JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- DJ Chark knew it was eventually going to happen.
He was the AFC leader in receiving yards and was tied for second in the NFL with five touchdown catches through the season’s first five weeks, so he -- and the rest of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense -- knew that at some point defenses would devise their game plan around stopping him.
That’s what New Orleans did Sunday. The Saints not only shut down Chark; they shut down the entire Jaguars’ passing game in part because none of the other receivers were able to make up for the loss of Chark’s production.
It’s something they need to figure out because the Saints might have provided the blueprint to stopping Chark, quarterback Gardner Minshew and the rest of the offense.
“We knew that DJ was going to draw a lot of times double coverage,” receiver Chris Conley said. “We’ve got to execute in the other spots. They played a little bit different than we expected them to play today. We expected them to double DJ, but we didn’t expect them to play necessarily that two-man [two deep safeties] all day today, and so we’ve got to win vs. two-man.”
The Saints put Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore on Chark and bracketed him with a safety over the top, which was designed to prevent the deep shots that Minshew and Chark have had success with through the first five weeks. Chark set season lows in catches (three) and yards (43) and was held without a touchdown catch for just the second time this season.
Unfortunately, the rest of the receivers didn’t do much to help. Dede Westbrook had three catches for 53 yards, but Conley, Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole didn’t catch a pass. It’s the first time Conley, a free-agent signing in March, failed to catch a pass in a game this season.
“I think it was a combination of what New Orleans was doing in giving us different looks and us not necessarily being ready for that look,” Conley said. “I’ll take full responsibility for that. In my room we’ve got to be ready for that at receiver. We can’t blink. We can’t hesitate. We’ve got to play fast, and today we didn’t play fast enough for 15 [Minshew]. We didn’t get open fast enough for him.
“… [We have to] attack the middle of the field and really just find the pockets in the defense.”
The Jaguars did try putting Chark in motion, but Minshew couldn’t hook up with him on any 50-50 balls or back-shoulder throws. Not having tight end James O’Shaughnessy (torn ACL) also hurt, because the Jaguars didn’t really have anyone else able to work the middle of the field other than running back Leonard Fournette on some dump-offs.
It wasn’t all on the receivers, though. Minshew played his worst game, completing only 14 of 29 passes for 163 yards with one interception and failing to throw a TD pass for the first time. He was out of rhythm, unable to get rid of the ball quickly and wild on some throws he normally makes.
“They did a really good job taking away some of our quick stuff,” Minshew said. “They played really good coverage down the field. We’re going to look at the film and do whatever we have to do to get open and have me put the ball there.
“... If DJ is one-on-one, I’ll take him versus anybody. When they start putting two guys, it gets tough. We got enough guys in that room that can make plays, and we’re going to do better.”
Chark, who now has 30 catches for 528 yards, is confident the Jaguars will be able to respond.
“It’s something that we can learn from,” Chark said. “Watch the film, find the holes in the defense in the schemes so whenever we see it again, we can find different ways to attack it.
“It’s beatable. We just have to beat it, and it’s team ball. So it’s not just me out there. I’ve got some great receivers, so we’ve just got to get together and scheme up some things.”