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7 observations from Jaguars’ season-opening victory vs. the Colts

The Jaguars had plenty to take away from their victory over the Colts on Sunday.

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars exited Sunday as the top dog in the AFC South after defeating the Indianapolis Colts at home in front of a crowd — the only crowd in the entire NFL on Sunday. After a 27-20 victory, the team heads out of week one with its first home opener, week one victory since 2011, and its sixth-straight victory over the Colts at home.

A complete team victory, the Jaguars had plenty to say on Sunday and gave spectators plenty to think about as the season moves forward.

Let’s take a look at seven observations from the Jaguars’ Week 1 victory against the Colts:

Gardner Minshew II plays mistake-free football

While the Jaguars defense took a little to get going on Sunday, the Jaguars offense got rolling relatively quickly with second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II completed 19/20 out of passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns.

While there weren’t a lot of yards thrown on the day, Minshew and the Jaguars’ offense took advantage of good field position, going two-for-two in the red zone. Minshew became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least three touchdowns and complete at least 95% of his passes on kickoff weekend.

Rookie running back James Robinson impresses in debut

Entering Sunday as the team’s starting running back, the undrafted rookie out of Illinois State, Robinson, made the most of his touches. Rushing for 62 yards on 16 carries Sunday, Robinson’s impact was felt early as the rookie rushed 10 times for 61 yards in the first half of play before Indianapolis opted to stack the box against him in the second half.

Perhaps the most highlight-worthy play of the game would come on a simple screen pass to the rookie who took the football 28 yards, but not without making a leapfrog-like hurdle over a Colts’ defender on the way. The play showcased Robinson’s athleticism, and should inspire hope for the Jaguars that his best is yet to come.

Jaguars defense tightens up at halftime, creates turnovers

In a game in which the Jaguars’ defense didn’t force a single punt, it was their tenacious attitude that allowed the team to net four forced turnovers on the day.

Two of the turnovers would come on a turnover on downs by the Colts, one during the first half in which defensive lineman Abry Jones came up with a key stop to give the Jaguars the football It within their own five-yard-line.

“Yeah he came up big,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said when asked about Abry Jones’ play on Sunday.

“And you know, when I got over, when he came off the field on the sideline, I got the iPad on the side and I flipped it up right away to see who made the play. It was Big Abe [Abry Jones] sitting in that hole. I’m like, ‘Gosh, Abe. What’d you do before that? There was nobody on you, you better have made that play.’ He’s a guy—he’s been solid.”

The Jaguars would go on to create other opportunities for its offense, including two interceptions, one by rookie CB CJ Henderson and one by second-year safety Andrew Wingard. At the end of the game, Henderson would force an incompletion on fourth down to send the Colts’ chances, sealing the victory for the team.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Jaguars’ defense, however. The team gave up far too many passing yards on the day, allowing Colts quarterback Phillip rivers to complete 36 passes for 363 yards. The team’s inability to create much pass rush with its defensive line (two hurries on the day) and some lapses in pass defense is something the team will need to correct.

Creativity with Laviska Shenault was on display

The Jaguars said they’d be creative with its second-round selection in Shenault, and they weren’t kidding. On the day, Shenault touched the football a total of five times, including two rushes for 10 yards and three receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.

Over the offseason and throughout training camp, the Jaguars alluded to their ability to be creative with Shenault, getting him the football by any means necessary.

That didn’t seem to be a fib, as Shenault carried the football, once out of the wildcat formation and another as a running back twice on the day. Jacksonville also found a way to get him the football in space on a simple crossing route that Shenault took to the endzone.

Shenault, six-foot-1, 220 pounds, showed his physicality during the game on Sunday, and it appears the team will only continue to try to get him the football in space. While he didn’t put up many stats on the game book, his explosiveness and play-making ability was on full display.

Jaguars must find a way to generate pass rush, stop screens

While it should be noted that Rivers got the ball out of his hands rather quickly (average of 2.34 seconds per attempt, per NextGenStats), the Jaguars couldn’t seem to generate much pass rush on the veteran quarterback on Sunday. While the Colts’ offensive line is stout, the Jaguars’ defensive line needed to get after the quarterback with more efficiency on Sunday.

The Jaguars netted just one team sack, none from the defensive line, with just the aforementioned two hurries coming from defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and defensive end Dawuane Smoot.

The Jaguars got burned far too often on screens Sunday. On six receptions, Colts rookie running back Jonathan Taylor accounted for 67 yards. RB Nyheim Hines added eight receptions for 45 yards.

Jaguars spread the ball around — a lot

The Jaguars have plenty of playmakers on offense this season, and that much was made clear on Sunday as Minshew completed passes to 10 different pass-catchers on the day.

Receivers Keelan Cole (five receptions), Shenault (four), DJ Chark Jr. (3), Collin Johnson (1) and Chris Conley (1) all got in on the action, as well as running backs Robinson (1) and Chris Thompson (2), fullback Bruce Miller (1), and finally tight ends Tyler Eifert (1) and James O’Shaughnessy caught passes today.

To put those numbers into perspective, the only two active offensive players besides offensive linemen that did not touch the ball on Sunday were undrafted rookie running back Nathan Cottrell and undrafted rookie tight end Ben Ellefson. That’s it.

Rookie cornerback CJ Henderson stole the show

If Sunday’s game was any indication, the Jaguars may have struck gold with their top pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. Henderson was simply-put, sensational in his NFL debut.

On the day, Henderson accounted for three pass breakups, an interception and five solo tackles. He allowed just five catches for 55 yards, according to matchups, a completion percentage of 55% and a 34.26 passer rating when targeted.