First Down/Fourth Down: Blaine Gabbert complicates Jaguars' QB picture after strong performance
It's safe to say that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert left his team wanting more through his first two NFL seasons. The Jags selected Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Missouri, and in 24 starts, he's been one of the worst quarterbacks in recent league history. It hasn't helped that Gabbert has struggled with injuries and inconsistent targets, but the high percentage of fans who would prefer that veteran Chad Henne take over the starting job on a long-term basis speaks to where Gabbert is in the football universe. Under new head coach Gus Bradley, Gabbert is starring in a production of Last-Chance Theater, and he did manage to forward his case on Saturday against the New York Jets.
First Down: Blaine Gabbert's big day.
New York won the game, 37-13, but Gabbert looked like anything but that awkward thrower in the first half. He started off with a nice deep pass to rookie Ace Sanders for a 35-yard gain, and then hit fullback Will Taʻufoʻou with a quick pass across his body. Gabbert kept the efficiency up through his three-drive stint, and the Jags scored a touchdown and a field goal on their first two drives. Gabbert finished with 13 completions in 16 attempts for 165 yards and that touchdown, and appeared ready to fulfill at least some of the promise he showed in college. Meanwhile, Henne completed four of 10 passes for 30 yards and a pick.
Of course, no Jaguars quarterback victory can come without complications. Gabbert left the game in the second quarter after injuring his right thumb -- yes, that's his throwing hand. The team doesn't seem to be too concerned, but as our own Chris Burke pointed out, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman suffered a similar injury in 2011, and he felt the effects for a longer period of time than he expected.
Fourth Down: Dustin Keller's knee injury, and adjusting the targets.
The news was far worse for Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller, who tore pretty much everything he possibly could in his right knee against the Houston Texans on Saturday. In the second quarter of Houston's 24-17 win, Texans rookie defensive back D.J. Swearinger went low on Keller, and the veteran tight end had to be carted off the field. It was a brutal result for a player who was taking a one-year gamble on himself as a free agent.
“It’s just unfortunate," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said on Sunday. "Any time a player gets hurt is very unfortunate, so you feel bad for the player, whether that guy is on your team or you’re the guy playing against. You just don’t want to see those things happen. All the targets are from the shoulders down in football now -- D.J. was playing an out-route and reacted to an in-route. [He was] just reacting and making a tackle and unfortunately got caught in a horrible situation. You just feel very bad for the young man. You don’t want to see that happen at all.”
Swearinger also said that the low hit was related to his consciousness of the NFL's rules about helmet-to-helmet hits, but not everyone thought the hit was legal.
We saw what happened to Dustin Keller last night and that's a prime example of defenseless receiver. #NFL
Former NFL great Tim Brown predicted this outcome in an interview with SB Nation just a couple of days ago.
"What you're going to have happening is the one thing as a receiver you never want to happen. You didn't want a guy to take your knees out, because the lower they duck their shoulders, the lower you have to go. Sooner or later these guys are going to have to take knee shots. The problem with that is twofold. One, for a receiver, there's going to be a season-ending [injury]. For a defensive guy, you catch a knee the wrong way, it can be either game-ending or career-ending. That's how you get your neck broke, you get caught in the wrong position like that.
"I think they're forcing these guys to hit below the waist, and that's just not what you want to have happen."
Well, it's happening, and it's one more thing the NFL will have to review.
First Down: Eddie Lacy takes steps ahead.
The 2013 draft marked the first time since 1963 that no running back was selected in the first round. Some will tell you that this is a reflection of the decreasing importance of the position, though you may want to avoid that theory in Minnesota. The Green Bay Packers, long in need of elite talent in that regard, doubled down in this draft, taking Alabama's Eddie Lacy in the second round, and Johnathan Franklin of UCLA in the fourth. So far, it's been Lacy demanding a starting spot with his performances, and he continued that against the St. Louis Rams, gaining 40 tough yards on eight carries.
Lacy has Franklin and incumbent DaJuan Harris to worry about, but if the team had a sure thing behind Aaron Rodgers, general manager Ted Thompson wouldn't have been so active over draft weekend.
"We've got a back who has very good patience in Eddie," Rodgers said after the Packers' 19-7 win. "It's a fun competition, and we'll see what happens moving forward, but Eddie had a good night."
The ever-increasing lobby of fans unhappy about paying regular-season prices for preseason contests got a lot more fodder for their arguments in the game between the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys on Saturday afternoon. Arizona won, 12-7, but the final result featured no happy coaches.
“Obviously, you can’t win football games like that," Jason Garrett said of Dallas' six-turnover performance, which featured two especially horrid picks from backup quarterback Kyle Orton. We’ll go through them play by play. You can give them credit on each of those plays, but obviously you have to take care of the football.”
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians wasn't happy with an offense that looks iffy through two preseason games -- through the acquisition of Carson Palmer at quarterback presents a clear upgrade for a franchise that has suffered through mistake after mistake at the position since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season. He was a bit more pleased with his defense, which kept opponents scoreless through the first seven quarters of the preseason. That changed when Cowboys quarterback Alex Tanney hit tight end Gavin Escobar with a five-yard touchdown pass with 10:55 left in the game.
“We’ll have to come up with a good fine for the players who were on the field for the players who gave up the first points of the year,” Arians said of his backup defenders. “I’m sure the veterans will come up with something special for that.”