JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blaine Gabbert is back at the helm of an offense that didn’t look much better during the two weeks when he was out than in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ season opener.
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said without any hesitation Monday that Gabbert will start at quarterback instead of Chad Henne against the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday.
Gabbert did not play in losses at Oakland and Seattle because of a cut on his right hand suffered in the closing minutes of a 28-2 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. He threw for only 121 yards and completed less than half of his passes in that game.
Although Henne had a combined 476 passing yards against the Raiders and Seahawks, the bulk of that came in the final two quarters of both games. The Jaguars have still not scored a touchdown in the first half this season and rank last in the NFL in total offense while getting off to their first 0-3 start since 2003.
“Hopefully, he picks up where he left off in preseason,” Bradley said of Gabbert, who had a strong showing in the second preseason game but also fractured his right thumb in the same contest. “I think this has been good for Blaine, to be honest with you — to go through the game-planning process, to be involved with all the meetings and be in there with Chad and maybe see a different side of it.”
The Jaguars’ problems on offense extend well beyond who their quarterback is. They allowed the most sacks in the league a year ago and have given up a league-high 15 through three games, even with the addition of the No. 2 overall draft pick in tackle Luke Joeckel.
They’re also ahead of only two other winless teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants — in rushing, with their 156 yards on the ground representing less than what 20 players have individually.
In their first three possessions of what ended up being a 45-17 drubbing at the hands of the Seahawks, the Jaguars were stuck in third-and-13, third-and-11 and third-and-21 situations.
“All of a sudden,” Bradley said, “we’re getting a cheetah package, where it’s four speed rushers and our offensive linemen are going, ‘OK, here we go. They know we’re one-dimensional.’ And you’re trying to keep that balance. But it’s tough when you get behind.”
Henne and the offense didn’t record a first down until the Jaguars were trailing 17-0 almost halfway through the second quarter. Their second first down came soon thereafter when Henne ran for five yards on a read option.
Bradley suggested that Gabbert, who is playing for his third offensive coordinator in as many years, Jedd Fisch, might have to also begin making plays with his feet as well as his arm.
“Blaine is a pleaser,” Bradley said. “He really wants to please Jedd. He really wants to please us. He wants to please the players. And I think when you do that, you might not take as many risks because he doesn’t want to let anybody down. I think we have to change his mindset, to say, ‘It’s OK. Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.’ “
Even before Gabbert had the last of his 15 stitches removed Sunday in Seattle, Bradley liked what he saw from him toward the end of last week while running the scout team in preparation for the Seahawks.
“It looked like he was just playing,” he said. “He was free and throwing the ball and throwing it on the run. And I said, ‘That right there what you just did is what we have to capture.’ “
Gabbert threw two interceptions in the opener, the second of which was returned for a touchdown by Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali. Henne’s first of two interceptions against the Seahawks was almost as comically embarrassing, with his pass bouncing off the helmet of center Brad Meester and then off the hand of running back Maurice Jones-Drew before being picked off by linebacker Bobby Wagner to end the Jaguars’ only scoring threat of the first half.
While Bradley praised Henne for his demeanor during the two starts in place of Gabbert, he sounded baffled by Henne’s decision-making on his interceptions, both of which occurred in the Seahawks’ red zone.
“I mean, Chad would be the first one to come off and say, ‘I didn’t know what I was thinking,’ ” he said. “Those are things we’ve got to clean up.”
Gabbert might not be the only change made to the on offense against the Colts. Bradley said the Jaguars are likely to continue running more gap schemes than zone schemes, like they did in the second half, in an attempt to get more production out of Jones-Drew.
And tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) could be available, although Jacksonville will still be without wide receivers Justin Blackmon (suspension) and Mike Brown (fracture in his back).
The Jaguars cut down on their penalties from the week before and also forced two turnovers. However, the secondary, which was forced to go with three rookies most of the way, was lit up for four touchdown passes.
“It sounds like a broken record,” Bradley said. “But we competed throughout the game. It shows up on tape. On one of the last plays of the game on defense, there were 10 guys hitting the ball carrier. What does that mean to me? That’s just part of it. That doesn’t mean we’re OK because we had good effort. But that is a huge deal to me. It shows players aren’t discouraged. They’re not happy with the results, but when you have that, you need to get better faster.”