JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — It would be understandable if the Jacksonville Jaguars made at least a few, maybe even wholesale, changes.
They’re winless through three games, losing each by double digits, and have scored a league-low 28 points.
They’ve been outscored 55-5 in the first half, have no running game to speak of, have allowed 15 sacks and been gouged on the ground.
Coach Gus Bradley certainly could justify about any move. Instead, he’s looking for little tweaks that could make a big difference heading into Sunday’s game against Indianapolis (2-1).
“I don’t think you’ll see any drastic changes, but I think you might see some subtle changes,” Bradley said Wednesday. “We want to be careful what message we send them, so it’s not like we’re going to come back and now we’re going to run quarterback up on the center, huddle every play, two-back throw, etc. It’s not going to be like that. I think within our scheme, what can we do to increase that productivity and increase the flow of our offense?”
The Jaguars are counting on the return of two key players.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert (hand) returns after missing the last two games, and tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) expects to make his season debut.
Any other potential changes will have to wait. The Jaguars are sticking with left guard Will Rackley, who has taken the brunt of the criticism for the team’s offensive struggles. Rackley said Wednesday he’s dealing with bone and muscle bruises in his left knee.
“It’s getting better; it just takes time,” Rackley said. “Every player deals with something. You just have to go with. Obviously, you want to be at 100 percent, but you can’t complain about it.”
Jacksonville ranks 30th in the league in rushing, averaging 52 yards a game. It’s nowhere close to where the Jaguars expected to be with Maurice Jones-Drew recovered from a foot injury that kept him out the final 10 games last season and most of the offseason. The Jaguars also have four of the same five offensive linemen who helped paved the way for Jones-Drew to lead the league in rushing in 2011. The new addition is right tackle Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick in April’s NFL draft.
“We’ve just got to be more efficient on run downs,” Jones-Drew said. “We can’t come out and go negative rush yards in the beginning. We’ve just got to continue to work on it and figure it out. … We just haven’t been getting positive gains on first down so we want to work to do that and continue that going.”
The Jaguars are averaging 3.91 yards on first down, only better than Baltimore, and that little early drive production has left them in too many second- and third-and-long situations.
“You can’t get in a rhythm right now without having that ability to run the ball,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “As much fun as we might want to have or be creative as we want to be or chuck the ball down field at times, we’re not going to sit back there and put our guys in harm’s way and just take seven-step drops. If you’re going to throw the ball down field, you better use play-action or use keepers or max protect it, and that only works if you’re ahead of the chains.”
Getting Lewis back should help. He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, a guy the Jaguars have relied on to help on the edge and even between the tackles. And he was one of the offense’s top targets in the offseason and in training camp before injuring his left calf and sitting out the entire preseason and the first three regular-season games.
“We need both right now,” Fisch said. “We’ll take help in the passing game and the running game. He’s another target and he’s a familiar target. Sometimes there is some benefit to having that familiar target and a trustworthy target. Of course, in the running game, I think we’ll feel an immediate impact.”
If not, Bradley might have to consider making some changes.
“We’ve got to come out and get it right,” Bradley said. “That’s the challenge. How we did it (in the first three games) isn’t acceptable, so let’s get it corrected.”