Will an extended time span away from the locker room and practice field result in a change of fortune for the Jacksonville Jaguars? They'll find out on Sunday when they travel to Indianapolis to take on a much-improved Colts team, one that has been energized by the play of quarterback Andrew Luck.
The Jaguars enjoyed a four-day break away from football last week as they were off due to a bye in the schedule. It came with Jacksonville still smarting from a four-game losing streak after opening the season with three wins in their first four games. The 3-5 record is now 2 1/2 games behind AFC South leader Houston, which also holds a win over the Jaguars on the latter's home field. That puts almost all remaining eight games in a must-win category for Jacksonville, which now must play five of those eight contests away from TIAA Bank Field.
The Jaguars would love to get the same type of energized play from their quarterback that the Colts have gotten from Luck thus far. Blake Bortles has not had a good first half of the season. His touchdown-to-interception ratio at the halfway point is 10 to 8, the worst it's been since his rookie season in 2014. His ratio after eight games the previous three years has been 17-10, 14-10 and 10-5. However, Bortles' supporters will turn to a couple bright spots. Take away the one really bad game he had against Kansas City, where he threw for a personal career-high 430 yards but had four interceptions to just one TD toss, and Bortles' halfway numbers would be an acceptable 9-4. Other than the game with the Chiefs, he's thrown just four other interceptions this season, including just one in the last three games and never more than one in any game other than Kansas City.
But is Bortles to blame for the team's sub-.500 start? Not entirely, though he certainly has to accept his share of the Jaguars getting off to such a disappointing start. The one person that is getting more than his share of the blame, and by his own admission, is head coach Doug Marrone. In Marrone's last session (Monday, Oct. 29) with the local media, Marrone did not hesitate to point the finger at himself for not doing a good enough job in leading the Jaguars to a better record. He said at the time that one of his main duties to do during the team's bye week was to re-evaluate his own performance up to that point.
Marrone met with the media on Monday, following the four days off, but didn't have a lot of answers with regards to his own first-half evaluation. He was asked what his primary focus was during Bye Week.
"Being honest with myself was the most important thing," the Jaguars coach said. "The team is 3-5. What I want to do is I want to make sure that I get everything right, build it right, get the coaches right, go out there and I don't have to f'ing stand up here and say, 'Hey, it's my fault.' I'm responsible for it. I have to do a good job, and I want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to give everyone else an opportunity to do well. If I don't do that, we will all fail and that's it."
While Marrone said there were no staff changes made while the team was idle, he did indicate that there would be some changes made. Not so much with personnel, but rather with how the team would practice and when they would practice the final eight weeks of the season.
"We made some changes that I think are going to help our football team," he said. "We did not make the changes just to make change. (We made changes) starting with the practice schedule and things that I have control of and just working hard to get that done and making sure the players understand why we are doing it and hopefully that stuff will be able to carry over on to the field because we are not obviously playing very well right now."
As for a change at the quarterback position, Marrone gave no indication that a change was pending. During Bye Week, the Jaguars signed former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones, who appeared in 18 games with five starts in his five years with the Steelers. Jones' signing seemed to be more of an insurance move because Bortles suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder during the game with Philadelphia in London. Marrone answered "I don't know" when asked if there could be a change at quarterback that isn't injury-related.
"Again, that is looking into the future. Obviously, I sit here and I say to myself, 'I hope not.' Quarterback, you don't make a change there if he's playing well," Marrone said. "It's a tough position to evaluate. Like I said all the time, (it's) very easy to point fingers. Sometimes it is well deserved, sometimes there is a lot of stuff going around that has got to get a whole lot better. I think it's a lot easier to evaluate a situation when everything around it is going well and based on that performance, you can say whether that player is doing well or not."
With their backs against the wall, the Jaguars are hopeful that good news is coming with the return of several key injured players. Running back Leonard Fournette has not played since the second quarter of Week 4 against the New York Jets after he re-injured his hamstring. Monday, Fournette was on the practice field doing some running. The Jaguars will have a better evaluation of his possible return for the game against the Colts later in the week. Cornerback D.J. Hayden, who has been out with a toe injury since the second week of the season, said on Monday that he's ready to return to action this week.
--RB Leonard Fournette was seen running at the Jaguars practice Monday, an indication that he could see his first action this Sunday since Week 4 when he re-injured his hamstring in a game against the Jets.
--CB A.J. Bouye did not travel with the team to London for the game against Philadelphia due to a calf injury. Even with an extra week to rehabilitate his injury, Bouye may not be ready to go by Sunday.
--QB Landry Jones was signed by the Jaguars to fill the roster spot of Dante Fowler Jr., who was traded to the Los Angeles Rams a week ago. Jones had his first practice with the Jaguars on Monday.
--QB Blake Bortles, who suffered a shoulder injury to his non-throwing arm against Philadelphia, was at practice on Monday making all his normal throws. He's expected to start his 70th consecutive game this Sunday against the Colts.
--TE James O'Shaughnessy, who has missed the team's last two games due to a hip injury, appears ready to return to practice this week and probably play on Sunday against the Colts.
--OT Ereck Flowers joined the Jaguars in Week 6 to provide depth at the offensive tackle spot. He was inactive the first two weeks and did not play in the Jaguars' last two games as Josh Walker continues to hold the starting job. Walker has started the last three games (his only NFL starts in his five years) while Flowers has 48 starts in the last four seasons.