The Jaguars are my least favorite team. I loathe playing them. Don't get me wrong, I have no affinity for Tom 'Bieber' Brady or the Pats either. No I despise them too, but with the Pats, its different. There is a feeling of mutual respect. Spygate aside, the Pats are winners and playing them is not only a measuring stick for where our team is at, but a yearly treat for us fans as well.
The Jags? Its hard to respect Jacksonville. Every year they make a run, entice the media by making it momentarily interesting and then fade down the stretch. For some reason - it doesn't matter the year or their record - the Jags always play the Colts tough and somehow pull off ridiculously improbable victories.
It's like playing poker with your buddies. One is the polished, patient pro (the Pats) who bets and folds within reason and bleeds you dry. The other is a wild and erratic better, who hardly understands the game and yet somehow beats you with near impossible luck. Its like having a flush only to be one-upped by a straight flush off the turn and the river (the last two cards put down). Then after they play a few rash hands in which they lose almost everything, they beat you with trip jacks to your pocket aces to stay alive. Does your buddy know how he does it? He wishes. Do the Jags know how to win and handle expectations? Of course not.
Eventually their luck will run out as it always does, but in the mean time such flukes just piss you off and cause great anxiety. The odds are on your side but with the way they play, you can never be too comfortable. You walk away bitter, swearing to never play with him again.
Same thing happened this year.
Jacksonville beat the Colts in week 4 sending Colts nation into a panic. Jacksonville's kicker Josh Scobee delivered a 59 yard blast that snuck through the uprights to beat the Colts as time expired. Just our luck. It also set a new field goal franchise long in the process.
Scobee's postgame comments highlighted Jacksonville's immaturity and erratic nature when he stated "I don't know what I was thinking, I think I blacked out for about 10 seconds. It was incredible."
Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Another random BS, stroke of magic to beat the Colts. ARGH
Season in Review: Overrated
The Jaguars were (always are) a very overrated team. They were not as good as their record or the media would have had you believe.
The epic week 15 showdown between Indianapolis and Jacksonville was hyped purely for its playoff implications as in reality it wasn't a fair fight. Indianapolis far all its injuries was the dominant team.
Jacksonville's 8-8 finish was more a product of their weak schedule than their talent. For a team sniffing around the playoffs all season, they only managed one win over a playoff bound team and that came on a franchise long 59 yard field goal at the end of regulation.That doesn't bode well.
Besides getting put in their place in their rematch with the Colts, the Jaguars got slammed by the other playoff caliber teams on their schedule including San Diego, Philadelphia and Kansas City by a combined 108-36. That fact alone shows how far the Jags were from being true contenders. Surrendering 108 points in three games speaks volumes of their defensive liability as well.
Besides a 3rd ranked rushing attack led by one of the best in the game in Maurice Jones Drew III, the Jags struggled in the other key facets of the game.
The David Garrard lead passing attack finished 27th in the league, producing just 191 yards a game. The 28th ranked pass defense gave up a distressing 250 yards per game, and the run defense didn't fair much better giving up 121 yards per game, which was enough to earn them the honor of the 22nd rank.
Not very good and it showed in their record.
Besides their win over the Colts, Jacksonville padded its record with wins over Buffalo, Denver, Cleveland, Tennessee, Houston and a floundering Dallas. Even then, they could only split the season series with the Titans and Texans.
If you want to make the playoffs, and the Jaguars were in the drivers seat for a good portion of the year, then you cannot lose to three 6-10 teams and you must sweep a division opponent. Doesn't necessarily matter which one, but you have to find one team to pick on. Jacksonville couldn't do it and it cost them at trip to the postseason.
After a 3-4 start, the Jags reeled off 5 of 6 and had Michael Irving lauding them as a super bowl contender (Irving has got to be one of the most easily susceptible sportscasters out there).
Then reality set in and their flaws were exposed. Sitting at 8-5 and about to ring the bell to the playoff mansion, the Jaguars dumped 3 straight and were passed by the stampeding Colts.
Maybe next year fellas.
Offseason Momentum: A hard look in the mirror if 'next year' is to happen
If you look back at articles about the Jags, they always have momentum heading into the season. They are always on the cusp, they are always ready to take the leap to the next level (presumably the super bowl, although there are a few hurdles the Jags need to cross before then).
In 2006 ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert predicted the Jags were ready for a super bowl run, which at least was not as bad as fellow prognosticator KC Joyner saying Brad Childress was going to be coach of the year (Gag!). The Jaguars did however finish a remarkable 5-11 qualifying them for the biggest false tease since Fergie went solo.
The positives for the Jaguars are that on defense they are very young, which means they are only going to mature and improve. Rashean Mathis is the only one 30 years or older (he's 30) and the average age of the defense is roughly 25. That is good news and in part explains why the unit struggled mightily last season.
Offensively their line, aside from Eugene Monroe, is aging and was already in shoddily put together. However, the Jags have built a good young nucleus at tight end and receiver and of course they can rely on Mojo III to do much of the heavy lifting.
The problems are at quarterback and head coach.
Offseason Anxiety: Said problems
The biggest concern of all, is one that the Jaguars' front office seems the most oblivious to. At some point, the team is going to have to realize that David Garrard and quarterback and Jack Del Rio at head coach just won't cut it. They are not the right candidates to take Jacksonville to turn Jacksonville in to a consistent contender.
Garrard threw for 23 touchdowns, the most in his career, but also accounted for 15 interceptions and 6 lost fumbles. His 90.8 quarterback rating and 2,734 passing yards were only in the middle of the pack to boot.
(For perspective, Garrard's career best 23 touchdowns are 3 fewer than Manning's career low of 26, which he threw way back in 1999).
In terms of Del Rio... don't get me started. His 65-63 record and 1-2 in the playoffs barely qualifies as respectable. He has only produced 3 winning seasons in 8 years and for a team that is always on the cusp, Del Rio's group seems to also underachieve.
That being said, in his defense, the Jags have never had a true legitimate starting quarterback while he has been there.
If the Jags can't or are unwilling to find Garrard's replacement soon, Del Rio might as well try his luck somewhere else.
Draft Desires: Lots of holes to fill
The obvious choice would be quarterback. The Jags have expressed interest in Auburn's Cameron Newton but don't appear to be sold. Ryan Mallet and Jake Locker will probably be available with this pick, but I don't think that GM Gene Smith is going to address the offense with the first pick.
Defense is where they need the biggest upgrades. Linebacker was the Jaguars weakest position last season. In fact, it was downright ugly.
If A&M's Von Miller is still available the Jags will pounce. If not, Robert Quinn from UNC, Cameron Jordan out of Cal, or Aldon Smith from Missouri are all defensive ends who could bolster the pass rush and make the defensive line a bit more fierce.
Overall though, I see the best fit being Akeem Ayers from UCLA. As a linebacker, he is a very versatile player who can rush off the end or drop back in coverage and keep up with TE's (which is critical considering they face Dallas Clark twice a year). Not only that but Ayers seems to be an intelligent playmaker who is rarely caught out of position, something that cannot be said about the Jags current linebacking corps.
Free Agent Farewells: Bob Sanders?
Rather than focus on the farewells, the question - especially for Colts fans - is will the Jags take a flyer on Bob Sanders. Personally, I and most all other Colts' fans, would be crushed to see Bob in teal and black.
If he could stay healthy - the biggest question since Prince William asked Kate Middleton to marry - then Bob could definitely bring a spark and toughness to the Jags defense that is currently really lacking.
Long shots aside, the focus of free agency has to be resigning Mike Sims-Walker and Mercedes Lewis.
They are two young talents who are touchdown machines (17 combined) and who are blossoming into their roles as full time starters and go-to playmakers. If the Jags lose both, or even one, they will be set back another 4 to 5 years.
Without them, the Jags would be totally dependent on MJD3 to the point that defenses could bring 11 guys into the box and not have to worry about being scored on.
Defensively, linebackers Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant were both starters. That doesn't say much considering the production of the unit (or lack there of) but resigning them would certainly bolster depth. You never want to rely on your draft to rebuild an entire unit.
Given his name, safety Sean Considine should probably find work as an impersonator of Roman generals, but he too would provide much needed depth in the secondary.
Still the focus is Lewis and Sims-Walker. Losing them would be a devastating blow.
Threat to the Stampede: Off the charts
I hate to say it, but no matter how good the Colts are and how good/bad the Jags might be, the Jags always find a way to make ever game agony. It feels like Josh Scobee has kicked 15 game winners from 50 yards out to beat the Colts and somehow Garrard suddenly always finds his inner John Elway against Indianapolis. Eventually though, the Jags are going to bet the house and lose and finally Colts fans will laugh all-the-way to the bank.
Obviously depending on what happens in the draft and whether or not they sign Lewis and Sims-Walker the predictions will vary. Realistically the Jags are an 8-9 win team again. Let's just hope one of those isn't against Indy.
Tomorrow we head west to Oakland. The Raiders gave their draft pick away to New England (UGGGHHH) but just because they aren't picking doesn't mean they can hide.