In The Know is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, J.P. Shadrick of Jaguars Radio Network and Jaguars.com gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent.*
Coming off 25-16 loss to the Vikings, the eighth consecutive loss for the Jaguars, what is the state of the franchise right now? What's the talk been lately around there?
Shadrick: Well, I think it depends what part of the franchise you're talking about. The fan base, they're looking onto the next season already. They're looking toward the week after the season, to be quite honest, to see what happens around here, if there are changes and who the quarterback maybe will be in the future. That's a lot of question marks this year. They're out with a different perspective.
Now, inside the organization, the football staff is just trying to finish strong. There are three division games to finish out the season, and they've got to figure it out somehow. Get something going. They've had a different problem prop up each week, and I think I said the same exact thing when we spoke a few weeks ago, one week, one thing, the next week, another. Last week, it was special teams blunders, penalties, and the defense couldn't get off the field and the offense would go into a shell – all on the fourth quarter. To lose a fourth quarter lead to lose the ball game.
There's still issues they are trying to figure out and they have three weeks to try to get better. That's the football perspective. The fans are ready, I think, to move on to 2017.
When you look back on the season, was there a pivotal moment, a play, a completion, a score or something that, had it gone the Jaguars way, they might be a different story right now?**
Shadrick: I think you could say a couple of plays in each of the last five games or six games of this eight game losing streak. The last six games have been either low-scoring finals or real close two-score finals. There are one or two plays in those games that, if they go the other way, the Jags would be winning half of those at least. We're right there in the division.
I think it goes back beyond it though. This team started 0-3. They won back-to-back games. One in London and one, they came back to Chicago and beat the Bears in a fourth-quarter rally, by the way. There was hope. It was 2-3, okay, let's get this thing going. Then they laid an egg against Oakland, didn't play well in a game where you thought, 'okay, well, this is the two building franchises. Which quarterback is the better quarterback? Which draft classes are greater?' Well, Oakland just ran all over EverBank Field. And then week after that, the Thursday night game against Tennessee, it was just an epic collapse. One of the worst in franchise history on Thursday Night Football. That really just blew everybody's mind. It's just been a tailspin since then.
Now, they've played better football but they're still losing football. I think that's where it goes back to that Thursday night game. It was a shocker for everybody.
They've had a lot of fourth quarter struggles like you've mentioned. Close games and then unable to score in that final quarter. What has been ailing Blake Bortles and that offense late in the game?
Shadrick: Blake overall played a better game last week. He didn't turn the ball over, two touchdowns late in the third quarter to get the lead and had some decent looking footballs that he let loose last week. It was an improvement. Not great quarterback play. It was his third best rating in the season – it's fine – but as they took the lead, it was 16-12 with three minutes left in the third quarter, then the defense couldn't hang on to it. They drive right down the field and the defense, which had played well most of the day, but they scored a touchdown. Then it was 18-16, they missed the extra point. Then the Jags offense has two consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. Then, they get a field goal blocked in desperation time, 61-yarder. That's three possessions in the fourth quarter. Three-and-out, three-and-out, blocked 61-yard field goal, ball game.
The other side, the Vikings are scoring touchdowns. They just went into a shell. I don't know what it was. It wasn't a bad quarterback play, it was a lack of execution. Everything combined. Three-and-outs are inopportune times – not that there are opportune times for three-and-outs – but certainly in that situation, you can't have them. You have to move the ball and protect the lead, and they couldn't do it.
In that game, Marquise Lee had five catches for 113 yards, maybe a bright spot for the Jaguars. Do you see him becoming a player in the passing game that they sort of develop the offense around? Maybe in the future?**
Shadrick: I think right now, he's the best player on their offense. He's trying to work through some double–coverage issues, but Marquise has stepped up and the big thing for him is that he's healthy. He's been banged up the first couple of years. He hasn't been consistently on the field. Everybody knew beforehand what this guy has. He's got great over-the-top speed that nobody else in this roster has. The ability, as you saw last week, to go up and catch the ball if he needs to and the ability to make some space. He got it all. He's starting to prove that.
Now, is he a true No. 1 receiver? He hasn't really proven it long enough yet to really stand out around that, but I think he's the guy, right now, that's playing the best in this offense and I think that's a great sign for the future here. You just have to get it to him more consistently. There were a few balls that he didn't get. I think he was targeted three other times that he didn't catch. Either it was too high or whatever happened, so there's still room for improvement there, but yes. As of right now, it's a good sign for this offense.
There was so much hope for this draft class for the Jaguars. Looking ahead, how big of a cornerstone could they be to build this team off in the future?
Shadrick: Yeah, the rookies – especially on the defensive side – they really have something going. (CB) Jalen Ramsey is a special guy. He's a talkative guy. We had him mic'd up last week for the Vikings game and that was interesting to hear him on the field discussing business with (wide (WR) Cordarelle Patterson on the other side. He's a guy that can back it up too. That's a good sign.
(LB) Myles Jack is not getting a lot of playing time still, for some reason. He will and he's a good player for this football team when he's out there. He has the ability to perform well, especially on the defensive side. Those rookies on the defensive side. They've got a little something going there with the veterans combined with them.
This is a good core group moving forward. The question will be though for a lot of Jaguars fans, who's in charge of that defense? Is it the same group moving forward? It's a group that improved statistically from last year. They're the top five group for right now. That's a good sign for this group. There's no doubt about that.
Now, on the offensive side, they thought they had that group. Do they still have that nucleus? I think the jury is still out right now. They have not proven it so far this season.
This week, the London games were announced and it wouldn't be a London game without the Jaguars in it. Five-straight years and the Jaguars will be playing Week 3 or Week 4 next year. A lot of teams don't like going over there, but the Jags seem to do it pretty well.
Shadrick: I love it, quite honestly. A trip to London each year to see a football game, there's nothing wrong with that! I mean, I've had worse gigs in my life. The team has started to figure out how to play over there too. They've won the last two years there and the Jags are signed through 2020 to play a regular season game at Wembley Stadium, so they have a contract with Wembley. They'll play a home game at Wembley each year.
Now, the question moving forward would be: Are there other games for the Jags to go over there? Could they do maybe a back-to-back week, home-road game type of thing where you stay all week long and play at the bookends of the week there. That's possible down the road, I think. This year, it was either the third or fourth week, the Ravens are going to be the opponent this year.
It's fun. All the stuff around the game, the events on Saturday. They close down the whole street with fan rallies for some of the games and it's well-attended. It's sold out every year. It's a different environment. The Jags have kind of figured out now how to get over there. Go over there Thursday, get there Friday morning, walkthrough Friday and Saturday, do all the community stuff, play Sunday, hop on a plane and come home. I think that'll be the routine considering we won the last two years too, so there's no other reason not to stick with it.
Check out the best shots from Wednesday's practice as the Texans prepare for the Jaguars.