Last year’s 10-6 record, playoff wins over Buffalo and Pittsburgh and a narrow loss to New England in the AFC Championship game made Jaguars fans born again optimistic. Local sports radio hosts and CBS Sports analysts Tony Romo and Pete Prisco predicted a berth to the Super Bowl.
But pre-season optimism has become a mid-season nightmare. After a good start the Jaguars have lost four games in a row and will play the Colts this Sunday to control the AFC South’s cellar. The Jaguars have been kicked out of a prime-time network game next week, so the country can watch the Vikings and Bears.
It’s not a good time to play Indianapolis. The Colts have won three of their last four games and have surged with the returning health of running back, Marlon Mack.
The Jaguars have been falling apart. The Jaguars offense, which is based on a running attack, has been comatose. Starting tailback Leonard Fournette has not been healthy since the first game of the season, tailback T.J. Yeldon has been banged up and speedy running back Cory Grant is lost for the season. The first and second string left tackles have been lost to injury.
These injuries have forced the team to rely on the passing game of quarterback Blake Bortles. He has proven uniquely unsuited to the task. Bortles has failed to make even the easiest short passes and been inaccurate downfield as well.
This inconsistency led Bortles to the bench in week seven. Backup quarterback Cody Kessler took over in the second half and completed 21 of 30 passes and a touchdown.
Kessler, the Rodney Dangerfield of NFL quarterbacks, was benched in week eight. Coach Marone, with no stomach for the consistency of Kessler, re-started Bortles.
Bortles, showed his appreciation by losing to the Philadelphia Eagles. Bortles has been helped by second-year receiver, Keelan Cole, and running back, T.J. Yeldon, who lead the NFL with six dropped passes each. Rookie wide receiver, D.J. Chark, has tried to keep pace with three drops.
The Jaguars have tried to reignite the running game by picking up veteran running back Jamaal Charles, 31, and disappointing left tackle Erek Flowers. The Jaguars also traded for Cleveland Brown running back, Carlos Hyde. Hyde has the speed and vision to produce explosive cutbacks in the running game. But, in one game with the Jaguars, he gained less than two yards a carry while Charles was worse.
But hope, if not optimism, springs eternal in Cowford. After a bye in week nine, tailback Leonard Fournette finally returns and may be near full health. Fournette, is a force to be reckoned with when he is in top form. Last year, he rushed for more than 1000 yards in 14 games, including 181 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was also clocked as the fastest running back in the league, which is impressive for a power runner who tips the scales at nearly 230 pounds.
Expect the Colts to run up the score against the Jaguars. A huge game from Leonard Fournette is the Jaguars only real hope.