"Behind Enemy (Side)Lines" is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, John Oehser of Jaguars.com gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Head coach Bill O'Brien said he didn't care what the record indicates, that Jacksonville is a good team. Despite their struggles and 2-10 record, what does Jacksonville do well?
"I imagine what he's seeing is a defense that even though it's young, it has played really well and has given the team a chance, if the offense can function, to stay in the game. I think when NFL coaches see that, they see a team that 'Hey, we're going to have trouble blowing this team out. We're going to have trouble getting ahead.' It is a defensive front that has played well enough to certainly cause coaches concern."
The defense has done well forcing turnovers this season. What's been the key and who have been the major contributors?*
"It's really been the entire defensive front. I know in Houston you've got one who dominates, J.J. Watt. With the Jaguars, it's really been more of a team effort. (DE) Chris Clemons, who they signed from Seattle in the offseason, has seven sacks. Probably the big key is (DT) Sne'Derrick Marks who started off with the Titans and signed here a couple of years back. He had a good season last year but he's had seven sacks this season and he's really starting to pick up steam around here as the best defensive player. It's pretty remarkable for an interior lineman to have seven sacks. He's played very well and been sort of the spiritual leader on and off the field for that defense."
How much has Gus Bradley put his stamp, as a defensive-minded coach, on this team?
"I think you're starting to see that. If you recall, he was with Seattle and a lot of the way Seattle played is the way Gus likes to play. Wouldn't everybody, of course?
"You're starting to see more of an aggressive, constant pursuit, very energetic up front. It starts with the defensive line, as I said. This defensive line has really gotten to the point where it can dictate games, even when it's trailing. Last week, they were down to the Giants 21-3, and the defensive line, all of a sudden, starts forcing turnovers, starts getting sacks, and the game turned.
"Usually, the defensive line needs to lead in order to have that sort of game and I think Gus Bradley is stamping that. You know, never take a play off, always come with energy, come at you in waves, sort of a thing. I'm not comparing this unit to Seattle, but it's certainly a defense that's playing more of that style than it was early."
Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles had a lot of interceptions early on, but how has he looked in recent weeks?*
"He's looked a little better. As a young quarterback, you look for signs, for things that he's doing well. Around the bye, which was a couple of weeks ago for the Jaguars, his team interceptions were very much a point of emphasis. He had thrown way too many. He cut those down and then the question became, 'Is he cutting them down because he's not being aggressive enough?' So, you're always looking for that balance.
"On Sunday, for the first time, he led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and he did some things that looked and felt natural, how you want a young quarterback to look. He's not there yet, and he's probably a long way from being there, but Sunday against the Giants, he threw a big touchdown to (WR) Marqise Lee which got them back in the game in the third quarter. Then on the final drive, he looked like he had poise and looked like he had confidence. That's what they're looking from him going forward."
What is Bortles' biggest strength or where has he improved the most?
"When he's rolling out and when he's outside the pocket and they are playing in a spread offense, he looks better than when they are playing in a more conventional one. Now they haven't done a whole lot of that because they've had some issues protecting the passers. So, you've got to sort of balance that but he's pretty good now when he gets outside the pocket, when you can play loose and free and you're up-tempo. He's at his best. That's what he did in college and that's what he feels most comfortable with. Without giving away too much, I'd expect over time for them to go in that direction with him."
What's the transition been like for Denard Robinson at running back? He's been putting up some good numbers this season (four touchdowns, 552 yards rushing, 4.4 yards/carry).
"I would say he struggled with it last year a lot. He struggled with everything a lot. He had a hand injury that really kept him from being on the field and being effective a whole lot. You weren't sure what he was going to be, quite frankly. You didn't know if he was going to be a wide receiver or running back or if he was even going to make it.
"Well, this year he's settled in at running back. While the offensive line is so young that he hasn't had consistent blocking, there have been games and times and stretches where you think this guy is really adapting to being an NFL running back and I don't think a lot of people thought that was possible because he'd been a quarterback in college. It does take time to learn the position but with each week, he looks and feels more natural back there.
"A pretty remarkable story, considering he was a fifth-round pick and nobody really knew what he was going to be. The Jaguars liked him and trusted he could develop into something and sure enough he has."
How have the city and fans reacted to another tough season for the Jaguars?
"Well, you've got the impatience that comes with any time you're 2-10. It's been a long time for this franchise since they had a winning record, the type of record that most casual fans want. The hard-core fans understand that this is a building process. They tore it down to a pretty low level when Gus Bradley and (general manager) Dave Caldwell came in January 2013. They really decided they were going to build through the draft and they let go of a lot of veteran players and said, 'This is how we're going to do it.'
"It's been a long road but you're starting to see signs and as this team shows more signs, you see the fans start to behind them. The fan base here is a very loyal, pretty knowledgeable fan base. They are frustrated, but they get it."