby.
And of course: for the second time in three meetings, Hines made the Jaguars pay on screen-passes, including his second touchdown of the afternoon. Taylor also had six catches for 67 yards. That will have to be cleaned up, too.
But maybe it was just those opening game jitters.
“Coming into it, you knew it was going to be interesting, the first couple series of the game, because it’s really our first look at live action since December, for me at least,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “It was just settling down, getting used to playing football again in an actual game environment, and then I thought our communication was great all day. There’s going to be hiccups, it’s the first game.”
It’s gonna be just a bit of a step-up in competition for their second game, when the Jaguars travel to face the Titans and 2019 rushing champion Derrick Henry. But unlike the Colts, the Titans [most likely] won’t be quick to abandon the run-game. Or at least, that’s what their head coach’s mask seems to indicate.
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Want to sound off about the Jaguars? Sports Anchor / Reporter Mia O'Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @MiaOBrienTV on Twitter.