The Baltimore Ravens (8-5) are facing an unfamiliar foe this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12), and who better to give the inside scoop than Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country? Below, you’ll find his answers to my questions for Sunday’s upcoming matchup.
Make sure to read my answers to Ryan’s questions, also.
1. The Ravens and Jaguars have not faced one another in three years. Can you give a bit of quick history on the Jaguars since the 44-7 London Beatdown, courtesy of Marcedes Lewis and Blake Bortles?
Oh, wow, where to start. That 2017 season was magical, as the Jaguars made a run to the AFC Championship game and came just a few minutes away from the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl appearance, but eventually lost to the New England Patriots. However, it’s been all downhill since then. After starting 3-1 in 2018, including a win over the Patriots, the Jaguars regressed hard and lost seven games in a row after that, eventually finishing that year with a 5-11 record.
In 2019, Jacksonville wasn’t much better. The team parted ways with Blake Bortles in the offseason, and signed free agent quarterback Nick Foles to a lucrative contract. He injured his collarbone in the first game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs, which allowed sixth-round rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew to come in and show what he could do. Foles eventually recovered from his injury and came back into the starting lineup, before being benched for Minshew due to poor play — Minshew clearly outplayed Foles that season. The Jaguars also fell out of favor with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey who no longer got along with the front office, and demanded a trade. Ramsey was eventually sent to the Los Angeles Rams for two first-rounders and a fourth-round pick. There was a lot of turmoil to deal with that season, and the Jaguars eventually finished 6-10.
In 2020, Jacksonville decided to gut its roster, leaving few players left from that 2017 team. The Jaguars parted ways with defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, traded veteran defensive end and captain Calais Campbell to the Ravens (as you well know), traded cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Denver Broncos, traded Foles to the Chicago Bears, and traded Yannick Ngakoue to the MInnesota Vikings (and of course the Vikings later traded Ngakoue to the Ravens). The team clearly wanted to go with a youth movement, and had 12 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. So, obviously this is now an extremely young team. Jacksonville surprisingly won its season open against the Indianapolis Colts, but has since lost 12 games in a row. General manager Dave Caldwell was recently fired and there will likely be a head coaching change at the end of the season too, unless the new general manager decides to keep Doug Marrone.
So, yeah, it’s been a rough stretch.
2. The Jaguars look like they’ve been in some of these games, according to final scores. What’s holding this team back from maybe a couple more wins?
There have been quite a few competitive games — six of the team’s losses this season were by eight points or less, including three of the past six games being decided by three points or less — but at the end of the day, the Jaguars have not been able to get it done. The team plays hard, but there just isn’t enough talent currently on the roster to earn consistent wins. As mentioned, Jacksonville has an extremely young team, I believe the youngest team in the NFL. The group is very experienced and several rookies start or contribute heavily on both sides of the ball.
In addition to youth and lack of talent, there have been a lot of other factors, such as injuries. The Jaguars also haven’t gotten consistent quarterback play this season, using three different signal-callers (more on that below). Another issue is a defense that can’t stop either the run or the pass, and can’t generate a pass rush. The Jaguars rank dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per game, and dead last in defensive DVOA. I think it’s clear that Jacksonville will clean house in terms of the coaching staff at the end of the year, but if Marrone does somehow stay on there needs to be a defensive coordinator change at the very least.
The Jaguars are in yet another rebuild — a constant theme in Duval. There are young pieces to build around, but the team is probably another two years or so away from being a playoff contender.
3. Gardner Minshew II is slated to start on Sunday. How is Minshew looked at among the fanbase? Among the coaching staff? Among the Jaguars short-term and long-term picture?
I think a lot of Jaguars fans wanted Gardner Minshew to be the guy, including myself. He is (or at least was) a fan favorite, but his play has been inconsistent and he missed several games due to a hand injury. So far this season, Minshew has played in eight games this season with seven starts. He has completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,033 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions and a quarterback rating of 93.4. He’s also added 144 rushing yards and an additional score on the ground. The numbers don’t look bad overall, but he hasn’t always met the eye test — missing easy throws from time to time or taking bad sacks. He is a play-maker, though and can make things happen outside of the pocket.
As for the coaching staff, I think Doug Marrone was a little upset at Minshew for not reporting his thumb injury earlier. While Minshew reported it after the game against the Los Angeles Chargers in late October, it had reportedly been bothering Minshew since a couple weeks earlier in the first game against the Houston Texans. That may have played a part in the staff choosing to go with Mike Glennon over Minshew the past couple of games with Minshew healthy enough to play, and the coaching staff claiming “Mike Glennon gives us the best chance to win.” Glennon was then benched last week against the Tennessee Titans and Minshew took over again and is now back in the starting lineup for this week against Baltimore. The Jaguars also started rookie sixth-rounder Jake Luton for three games while Minshew was out, so it has been a carousel at the quarterback position.
As for Minshew’s short-term outlook, I think it is obvious he is the best quarterback on the roster and truly gives Jacksonville the best chance to win and end this crazy-long losing streaking. Long term, the Jaguars are almost certain to have a top-two pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and select a quarterback. If that is the case, the team will need to decide if it wants to cut Minshew, or keep him on to groom the rookie/be a solid backup on a cheap contract.
4. Laviska Shenault Jr. was a wide receiver linked to the Ravens in the 2020 NFL Draft. How has he performed with the Jaguars his rookie year?
Shenault has been impressive and looks like a cornerstone piece for the future. While his numbers aren’t incredible — 42 catches for 441 yards (10.5 yards per catch) and two touchdowns — his versatility, toughness and tenacity stand out. He’s a hard, physical runner who can make plays after the catch. The coaching staff uses him in a variety of ways as he may line up out wide, in the slot, as a running back or even a wildcat quarterback. Shenault has added 15 carries for 92 yards (6.1 yards per carry). Also, quarterbacks have a combined rating of 107.4 when targeting him. He is going to be a really good player, I believe.
5. Who are two players (one offense/one defense) that you recommend Ravens fans pay attention to in this matchup?
Running back James Robinson, who recently broke the record for most scrimmage yards by an undrafted player, is the obvious one and has become a focal point of the offense. Another guy to watch who you may not be familiar with is rookie wide receiver Collin Johnson, who provides a big target for Minshew at 6-foot-6. He has made some plays recently.
Defensively, Myles Jack is one of the few players on that unit who has had an outstanding season. He’ll be all over the field Sunday.