Jaguars observations: Defense plays pretty well, offensive performance one to forget
It can be easy to look at the final statistics and forget how well the Jacksonville Jaguars played on defense in the first half Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
There's no denying that the performance of their offense, however, was downright forgettable.
Until a 92-yard drive in the fourth quarter which netted them no points, the Jaguars were flirting with franchise records for offensive futility. They had six first downs and 102 total yards before Blake Bortles began driving them down the field with the game well out of reach.
Except for their 17-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jaguars had managed to score at least one touchdown in every game this season.
Their defense made life miserable for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the first quarter, sacking him four times. Two of those sacks resulted in fumbles which were recovered by the Jaguars, and there could have been a third in the second quarter had the ball not bounced right back to Luck after Ryan Davis had stripped it out of his hand.
But the defense wore down from being on the field so long. And a lousy week for Dwayne Gratz got worse when the second-year cornerback, who was arrested last weekend while the Jaguars had a bye, got beaten on a 73-yard touchdown pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton.
Bortles' first start against the Colts -- he replaced Chad Henne at halftime when the two teams met in Jacksonville in September -- began poorly. His pass in the left flat for tight end Marcedes Lewis was intercepted by Vontae Davis, with only a tackle by fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou preventing what would have been the fifth return for a touchdown by an opposing player this season.
Although the rookie was not picked off the rest of the game and wound up with 15 completions in 27 attempts, most of his passes were of the dink-and-dunk variety. He was also sacked four times in the second half as the Colts began blitzing more often after building on their 6-3 halftime lead.
Except for a drive in the second quarter, the running game was almost non-existent against a team which was shredded on the ground a week earlier by the New England Patriots. Denard Robinson averaged less than two yards on 14 carries and coughed up a fumble for the second game in a row.
2. Why play it safe?
Rookie defensive end Chris Smith forced Luck into a fumble which was recovered by tackle Sen'Derrick Marks at the Colts 12. At that point, the Jaguars were down only 3-0 after the defense had forced the Colts to settle for the first of three field goals by Adam Vinatieri following Davis'interception.
With such great field position and pretty much nothing to lose, the Jaguars should have shown a go-for-broke mentality. Instead, there were two short runs by Robinson, a false start penalty on backup tight end Nic Jacobs, and a minimal gain on a screen pass to Toby Gerhart. Josh Scobee's 28-yard field goal tied the game on a kick which was deflected but still went through the uprights.
The only time the Jaguars crossed the 50 on their own in the first three quarters came on a 23-yard run by Gerhart in the second quarter.
3. Chris Clemons, the big man.
Defensive end Chris Clemons was a terror in the early going against an offensive line which started two rookies and was without usual right tackle Gosder Cherilus.
Clemons turned in the 10th multi-sack game of his 11-year career, with his three sacks marking the first time anyone on the Jaguars accomplished that since Paul Spicer in 2005 against the New York Jets. It was also a big first half for linebacker Telvin Smith, the rookie from Florida State who recovered two fumbles.
But the defense again failed to come up with an interception and was guilty of a few costly penalties, including a hands-to-the-face call against end Red Bryant during the Colts' first touchdown drive.
4. The incredible disappearing wide receivers.
Through three quarters, the only catch made by a wide receiver on the Jaguars was by rookie Marqise Lee. Cecil Shorts III never had so much as a pass thrown in his direction until more than halfway through the third quarter.
Allen Hurns was also shut out through three quarters in the Jaguars' first game since losing Allen Robinson for the season with a stress fracture in his foot. Lee had a 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter which gave the Jaguars a first down at the Colts 1, but they failed to cross the goal line on the next four plays.
5. Kick coverage disaster narrowly avoided.
As horrendous as the third quarter was for the Jaguars, it could have been even worse. Just-signed Josh Cribbs returned a punt 82 yards for what appeared to be the Colts' third touchdown in less than 11 minutes. But a penalty against Josh Gordy for blocking a player on the punt-coverage team while out of bounds nullified Cribbs' effort.
The Jaguars have not given up a score on a kick return since the final game of the 2012 season.
Next up: The Jaguars are home Sunday to the New York Giants.