32 teams in 32 days: Jacksonville
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 11, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
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2007 record: 11-5 (411-304)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 4-3
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 10.7-5.3
All-time franchise record: 113-95 (.543)
Playoff record: 5-6 (.455)
Last five seasons: 45-35 (.563)
Best game of 2007: 29-22 win at Pittsburgh (Week 15). In what was at the time a pivotal battle in the AFC playoff race, the Jaguars walked into cold, snowy Heinz Field and physically dismantled the Steelers in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. Jacksonville outgained Pittsburgh, 421 to 217, and controlled the clock for 37:39. The Jaguars banged out 224 yards on 42 rush attempts, a vigorous 5.3 YPA average. They did not allow a single sack, while getting to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times on 37 dropbacks. Pittsburgh netted just 102 passing yards on those 37 dropbacks, an average of just 2.8 YPA. That's domination.
Strength: Running game. The Jaguars were among the league leaders in all three categories that comprise our Offensive Hog Index: they cranked out 4.58 yards per rush attempt (3rd), allowed Negative Pass Plays on just 7.8 percent of attempts (8th) and converted 45.7 percent of third-down attempts (6th). The combination of ball-carriers Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew may be the most formidable in the league, and Jones-Drew himself is one of the NFL's most versatile backs and proving to be one of the smartest selections to come out of the 2006 draft (the famous Reggie Bush-can't-miss draft). Taylor is well into the back nine of his career. But Jones-Drew, believe it or not, is still just 22 years old (turns 23 on March 23).
Weakness: Defensive line. The defensive front, long praised by the "pundits" for being big and strong, fell upon hard times last year. It allowed 4.17 yards per rush attempt (17th) and, overall, finished tied for 12th in our Defensive Hog Index. It's nice. But not exactly an elite or feared unit.
Most underrated player: LG Vince Manuwai. Left guards don't get enough love. Oh, sure, there's the occasional meteoric phenom of a John Hannah or a Larry Allen (who has also played right guard and tackle). But in general left guards are overshadowed by higher-paid tackles and by centers who get the glory of calling all the blocking assignments, touching the ball on every play and passing gas onto the million-dollar hands of their quarterbacks. Even the right guard position offers some opportunity for jokes about the personal hygiene, or lack thereof, of your average offensive linemen. The left guard walks alone in a crowd. Manuwai, however, has been one of the stalwarts at the position. He's started all but two games for Jacksonville since joining the leaguue in 2003 and last year helped pace one of the most devestating ground attacks in the NFL. The former Hawaii star should merit more attention from Pro Bowl voters in 2008.
Unit on the rise: Quarterbacks. Cutting Byron Leftwich right before the start of the 2007 season was a risky and controversial decision. In fact, the Cold, Hard Football Facts were among the few to praise the move. It proved to be the correct decision. David Garrard put up surprisingly good numbers (208 for 325, 2,509 yards, 7.7 YPA, 18 TD, 3 INT) and evolved into a more-than-capable game manager for a run-first team. His 102.2 passer rating was third in the league, behind only Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, and ahead of notables such as Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Brett Favre. Plus, Quinn Gray, Medicine Woman, did a remarkable impression of the 2006 Garrard: he proved a solid back-up who can handle the offense in times of crisis, throwing 8 TD passes in his four starts. However, the Jaguars look ready to dump Gray and sign someone else at the back-up QB position.
Silly-season activity: The Jaguars have been fairly busy, re-signing a number of the team's veterans, including fullback Greg Jones and offensive lineman Maurice Williams, while releasing OL and six-year starter Chris Naeole. They also made two big moves to shore up an unimpressive receiving corps. Jerry Porter, formerly with Oakland, signed a big six-year, $30 million deal, giving the Jags a potential 1,000-yard receiver, while underachiever Troy Williamson, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2005 draft, was signed away from Minnesota, where he caught 79 passes for 1,067 yards and 3 TD in three seasons.
2007 Draft grade: C+. First-rounder Reggie Nelson was a nice fit, and second-rounder Justin Durant started eight games. Third-round WR Mike Walker suffered a knee injury and was placed on IR, and five of the eight second-day picks were cuts. Still, if Nelson matures into a star, which he might, this draft will be deemed a success for the still-young Jags.
2008 Draft power: 1st (26), 2nd (59), 3rd (73, from Buffalo), 3rd (90), 4th (122), 5th (142, from Buffalo), 5th (154), 7th (218)
General Draft strategy: The Jaguars are terrible at drafting toward the passing game. First-round QB Byron Leftwich (2003) was a bust, and 1st-rounders Marcedes Lewis (TE, 2006), Matt Jones (QB-turned WR, 2005), Reggie Williams (WR, 2004) don't look so hot either. But Jacksonville has drafted incredibly well on defense and the offensive line, mostly with picks in the second round or later. The Jags have been second-round kings, adding starters C Brad Meester, LG Vince Manuwai, RG Maurice Williams, OLB Daryl Smith, OLB Justin Durant and CB Rashean Mathis since 2000. The Jaguars almost always have extra picks (an average of 8.8 per year over the past half-decade), and have an extra 3rd and 5th this year. They went with defense in 2007 after four straight drafts dominated by offense, and are likely to do so again in 2008.
Youth/experience: The Jaguars are right where they want to be. Their once-green receiving corps is now experienced, and receivers tend to be slow growers in the NFL. Their linemen are all between the ages of 25 and 30, and QB David Garrard is a young 29 with little wear on his tires. Defensively, the Jaguars need to get a bit younger in the middle but are primed on the outside.
Coaching: Jack Del Rio has built a respected – and sometimes even feared – program in Jacksonville, with a 45-35 record since taking over the club in 2003. The Jags have not had a losing record since his rookie 2003 campaign and have made two playoff appearances in the last three years, losing both times to the Patriots – all with an organization that suffered three straight losing seasons under comeback coach of the year Tom Coughlin from 2000 to 2002.
The big news for the Jaguars this offseason, however, has been the departure of former defensive coordinator Mike Smith – now the head man in Atlanta – and the addition of Gregg Williams, the former Bills head coach and Redskins DC, in his place. The Buffalo defense had some success under Williams: it finished No. 2 in the league in scoring and No. 5 in total defense during his final season there of 2003. But his three years in Washington (2005-07) were a mixed bag. In fact, in 2006, the Redskins were among the very worst defenses in football (27th scoring, 31st in total defense), though they improved to rank 11 and, respectively, last year. There's little in his history to suggest that he can turn the Jaguars defense into an elite unit. But he can at least keep it consistently good, which it has been in recent years, which might be good enough to keep Jacksonville in the hunt.
Overview: Jacksonville has dipped its toes into the pool of elite teams a couple of times in recent years. In fact, sometimes the Jaguars look downright scary. They were the last time to beat the Chargers last year, for example, before San Diego's eight-game win streak. They humiliated Houston, Buffalo, Carolina and Oakland. And, of course, the Jaguars ran rough-shod over the Steelers twice in four weeks last year – both times in Pittsburgh – becoming the first team in history to win twice by the banks of the three rivers in one season. Inconsistency remains their biggest problem: they were smoked by the Colts, at home, in October (and lost again by three points in Indy in December) and somehow got pummeled by a Saints team (41-24) that was borderline inept for much of 2007. The big picture for Jacksonville is pretty simple: find a way to knock off the AFC South powerhouse Colts, or remain forever a team of could-have-beens.
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