The bye week is the most important week of the entire regular-season for many NFL teams. It offers a chance to take a step back, breathe, and evaluate where things stand and where one's team must go from there.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, this was especially true as they entered their Week 7 bye 1-5 but fresh off a 23-20 win over the Miami Dolphins in London. While every team needs a chance to recharge their batteries, the Jaguars needed to do even more -- they needed to learn about the Jaguars.
"Oh we did about as deep a dive as I can remember," Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said on Monday.
"Our coaches stayed here after we let our players go and [it was] really interesting, the results. And then you couple it with the first time I, really in my lifetime, had a chance to take a Sunday and watch everything that goes on in this league. I’ve learned a lot. But the self-scout was priceless. Now, we’ve got to do something with it. There are some very tangible things that came to light that we need to get fixed.”
Sunday was Meyer's first chance this year to really take a hard look at the other teams throughout the league and how the NFL ebbs and flows. Week 7 was especially revealing for Meyer and the Jaguars considering they saw teams they competed hard with to such as the Cardinals, Bengals, and Titans all get big wins, with the latter two defeating top AFC teams in the Ravens and Chiefs.
For six weeks, Meyer's focus was on two teams and two teams only each week; the Jaguars and their opponent. But during the bye week, Meyer got to turn his focus outward as he and his staff continued to take a look in their own mirror.
"Just how fragile every snap is, how fragile teams are," Meyer said when asked what the Sunday of games taught him.
"The Bengals go out there and play so well, and the Titans played so well, you know, it’s just the parity of the league, it’s incredible.”
The bye week gave Meyer and the Jaguars a chance to get somewhat of a confidence boost, one week after their first such boost of the season. But it also offered a wide view into the ins and outs of the Jaguars' first six games, from what went right to what went wrong.
With the team sitting at 1-5, there is certainly more that has gone wrong, but Meyer didn't let that divert from some of the positives on Monday. For instance, Meyer said, the Jaguars are dealing with fewer soft-tissue injuries than a year ago, even if ankle injuries have hurt the offense (DJ Chark, Brandon Linder).
“Well, the most important thing is the health. First of all, knock on wood, the soft tissue injuries, the sports performance model is working," Meyer said. "We’ve had injuries, but those are—the hardest part of the whole job is the structural injuries. The [Brandon] Linders, the high ankle sprains, so we’ve got to keep our guys healthy, especially on this 11-game run we’re getting ready to go on."
But more importantly, what areas did Meyer see that he wants the Jaguars to improve in? Like most NFL coaches, Meyer kept the details to a minimum and more or less kept his cards close to his chest, but he did reveal a few aspects of interest to monitor over the second-half of the season.
The main aspect? The importance of practice. The Jaguars have a razor-thin margin of error each and every week, making it paramount that their execution improves over the next 11 games, And to Meyer, that starts and ends with practice time.
"And then certain areas that—I don’t want to give up too much information—we’re just not very good at or that we struggle with. And a lot of it was self-inflicted errors that we’ve got to get fixed," Meyer said.
"And how difficult it is in the NFL because of a smaller roster and how do you get those reps without having reps, if that makes sense. You can only go—we’ve got some players that are 30 years old, and you know, the heat down here, how do you get those practice reps so they don’t make mistakes? You’ve got to [hold] the players out, that’s the biggest issue is that we’ve got to get fixed and be more efficient in practice. I actually met with our leaders today about that, we’ve got to—we have a really great group of leaders on our team—and how we just can’t have mistakes in practice, I know that sounds simple, but you can’t. You’ve got to really lock in, especially the younger players.”
The Jaguars will kick off their post-bye season with a Week 8 trip to Seattle, facing a down-and-out Seahawks squad. It will be then that Meyer can truly see if his team has taken a hard look at itself and improved over the bye week, determining whether the following 10 games will be a difficult trek to the end or a season worth tuning in for each week.