JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Assuming general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone get a chance to rebuild the Jacksonville Jaguars, they have to add more playmakers.
A dynamic receiver to play opposite DJ Chark. A veteran and versatile tight end or two. A change-of-pace running back to spell Leonard Fournette.
Offensive upgrades should be the top priority in free agency and the draft. Thankfully for the Jaguars (5-10), they only have one game remaining with their current lineup. Jacksonville hosts Indianapolis (7-8) in the regular-season finale Sunday.
The Jaguars have been mostly dysfunctional on offense down the stretch, averaging 261 yards the last four weeks and 12.7 points in November and December.
Here’s the most concerning part for Caldwell and Marrone: The offense is about as healthy as any in the league at this point in the season. Sure, the Jags have been hit hard at tight end, losing James O’Shaughnessy, Geoff Swaim and rookie Josh Oliver, but receiver Marqise Lee is the only other semi-prominent offensive player on injured reserve.
“We’re doing everything we can,” rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew said following a 24-12 loss at Atlanta on Sunday. “We’re busting our tails trying to figure it out. I don’t think there’s any magic switch or anything that can happen, but we’re going to do everything in our power to make it right.”
Owner Shad Khan fired personnel chief Tom Coughlin last week, essentially placing the blame on Coughlin for the franchise’s consecutive losing seasons. Khan said little about the futures of Caldwell and Marrone, but with two years remaining on their contracts, Khan is expected to give them another shot to show what they can do without Coughlin trying to micromanage every aspect of the team.
Punter Logan Cooke has converted two fakes in the last three games. He threw a 9-yard completion to Michael Walker in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 8 and a 7-yarder to Cody Davis in the second quarter at Atlanta on Sunday. Both of the fourth-down plays led to scores, a touchdown against the Chargers and a field goal against the Falcons.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Jacksonville has to find a way to start faster. The Jaguars have been outscored a combined 108-22 in the first half the last seven games, creating huge holes for a mostly inept offense to try to overcome. They’ve scored one touchdown and five field goals in that futile stretch.
Marrone’s team was down 14-0 before the offense touched the ball, with Atlanta scoring on the opening possession and then turning a fumbled kickoff into another touchdown.
“When that stuff goes on, that’s tough,” Marrone said. “I look at that as my responsibility, to make sure the players are ready. Obviously, we didn’t do a good enough job.”
Receiver Chris Conley has three touchdowns in the last two games, all in the fourth quarter. He scored twice in the final 5:15 at Oakland last week, helping Jacksonville rally from a 13-point deficit and win 20-16. He caught a 42-yard pass early in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, giving Jacksonville a glimmer of hope on the road.
Linebacker Donald Payne, who has 58 tackles in four starts in place of injured Myles Jack, was exposed in pass coverage at Atlanta. He was beaten repeatedly and picked on by quarterback Matt Ryan.
Chark finished with two catches for 18 yards, both season lows. The second-year pro was still hobbled by a left ankle injury that kept him out the previous week against the Raiders. He needs 26 yards receiving to become the fifth player in franchise history with 1,000 yards in a single season. Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are the others.
28 — The number of losses Jacksonville now has in its last 32 games against NFC teams. The Jags were swept by the NFC South this season and in 2015.
Try to end the franchise’s eighth losing season in the last nine years with a victory.
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