Don’t tell the Jacksonville Jaguars it’s only the preseason, as they’re now 2-0 after their “dramatic” come-from-behind win against the New Orleans Saints. Not only did they secure a last-second victory, but Head Coach Mike Mularkey pulled out all the stops as he even mixed in a surprise onside kick to start the second half. More importantly for them, the offense is showing signs of life, while the defense looks similar to last year’s solid unit.
For the Saints, the offense looked strong in this game as quarterbacks Drew Brees and Chase Daniel combined to throw for over 300 yards. They’re still looking for a pass rush and consistency in the secondary, all while adjusting to a new defensive system. Regardless of scheme, the inability to tackle in this game was alarming, and it must improve if the Saints want to have any chance to compete in an improving NFC South.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Three Things of Note
1) Blaine Gabbert Improving
It was an impressive first half for second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He had some really nice moments last week and continued to shine in this game against the Saints. Playing the entire first half, Gabbert completed 13-of-16 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. The Jaguars showed a lot of pre-snap motion and they moved tight ends and fullbacks all around the formation, and Gabbert managed it well. Here at PFF, we are very much about grading the end result, but it’s tough to ignore Gabbert’s improved confidence and demeanor this season.
When Gabbert had time to throw, he was decisive and showed off his arm strength by fitting the ball into some small windows. Perhaps even more encouraging, when his first read was covered, he went through his progressions and hung in the pocket while looking for his check down option. His second touchdown was a wide open deep out to tight end Colin Cloherty who broke free on a coverage breakdown in the Saints secondary. Gabbert showed nice patience in letting the play develop. While it’s obviously too early to anoint Gabbert a Pro Bowl player, his improvement since last season is obvious and it will be interesting to watch as he continues to develop.
2) Justin Blackmon Arrives
The last of the first-round draft picks to sign a contract; Justin Blackmon came out of Oklahoma State with a reputation as an elite possession receiver with after-the-catch ability. He lived up to the hype in his debut. His first reception was a simple 4-yard out route he turned into an 8-yard gain after breaking a tackle from CB Patrick Robinson. It was more of the same a couple plays later as Blackmon caught a 9-yard hitch route on 3rd-and-7, and broke the tackle of CB Marquis Johnson before sprinting into the end zone for a touchdown. He broke yet another tackle on his next catch as he turned a 6-yard hitch route into a 15-yard gain. Blackmon finished with four catches for 48 yards, 21 of which came after the catch due to the three missed tackles he forced. To this point, Blackmon looks like he’ll be a good option to move the chains via slants, outs, and hitches, while proving to be a difficult tackle after the catch.
3) Jeremy Mincey Still Underrated
One of my favorite players to watch last season was DE Jeremy Mincey and he’s continued his solid play this preseason. He was a workhorse last year playing 94% of the team’s snaps. Against the Saints, he pressured the quarterback on six of his 18 pass rushes, including two sacks and one pressure that led to a holding call. The first sack came as he beat TE Jimmy Graham to the inside and hit QB Drew Brees’ throwing arm to force a fumble and a turnover. The second sack came on a stunt with rookie DE Andre Branch to finish the half. Mincey also showed up with two positive plays against the run. Mincey was one of the key players on the Jaguars rejuvenated defense last season and he looks ready to make a similar impact here in 2012.
New Orleans Saints – Three Things of Note
1) Poor Tackling
The entire first half was marred by shoddy tackling as I counted 11 misses for the Saints. By comparison, they averaged six missed tackles per game last season, so Friday night’s performance was particularly dismal. Of the 11 missed tackles, six of them came against Jaguars backup running back Rashad Jennings who did his best impression of holdout Maurice Jones-Drew. It was also alarming for the Saints how easily he was able to get to the edge of the defense, particularly on the first drive. The Saints went to great lengths to improve their run defense in the offseason, but the revamped linebacking corps was unable to make a difference early in this game.
2) New Weapon for Brees?
We don’t usually focus on what the backups are doing during preseason games, but Saints WR Joseph Morgan may be a deep threat to keep an eye on. For the second week in a row, he got behind the defense, this time for a wide open 53-yard touchdown. Last week against the New England Patriots, he was wide open down the sideline, but the ball was underthrown and it led to a defensive pass interference. With WR Robert Meachem moving on to the San Diego Chargers, Morgan could develop into his role as the designated deep target for Brees. The Saints do a great job of taking multiple receivers and putting them in position to succeed within their offense and with a wide open battle for the No. 4 WR spot, they’ve certainly noticed Morgan’s ability to get behind the defense this preseason.
3) Replacing Carl Nicks
It’s never easy to replace one of the best players at his position, but the Saints should be in good hands as LG Ben Grubbs looks to replace last year’s second-rated guard, Carl Nicks. Grubbs has been solid in his own right, as he’s been one of the better guards in the league since 2009. On Friday night, he was perfect on 13 attempts in pass protection, while opening holes on both a screen and a run block. The Saints had one of the best offensive lines in the league last year, and they appear to be ready to duplicate it despite the loss of their best player.
- On 14 pass rush attempts, Jaguars second-round DE Andre Branch picked up a roughing-the-passer penalty and he later shared the sack with Mincey to end the first half. He also dropped back into coverage on three occasions.
- Saints undrafted rookie Travaris Cadet continues to impress this preseason as he picked up 28 yards on three carries and 62 yards on his five receptions, including the would-be game winning touchdown on a nifty angle route. He forced four missed tackles on his eight offensive touches.