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Behind Enemy Lines: Gardner Minshew and Jaguars look to get back on track

We caught up with Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country to get his thoughts ahead of the Bengals and Jaguars game.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals will be looking to get the awful taste of last week’s tie out of their mouth against the Jaguars this week. We were fortunate enough to get Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country to share his thoughts on the state of the Jaguars heading into the game this week.

Patrick Judis: Gardner Minshew really surprised the entire NFL world by having this offense rolling in the first two weeks, but then he got a little bit quieter in Week 3. Do you think this is something he can bounce back from?

Ryan O’Bleness: I do think he will bounce back this week. There were times last year in which Minshew seemingly disappeared too, but he tends to bounce back nicely after those performances. I think Jaguars fans are beginning to understand what they have with Minshew — he’s not often going to be the guy who can single-handedly win you games (although he has proven to be pretty clutch in the fourth quarter), but he’s also not usually going to derail the entire team with his play, either. He’s a solid to good quarterback who will inevitably have bad games from time to time, just like many NFL starting signal callers.

Last week wasn’t solely Minshew’s fault — the defense couldn’t get off the field on third down and he was also missing his best wide receiver in D.J. Chark, while fellow wide receiver Chris Conley had a very poor game. Minshew seems to be a good fit in Jay Gruden’s offense, too. I don’t think Minshew is going to light up the Bengals by any means, who have a pretty strong passing defense, but I expect him to have a more efficient outing. I also expect the Jaguars to ride James Robinson and the run game against Cincinnati’s weak rush defense, opening things up for Minshew in the passing game.

PJ: James Robinson came out of nowhere. It was pretty shocking when the Jaguars released Leonard Fournette prior to the season, but now it is clear that this guy earned his spot. What makes Robinson such great fit for this offense?

RO: Yes, releasing Fournette outright seemed like a strange decision at the time, but Robinson’s emergence has shown exactly why the team was comfortable doing so. Robinson meshes well with Gruden’s variation of the West Coast offense. He’s a strong, downhill runner, who always seems to find positive yards. In fact, he hasn’t had a negative run in either of the past two weeks. But not only is he willing and able to run defenders over, he is also a player who can make you miss in the open field. Additionally, he catches the ball out of the backfield well. He’s really just a do-it-all running back with a bright future. While Chris Thompson will still get some reps as the passing-down back, Robinson has already cemented his status as the bell cow running back in this offense.

In three games this season, Robinson has 339 total yards from scrimmage and is the only undrafted player in NFL history to post at least 300 scrimmage yards and multiple touchdowns through three career games. His 339 yards from scrimmage are the most ever by an undrafted player through three games, also. Robinson also won Rookie of the Month for his impressive performance.

PJ: Defense doesn’t appear to be on the menu very often in Jacksonville. They’ve given up at least 30 points the past two weeks and 27 in their Week 1 win. What is the biggest struggle for this defense, and is there anyway they can stop the bleeding by Sunday?

RO: Yeah, it’s been tough. When you look at the defensive rankings through three games, Jacksonville. ranks 16th overall, 15th against the run, 19th against the pass and 20th in points allowed. While none of this is good per se, it doesn’t look that bad on paper. However, when you actually watch the defense, there are many troubling signs. For example, the Jaguars have given up an opening drive touchdown in every game this season. Last week, the defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, allowing the Miami Dolphins to convert seven out of 13 times (nearly 54 percent) and also allowing the Dolphins to go one-for-one on fourth down tries. The Jaguars have also failed to generate any kind of an effective pass rush, and defensive coordinator Todd Wash seemingly refuses to blitz.

The Jacksonville defense has gotten off to incredibly slow starts, allowing opponents to quickly grab 14-0 leads in back-to-back weeks and forcing the offense to play from behind. Against the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars actually did a good job of limiting Derrick Henry (who has long terrorized Jacksonville) and the Titans’ run game, but actually put too much focus on the run game, which allowed Ryan Tannehill to shred them through the air. Against the Dolphins, Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to beat the Jags with both his arms and his legs, and the defense committed too many penalties.

The Jaguars have an incredibly young defense — and team in general — so growing pains are expected. But first and foremost, the unit needs to stop allowing opening drive scores and stop allowing opponents to gain big leads so early into games. Basically, give the offense a chance to get ahead first and work with a lead. The defense has shown the ability to buckle down in the second half in the Indianapolis Colts game and to some degree the Dolphins game (but that probably had more to do with Miami trying to drain the clock), but it needs to show the ability to do that in the first half as well. I think this is especially important against a Joe Burrow-led offense, as Burrow seems to get more confident with each passing week.

PJ: What Jaguars player doesn’t get the national attention that they deserve?

RO: One guy who is playing incredibly well right now after a poor 2019 campaign is Myles Jack. Jack was moved from the middle linebacker spot to the weak-side spot this season and it has been a great transition, as he has recorded double-digit tackles in every game so far, plus a sack against the Colts. He’s been one of the few bright spots on the struggling defense. Jack began his career playing on the strong-side, and looked like he had a promising career ahead of him after 2016 and 2017, but once the coaching staff decided to move him to the middle it was never a natural fit and his caliber of play diminished. The Jaguars signed Joe Schobert in the offseason to man the MIKE linebacker spot, which allowed Jack to go to a more natural position of WILL.

Robinson is the other guy who comes to mind, but we’ve already mentioned him and he is starting to get more attention from the national media. Laviska Shenault is another rookie whose name you should know. He is a utility player for the Jaguars playing wide receiver, slot, running back and even wildcat quarterback.

PJ: No one was quite sure if Minshew’s magic was a one time thing in 2019, but the Jaguars seemed to be all in on him after trading away Nick Foles following the season. Do the fans still believe in Minshew over the long term, or is there still hope they win the Trevor Lawrence lottery?

RO: After the first two games in which Minshew played extremely efficiently and led the offense up and down the field with ease, the majority of the fanbase, (at least from what I could tell) was either all-in on Minshew or at least started to believe he could be the long term solution at quarterback. There are always going to be doubters, though, and after last Thursday’s performance a lot of the same questions fans had coming into the season about Minshew’s ability to be a full-time starting quarterback in this league were front and center again.

For me, personally, I am still 100 percent supportive of Minshew being the guy moving forward. He had one bad performance out of three games so far, so that’s hardly a reason to just give up all hope in my opinion. But, obviously, if he doesn’t improve from that game and doesn’t continue to improve throughout the year, then the discussion about potential replacements needs to be had. But let’s give the guy a little bit more of a chance before writing him off three games and one bad outing into the oddest season in NFL history thanks to a global pandemic.

As for Lawrence, he is of course perceived as a generational talent, and I see why. However, I don’t see the Jaguars having the No. 1 overall pick in order to land him, and while Jacksonville currently has two first round picks, I don’t think the franchise is going to trade up for him either. One other thing to note is, while it’s highly unlikely, Lawrence is only a junior and could decide to return to school in 2021. So putting all of your eggs in the Trevor Lawrence basket wouldn’t be wise in my opinion. But if the Minshew experiment fails, and say the Jaguars finish 2-14 or 3-13 and get the first pick with Lawrence on the board, then by all means, come on down, Trevor.

PJ: What is your prediction for Sunday’s game?

RO: The Jaguars have had a lot of past success against the Bengals. and I think Jacksonville bounces back and gets the win this weekend. I expect Burrow to challenge this Jacksonville defense and perhaps we see a shootout, but at the end of the day I think Robinson and the running game are too much for a defense giving up nearly 182 rushing yards per game. I also think the porous Jaguars’ pass rush can get going against an offensive line that allowed eight sacks last week, and at least three sacks in each game this season.

Jaguars 27, Bengals 24

Thanks again to Ryan O’Bleness for his time. You can check out more of his work and Jaguars coverage at Big Cat Country.