The Jaguars are entering what is likely the most crucial stretch of games to their season, even while just being in week four of the regular season, getting back a player like receiver DJ Chark Jr. is not only important, but necessary.
At 1-2, the Jaguars will face off against the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2-1), then travel to Houston to face off against the Texans (0-3) and return home just prior to their bye week to face off against the Detroit Lions (1-2). None of the teams prior to the Jaguars’ bye week have had success this year, for a variety of issues, and the Jaguars must take advantage.
Last week, the Jaguars were without Chark due to a chest/back issue, an injury he suffered early in the team’s 30-33 loss against the Tennessee Titans in week two. On offense against the Miami Dolphins, Chark’s absence was painfully noticeable as the team was unable to make the necessary plays on third down to extend drives, something Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II has relied on Chark for in the past.
“Anytime you have a receiver that you know can win one-on-one and is consistent, that always gives you some comfort and calms your mind a little bit knowing you have somebody that can win a one-on-one every time,” Minshew said yesterday of Chark when asked if he was a safety net for the young signal caller
“But we feel that way about a lot of our guys and we’ll continue to try to build those relationships.”
While the Jaguars absolutely do have the weapons on offense to succeed without Chark such as Keelan Cole, Laviska Shenault and Chris Conley, there’s not debating which one of the team’s receivers is the most valuable, at least at the moment.
Last season, Chark caught 73 passes for 1,007 yards and 10 touchdowns, becoming the first Jaguars’ receiver to have a 1,000 yard season since Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both did in 2015. Chark also accounted for 42 first downs on his 73 receptions, the fourth highest in the NFL among players with 73 or fewer receptions, according to Pro Football Reference.
This year, Chark has converted for six first downs, while catching 14 passes on the year, three more first downs than the Jaguars were able to convert against the Dolphins last week (3/10).
If he’s active on Sunday, Chark’s presence could be the difference between a win and a loss against the Bengals. Having him back as one of the most-important pieces on offense will open things up, not only for the team’s passing game, but their running game, too.
“It’d be huge,” Minshew said when asked how important it would be to get Chark back into the lineup this week. “DJ [Chark Jr.]’s a great player for us. He’s proved over the last two years he can really change games.”
On Wednesday, Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was direct and blunt about the impact Chark’s absence had on the team’s performance last week.
“It was a lot actually,” Gruden said of how much it affected his play-calling last week. “Not to make excuses, but talk about one-on-one matchups, he is usually the guy we want to look to in the one-on-one matchups. He’s our best one-on-one matchup player and not having him available kind of hurt us.”
Gruden says the team had formations and plays designed specifically for the former Pro Bowl receiver and the team didn’t know he wasn’t going to be able to suit up until Wednesday. With the game just one day later, that wasn’t enough time to make too many changes to the game plan.
“So that had a good impact but we’re not going to use that excuse. Other guys have to step up and unfortunately, we didn’t do a good job of that. But DJ’s definitely a guy that anytime he’s not in the game, you’re going to miss him for sure.”
Practicing limited both Wednesday and Thursday this week, Chark’s status will be updated tomorrow by head coach Doug Marrone.