Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert played well enough to win against the Texans in his first start of the season.
The asterisk disappeared Sunday, as Blaine Gabbert carried over his exhibition success to the regular season in a three-touchdown performance against the Texans.
If he can produce similarly in Week 12 against a vaunted Jaguars defense, that asterisk could be replaced with a question mark. As in, can Gabbert be a part of the Cardinals' future at quarterback?
There is still much to be decided at the position moving forward, but Gabbert has an opportunity to make a strong impression on Sunday. The Cardinals will face a Jaguars team that is 7-3 with the best point-differential (plus-104) in the AFC.
They've done so by riding an elite defense that is allowing the fewest points (14.1) and total yards (275.6) per game in the NFL. Jacksonville is stocked with talent on every level, and coach Bruce Arians said such a formidable foe should help in his evaluation of Gabbert, who will be making his second start for the team.
"If you're putting up points against these guys, you're playing pretty well," Arians said.
Jacksonville has done an amazing job of shutting down established quarterbacks this season. Baltimore's Joe Flacco went 8-of-18 for 28 yards with a pair of interceptions. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger was 33-of-55 for 312 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton went 10-of-18 for 136 yards.
The Jaguars are allowing an NFL-low 162 passing yards per game and have intercepted 13 passes while allowing only seven touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have combined for an average rating of 64.5. The task is tall for Gabbert.
"They've got a good front four, the linebackers are talented, the secondary is good, but the biggest thing that when we watch them on film is that we're going to worry about the things we can control," Gabbert said. "We know what they're going to do, but we've got to worry about executing our plays versus their front, versus their secondary, and going out there and taking care of business."
The Cardinals must run the ball efficiently against Jacksonville, something that has been missing the past two weeks after a strong start from Adrian Peterson. Gabbert also needs more help from his receivers.
Arians has been critical of recent drops by John Brown, J.J. Nelson and Jaron Brown. John Brown won't play in this one because of turf toe, and rookie third-rounder Chad Williams is expected to see a larger role at the expense of the others.
Carlton Agudosi, another rookie, was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster this week, although it's uncertain if he will be in the gameplan. Between Williams, third-down running back D.J. Foster and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, the offense will have a newer, younger look at times.
It helps that several of the recently-promoted skill players had a chance to develop chemistry with Gabbert, who was the third-string quarterback up until recently.
"I know exactly how Blaine throws," Williams said. "I know what he thinks. Pre-game, we always used to throw together. Scout team, we talk to each other. 'How do you want me to run this, and run that?' We have a pretty good connection."
The Jaguars are so talented on defense that the Cardinals have to keep this one low-scoring. Jacksonville's offensive game-plan won't be a secret. They will feed rookie running back Leonard Fournette regularly to keep the pressure of quarterback Blake Bortles.
The Cardinals figure to stack the box, and must bring every-down physicality against a Jacksonville running game that leads the league with 160.6 yards rushing.
"When you turn on the NFL Films and watch some of them old clips, that's what you're going to see this week," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.
The Cardinals (4-6) could have been only one game out of a wild card spot with a win last week, but couldn't get the job done against the Texans. Their backs are against the wall now as they begin a three-game homestand.
"We've just got to win one (first), and we have this nice home stretch," Arians said. "Take advantage of it and see how they fall."
Images of the key players for this week's opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars