The Jacksonville Jaguars nearly walked out of Nissan Stadium with their first road win vs. the Tennessee Titans since 2013 on Sunday, but it wasn't meant to be.
Despite the Jaguars (1-1) fighting until the end, they would fall 33-30 to the Titans (1-1) as a result of mistakes on both sides of the ball, as well as numerous egregious calls from the officials. Still, there was plenty from the game that is worth digesting and reviewing before the Jaguars move on to face the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football.
So, what are our biggest observations from Sunday's loss? We examine below.
Slow starts on both sides of the ball continue to limit the team
During the first half, the Jaguars trailed 14-0 and 21-7 at different points. This was due to miscues on offense (Collin Johnson's tipped pass which led to an interception on the first drive), as well as on defense. Jacksonville scored 30 points, but only 10 of those came in the first half, with half of Jacksonville's first-half possessions ending in an interception or punt.
The Jaguars' defense started worse than the offense, however. After allowing a 61-yard gain to a wide-open Jonnu Smith on the first play from scrimmage, the Jaguars allowed touchdowns on three of the Titans' first four drives and allowed scoring drives on four of five first-half possessions. Jacksonville got off to a slow start in Week 1 as well, and this was among the team's biggest issues in 2019. This, unfortunately, has been a defining trait of Doug Marrone's Jaguars teams, and they will need to find a solution sooner than later.
"Yeah, I mean, you see their resilience when we're in there. But we also learned that we've got to start faster," Gardner Minshew said after the game.
"We don't need to be getting down 13 in the first place. I think if we jump out and play every quarter like we played that fourth, we're going to be a really, really good football team."
Don't expect special teams mistakes to continue, but it shows how small the margin of error is for a young roster
That was probably the worst game Josh Lambo has ever had as a Jaguar, and it was arguably the worst the special teams have looked under Joe DeCamillis during his most recent stint with the roster. Lambo has missed five extra points in what is now his fourth season with the Jaguars, and the unfortunate squib kick failure was completely out of character for the veteran. Add in Logan Cooke and Chris Claybrooks having issues that are typically unseen, and it was a bad but rare performance from Jacksonville's third phase of the game. This shouldn't be expected to repeat itself, at least not for now.
With that said, Sunday showed just how small the margin of error is for the Jaguars. They are such a young and inexperienced team that they essentially need to play mistake-free football to give themselves a fighting chance against good teams like the Titans. The Jaguars didn't do this in any phase of the game yesterday, but it was the special teams unit that especially showed how much the Jaguars can't afford mistakes.
Jacksonville needs a new plan at free safety while Jarrod Wilson is out
Andrew Wingard is a great story who is a special teams ace. He made a terrific play against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, setting up Jacksonville's upset win. But he shouldn't start for an NFL defense at free safety, even if he is only starting due to an injury to the starter. At least at this point in his career, Wingard doesn't look equipped for the role. From the start of the game, Wingard was picked on by Titans' OC Arthur Smith. He gave up the first touchdown to Jonnu Smith, was late to reach on the Adam Humphries touchdown in the second half, and allowed a completion to put the Titans in field goal range with fewer than 00:10 left in the first half.
Jarrod Wilson isn't a game-changer at free safety, but the hamstring injury which landed him on injured reserve has already had a ripple effect on Jacksonville's defense. The Jaguars don't have a ton of internal options to replace Wingard, with Brandon Watson and rookie Daniel Thomas as the only real candidates, but they have to at least consider trying something different until Wilson returns.
Minshew wasn't flawless but was more than good enough
Gardner Minshew wasn't lights out by any means against the Titans; the tipped interception at the end of the game was on him, and he went just 2-for-6 on the game's opening drive. Add in the 20-yard sack he needlessly took in the second quarter, and there are absolutely areas he needs to improve in. But at the end of the day, Minshew gave the Jaguars a chance to win the game. In fact, he is the biggest reason they stayed in the game to begin with.
Minshew's second drive featured amazing throws to DJ Chark downfield and then to Tyler Eifert down the seam for a touchdown. Both of his other touchdowns were terrific plays, and he kept the offense on schedule and out of trouble more often than not. Simply put, the Titans had no real answer for him or how he attacked their defense. He needs to learn how to settle down in the pocket, but he is playing winning football.
Where was Taven Bryan?
No defensive lineman has played more snaps for the Jaguars through two weeks than Taven Bryan, but he so far has more penalties (two) than tackles (one). A defensive tackle can make a big impact without finding themselves on the stat sheet, but this wasn't the case for Bryan on Sunday, with the third-year defensive tackle finishing with the defense's lowest Pro Football Focus grade. Bryan struggled to get off blocks, missed a few tackles, and was ultimately a non-factor as a pass rusher.
According to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Bryan was essentially nowhere near Tannehill when he rushed the passer. Next Gen Stats has Bryan down with an average separation of 5.3 yards from the quarterback, while the league average is just 4.51 yards, meaning Bryan was nearly a whole yard below the league's average.
The stat can be explained here, for the record: A Pass Rusher’s average pressure distance from the QB at the time of the passer throw or sack (in yards). Only includes passing plays where the defender is rushing the passer.
Simply put, Bryan was a non-factor for the Jaguars on Sunday and the entire defense felt the impact of it.