The Jacksonville Jaguars enter Sunday's battle against the New Orleans Saints as seven-point underdogs, and a team seemingly on the verge of falling far behind in the AFC South. Coming off a disappointing Week 3 defeat at Carolina, a game in which the Jaguars drew criticism for a strongly conservative second-half game plan, Jacksonville has to experiment with a new offensive philosophy to beat the high-powered Saints.
This week, the training wheels must come off Blaine Gabbert.
While the game didn't seem too big for Gabbert last week, a second-quarter deluge destroyed field conditions and changed the Jaguars' second-half strategy, passing on only two of the first 24 plays called.
Yet, the Jaguars learned something about Gabbert.
After a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen gave the Panthers their first lead, the Jaguars had only one minute to work the ball the entire field with a rookie quarterback in his first game.
No matter that Gabbert was ice cold from lack of involvement in the offense, he shook off the frost and led the Jaguars downfield. He would have led the miraculous comeback had it not been for clock mismanagement.
So, what does that tell us about Gabbert?
The situation isn't too much for him. The game isn't too intimidating. He is the guy for Jacksonville, but the Jaguars have to let him rip against the league's second-ranked offense.
Ground-and-pound won't be enough for the Jaguars to keep pace with Drew Brees, who is averaging 353 yards passing and three touchdowns per contest.
Sunday's game won't be a 17-14 dogfight, and the Jaguars have to realize that prior to kickoff. If the offense opens with Jones-Drew pounding into the Saints' line and Gabbert wearing handcuffs, Jacksonville will find themselves in deep trouble long before halftime.
Expect Jacksonville to challenge the Saints' 27th-ranked pass defense early to set the tone to soften the front seven for Jones-Drew. The Saints are giving up 282 yards passing per game and have an aging, banged-up secondary.
Could there be a better situation for Gabbert?
The Saints don't rush the passer well, don't cover well and have injuries on defense. The Jaguars will challenge the middle of the field by getting Marcedes Lewis involved in the offense, as he faces a great matchup against the Saints' linebackers and safeties.
If the Saints start collapsing over the top to compensate for Lewis, the Jaguars could capitalize on big plays in the passing game.
If the Jaguars can throw the football early, they can run downhill in the second half and take control of the clock.
The Saints will try to put the Jaguars away early, because Jacksonville becomes a serious threat if they have offensive balance and Maurice Jones-Drew gets going in the second half.
Scrap last week's defeat as an example of what Gabbert is, as this is the week Jaguars fans will see what kind of offense to expect under the leadership of their new franchise quarterback.
If Gabbert is cut loose, expect to like what you see. You might even see an upset.