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Lions’ Caldwell has high praise for lowly Jaguars

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Allen Robinson

Allen Park – The Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars are heading in opposite directions.

The Lions (5-4) have won three of their last four games and sit atop the NFC North. The Jaguars (2-7) are floundering after entering the season with playoff expectations. The team is firmly entrenched in the AFC South basement after dropping four straight.

The Lions open the week as 6.5-point favorites, the biggest margin they’ve seen this season, but coach Jim Caldwell is doing his best to prop up Sunday’s opponent.

“I mean you look at it, they have some very, very high draft picks on that team that are very capable players and doing some very, very good things,” Caldwell said. “I think they’ve done a tremendous job.

“I think they’ve got more first downs than their opponents,” Caldwell said. “You look at their running game, they’re averaging over 4.2 (yards) a carry, which is where we’d like to be right about now. (Allen) Robinson’s catching the ball well for them, 48 balls that he’s caught. The tight end position, I think the combination has caught about 45 balls together. (Receiver Marqise) Lee is doing a nice job. Their punter is in the top 10 in the league. You can go on and on and on about this team.”

For a coach who routinely says the only statistic that matters is wins, Caldwell went out of his way to highlight the positives of a reeling Jaguars team that likely will be in the market for a new head coach at season’s end.

What is undeniable is the Jaguars have loads of young talent. Quarterback Blake Bortles, a first-round pick in 2014, threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. Receivers Robinson and Allen Hurns both topped 1,000 yards last season, and with the emergence of Lee, all three are on pace for 800-plus this season.

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On defense, the team has multiple high-round draft picks in Dante Fowler, Jalen Ramsey and Johnathan Cyprien paired with high-profile free agents Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson.

But the results have been subpar.

For all the positives highlighted by Caldwell, the Jaguars rank 27th in scoring and 25th in points allowed. They’re near the bottom of the league in sacks, are bad on third down (on both sides of the ball) and are dead-last in turnover margin.

Obviously, you can’t sleep on any team in the NFL, but this is a game the Lions should win.