Editor’s Note: Ahead of the Raiders home finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars, I had the opportunity to ask Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country a few questions about the Jags. He discusses the Jags’ horrid losing streak, their puzzling quarterback controversy, a potential coaching chance and more. Catch my side of things here.
Q: The Jags face the unfavorable task of playing in the final Raiders game at the Coliseum. How do you expect them to handle that?
Honestly? Not well. The Jaguars are an absolute mess right now, and on a historically awful pace. The team has lost five games in a row by at least 17 points. No team has accomplished that “feat” since the Buccaneers in 1986. The Jaguars have also played historically terrible on the West Coast throughout the franchise’s history (I believe the record is 2-12 all-time). The team did win in Denver earlier this season, but I wouldn’t exactly consider that as “West Coast” even though it was a western trip. Now, add in the fact that this is the last game at the Coliseum ever and the Black Hole is likely going to be even rowdier and scarier than ever? Yeah, I don’t see this one going well for the Jags until they prove me otherwise. With that said, the players are anticipating the crazy environment, and trying to prepare accordingly.
Q: Do you think Gardner Minshew is really the quarterback of the future in Duval? If so, what do you think the team is planning to do with Nick Foles this offseason?
I think he has a chance to be, but has a lot of work to do. What I would like to see from the Jaguars this offseason is to somehow find a way to trade Nick Foles and dump his large contract to another team, but they’ll likely have difficulty finding a trade partner (the Jags will likely need to give up draft picks to dump his salary). There is also a chance Foles retires. Then allow Minshew the opportunity to work as the No. 1 quarterback entering the season, but either sign a capable veteran free agent to a modest contract, or draft a player on Day 2 or early Day 3 to compete with and push Minshew to be the best version of himself he can be.
Minshew exploded onto the scene during the whole “Minshew Mania” craze early in the season, and was quite frankly fantastic during that run. Then teams got more film on him and figured out a game plan to beat him. The New Orleans Saints really set the blueprint for this in Week 6. Minshew is at his best when he is working outside of the pocket and making throws on the run. What the Saints did is force Minshew to play “in a phone booth” and kept him in the pocket. New Orleans also took away No. 1 receiver D.J. Chark with bracket coverage with a cornerback and safety. Other teams have seemed to catch on to this. Also, Chark is dealing with an ankle injury and doesn’t look on track to play against the Raiders, so he may be taken away this week anyway.
All of that said, the Jaguars’ offense is much more fluid with Minshew than the less mobile Foles, so he is the best man for the job right now. The offensive line is poor, and Minshew’s escapability and knack for extending plays is a big plus. I’m rooting for him to be the future, but time will tell.
Q: It seems that Doug Marrone is in danger of being fired at season’s end. Do you feel like he deserves another shot? And if he is fired, is there a particular candidate you’d like to see the Jags go after?
I like Doug Marrone as a person and he’s had some success as a coach in the past (2017 was great time!), but it’s obvious he is no longer clicking with the team and can’t lead it. I expect sweeping changes across the board at the end of the season, with both the coaching staff and the front office. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash should have been fired week ago, but is still hanging out for whatever reason.
As far as candidates to replace Marrone, I would like to see the Jaguars pluck a young, innovative mind from the college ranks. Somebody offensive-minded such as Matt Rhule from Baylor or Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. I think with what those kinds of coaches bring to the table, that is exactly the kinds of innovators and schemes the Jaguars need to compete in today’s NFL. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator (and former Jaguars linebackers coach) Robert Saleh is another name to watch. I wouldn’t be opposed to Saleh, but again, I would prefer a coach coming from an offensive background. I’ve also heard former Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy as potential options, but I am not so sure retread coaches who were recently fired are the best way to go.
Q: Who is an under-the-radar player on offense and defense that has made a big impact for the Jaguars this season?
Entering the season, Chark, a second year receiver was not expected to contribute the way he did after a disappointing rookie year, but leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He is no longer under-the-radar, but was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Players to look out for this week, offensively, well pickings are kind of slim right now. If Chark is in fact out, then look out for other wide receivers such as Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Chris Conley to step up. Westbrook and Conley have been the second and third options in the passing game all year with Chark’s emergence, but both have an opportunity. Cole was a guy who exploded as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but hasn’t had much success since. Rookie running back Ryquell Armstead is another player I would like to see get more touches on Sunday to see what the Jags have in him.
On defense, Tre Herndon, another former UDF, had to step up and fill in for Jalen Ramsey after he was traded. Herndon has had his ups and downs, but given the situation of him being thrust into the starting lineup has held his own. For this week, I am interested in how Jacksonville’s makeshift linebacker group plays, particularly Donald Payne. The position has been a disaster all season, as Telvin Smith decided to take the year off, Myles Jack struggled at middle linebacker and is now on IR and free agent addition Jake Ryan hasn’t been healthy all year. The below tweet sums up the current linebacker situation, and it’s not a good place to be.
Jacksonville's LB group:— JaguarMaven (@JaguarMaven) December 11, 2019
-Rookie UDFA Joe Giles-Harris
-Third-year LB Donald Payne, who signed with the team after Week 8
- Preston Brown, who was just waived by the Oakland Raiders
- Second-year player Leon Jacobs, who has only ever played SLB
- Career STer Austin Calitro
Q: What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
As mentioned, the Jaguars have always played poorly on the West Coast, and the 2019 version of the Jaguars certainly does not look like the team to switch those fortunes around. That said, the Jags have beaten the Raiders twice in Oakland, so it’s possible -- and Oakland has its fair share of problems right now, too. But with Jacksonville’s current struggles and the amount of emotion expected from Oakland as a team and fanbase during the farewell game at the Coliseum, I have a hard time seeing Jacksonville win this game.
Raiders 27, Jaguars 17