Sunday, April 2 2023

By Ben Arthur
FOX Sports AFC South Writer

Doug Pederson said the Jacksonville Jaguars would find ways to get James Robinson on the field. 

After the third-year running back’s lack of involvement in Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the New York Giants, a game in which he had no carries or receptions on one target, Pederson acknowledged that Robinson was a bit banged up. “Some lower body issues, mostly in his knees right now,” the coach said. Pederson, however, indicated that Robinson was healthy enough to play, but that Travis Etienne was performing well and had earned the extended run. 

The Jaguars offense, Pederson stressed, is at its best with both running backs playing. 

“As we move forward, we’re always going to continue to find ways to get James going, in the mix,” Person said Monday. “He’s a big part of what we’re doing.”

Within hours after Pederson made those remarks, Robinson was on the move, traded to the New York Jets for a sixth-round pick that could become a fifth-rounder. The deal became official Tuesday. And it’s a win-win situation for Robinson and the Jaguars (and the Jets, who get a replacement for injured star rookie Breece Hall). 

The Jaguars get what’s essentially a fifth-round choice for an above-average running back whose days in Jacksonville already appeared to be numbered, with Robinson’s diminished role in recent weeks and the emergence of Etienne, who has had more than 100 scrimmage yards in three consecutive games. Robinson was headed to restricted free agency this summer. 

For Robinson, who in 2020 set the NFL record for scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie, it’s a fresh start in a contract year with a team that figures to use him as its No. 1 running back. The Jets are a run-heavy team. 

Etienne, a 2021 first-round pick who missed his entire rookie season with a Lisfranc injury, is coming off his best rushing game as a pro: 14 carries for 114 yards and his first career touchdown. That’s something for the Jaguars to build on, though his pass blocking must improve as the No. 1 back. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed three pressures, tied for the fifth-most among running backs. 

With Robinson gone, Jacksonville will also need to rely more on its backup running backs. JaMycal Hasty had a 61-yard touchdown run against the division rival Indianapolis Colts in Week 7, but he has just 69 rushing yards overall in seven games. Snoop Conner, a fifth-round rookie from Ole Miss, has been inactive every game this season. 

Other thoughts around the AFC South: 

Can Davis Mills play his way into being Houston‘s long-term QB1? 

Mills’ pick-six in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders was a killer, but otherwise the second-year quarterback had arguably his best game of the season. He completed 68.2% of his passes (28-of-41) for a season-high 302 yards and two touchdowns. His 26-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett was a beauty. Mills threaded the ball between two defenders after a subtle slide to his left in the pocket. 

Mills led the charge in a season-high 404 yards of offense for the Texans. 

“I mean, maybe we haven’t thrown for 500 yards each week, but we’ve seen growth from him,” coach Lovie Smith said of Mills. “We didn’t play a complete game. Most quarterbacks in the NFL don’t. We have some issues we need to clean up, but the quarterback position is not [one of them].”

With a strong run game, the Texans don’t need special quarterback play (though that’s always a plus, of course). They need an effective game manager, one who can limit turnovers and can make enough throws to give the team a chance to win. Through more than three quarters against the Raiders, we saw that from Mills, a reminder of the flashes in his rookie season. 

But he’ll need a bigger sample size of positive play for the Texans to be able to justify not using one of their 2023 top picks — they’re currently slated to have two top-10 selections — on a quarterback. 

In a tough-guy league, the Titans stand out

There’s a video of a touching moment between Titans coach Mike Vrabel and center Ben Jones that made waves on social media Monday. After the Titans’ win over the Colts, their fourth straight win and fifth consecutive victory over the division rival, Vrabel gave Jones a massive bear hug in the tunnel. He got teary eyed. 

Jones battled through an apparent knee injury in the contest and helped push the pile on a Derrick Henry run for a first down that iced the game. 

“I’ve never seen anything like it. You hear me?” Vrabel said to Jones, wiping away tears. “I love you like my f—ing own.” 

Jones was just one of a few of the Titans’ most important contributors playing through injury suffered in the game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons needed medical attention for ankle injuries less than five minutes apart in the fourth quarter and gutted it out. 

The NFL is filled with tough players, guys who play through pain known (and unknown) to the public. 

The Titans represent the epitome of that, with some of their best players setting the tone. 

“You don’t think that people realize what they go through,” Vrabel said Monday. “The toll that this game takes — what it can give you, but what it can also take away from you. They put a lot in. They compete. It’s violent. Just really got a lot of respect for the majority of these guys that are finding ways no matter what [to play] each and every week at far less than 100 percent. During the game, things come up and they get evaluated, and you can just tell that it means a lot to them. 

“I’m grateful to be able to work with them each and every day.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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