Apparently the Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to lay down for the heavily-favored Denver Broncos on their home turf. The Jaguars played the underdog role to perfection pulling out fake punts, fourth down conversions and early two-point attempts with hopes of unseating the undefeated Broncos. Though their tactics found mixed results, they hung in until the fourth quarter, perhaps even garnering the dreaded “moral victory” that fans covet and NFL locker rooms often reject.
Jacksonville was already exceeding expectations as they looked to head into halftime down 14-6, but an uncharacteristic poor decision from quarterback Peyton Manning resulted in an interception and touchdown for linebacker Paul Posluszny to put them within two points headed into the break, before a failed two-point attempt. That’s as close as they’d come to the improbable comeback, but it was certainly a strong showing for the 0-6 Jaguars. For Denver, they move to 6-0 on the season and they’re on an apparent collision course with fellow undefeated division rival Kansas City Chiefs. They head to Indianapolis next week for a showdown with the Colts while the Jaguars finish their venture through the AFC West as they host the San Diego Chargers.
Here’s a look at the performances that shaped Sunday’s game.
Jacksonville – Three Performances of Note
All Red on the OLine
Though they weren’t bad in pass protection, the offensive line was unable to open holes for the running game that saw RB Maurice Jones-Drew rush for 71 yards on 28 carries. He picked up 28 of his yards on one carry, as the Broncos’ defensive line did a nice job of controlling the action up front. Left guard Will Rackley had his struggles at the point of attack as he just couldn’t stay on his blocks for much of the afternoon. His -5.4 run block grade was the worst of the group, though the other four didn’t fare much better. Jacksonville’s ground game woes are well summed up by their 3rd-and-1 attempt with 11:03 to go in the second quarter. Right tackle Austin Pasztor was stood up and shed by DE Derek Wolfe while center Brad Meester is tossed into the point of attack by defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. Rackley fails on his backside cut block attempt on DT Terrence Knighton and the result is a one-yard loss and subsequent Jaguars punt.
For the second straight week, wide receiver Justin Blackmon went over 100 yards receiving as he’s clearly established himself as the top target for the Jaguars offense. For the game, he caught 14-of-19 targets for 190 yards and a +3.5 receiving grade. 10 of Blackmon’s 14 catches went for first downs. He was particularly proficient on slant routes as he caught all six of his targets for 92 yards including 44 yards after the catch. In a season with few highlights, Blackmon’s emergence will among the key stories for Jacksonville as they look to get the most out of their 2012 first round pick. Unfortunately, fellow wide receiver Cecil Shorts played only three snaps before going down to injury so we didn’t get to see much of the Jaguars full receiving corps. When healthy and free from suspension, Blackmon and Shorts have a chance to emerge as one of the league’s top duos, especially if Blackmon continues to perform as he did Sunday.
Rookies on the Back End
It looked like quite a mismatch on paper: Manning, playing perhaps the best football of his career, going up against two rookie safeties in Josh Evans and John Cyprien. It wasn’t Manning’s best effort, but the kids still struggled in the passing game. Cyprien graded at -2.5 for the day, including -2.8 in coverage, as he picked up a pass interference while trying to cover tight end Julius Thomas on the goal line and he was a step late on Manning’s pass to Demaryius Thomas up the sideline with 7:14 to go in the third quarter. His over pursuit led to a 42-yard gain. Evans wasn’t much better as he graded at -2.8 in coverage. He was a step slow on Manning’s touchdown pass to WR Wes Welker at the end of the first quarter and he got lost on yet another deep route to Welker with 8:53 to go in the second quarter. Evans also picked up a pass interference of his own as he got a little too physical with Thomas on a post route at the 14:10 mark of the third quarter. It was a difficult afternoon for the rookie safeties.
Denver– Three Performances of Note
Jackson Leads the Way
Seeing the most extensive action of his career, DT Malik Jackson graded at +4.0 to lead the way for the Broncos defense. He did his best work in the run game grading at +3.7 and picking up three stops, but he also notched three pressures (2 sk, 1 hu) on his 29 pass rush attempts. Jackson took over the game on the Jaguars’ offensive drive starting with 4:02 to go in the third quarter. He kicked things off by holding outside contain on a rollout and dragging QB Chad Henne down for the sack. He followed it up by taking on Rackley’s pull block and easily shedding for the tackle as the Jaguars ran power his way. To top it off, Jackson notched yet another sack, this time looping around on a stunt to top off his dominant series of play. Jackson made the most of his career-high 48 snaps.
Not Thomas’ Best
Fantasy football owners are well aware of TE Julius Thomas’ unique ability in the passing game, but he’s still finding his way as a blocker. He struggled in both areas Sunday, as he caught four passes for 22 yards, though he did find the end zone when he snuck free on a play action on the goal line. He lost another opportunity to score as he was unable to haul in a well-thrown fade route with 12:27 to go in the third quarter. As mentioned though, Thomas’ real issues are in the run game where he graded at -2.9. He really struggled down blocking as the Broncos ran his way, first with 6:27 to go in the first quarter as DE Andre Branch got inside him to make the tackle for a loss and later with 0:02 to go in the third as DE Jason Babin made a near identical play on a Thomas whiff. While fantasy owners certainly aren’t worried about Thomas’ run blocking skills, Sunday was a great example of how a few missed blocks can lead to negative plays.
It’s fairly obvious when watching Manning play that he makes the offensive line better with his rapid-fire decision and quick release, but LT Chris Clark deserves some credit for filling in admirably for injured LT Ryan Clady. Since taking over, Clark has graded at +10.6 overall including +4.3 on Sunday. He didn’t allow an official pressure on 46 pass block attempts but he did pick up a holding penalty on a Babin spin move with 14:06 to go in the first quarter. That was his lone blip in pass protection and he added a +1.6 grade as a run blocker. He did a beautiful job getting out in space with 6:31 to go in the third quarter. He led the way on a Ronnie Hillman run, latching onto LB Russell Allen at the second level and taking him to the ground to key the 11-yard gain. The Manning factor must certainly be considered when looking at Clark’s grades in pass protection, but it can’t take away his stellar play since taking over as the starter.
– The Jaguars only blitzed twice on Manning’s 42 dropbacks.
– Broncos rookie RB Montee Ball dropped his only two targets.
– Broncos CB Champ Bailey looked a little rusty in his season debut grading at -1.2 overall with three missed tackles.
PFF Game Ball
Malik Jackson was the best player on a stellar Denver defense. He led the way with a +4.0 grade and five stops, two of which were sacks.
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