2013 AFC South Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars

Sam Greenwood

Matt begins his imaginary tour around the AFC South in 2013 before the regular seaon starts. The first stop: Jacksonville.

The last five years have been rough for Jaguars fans. The franchise has slowly fallen apart, going from the upstart 11-5 playoff team that upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh to the skidmark they are today. Since their 2007 playoff win (their first since 1997), the Jaguars have yet to finish a season with a winning record. The hits have kept coming these past five years when they amounted a prestigious record of 27-53 and an even worse 7-25 record since they drafted the blonde haired stallion, Blaine Gabbert, in 2011. Last season's 2-12 effort was the worst season in franchise history and, if you thought the record was horrendous, just look at the team stats. The Jags were awful because the team was awful. This was not simply a case of bad luck.

Offense:

Stat Points Yards 1st Downs NY/A Rush Yds Rush Att Score % Avg Time of Drive
255 4788 269 5.4 1369 358 25.5 2:17
League Rank 30 29 30 28 30 30 29 31

*NY/A= Net Yards an Attempt=Passing Yards-Sack Yards/Passes Attempted+ Times Sacked.

*Score%= Percentage of drives ending in a a score.

Defense:

Stat Points Yards 1st Downs NY/A Rush Yards Rush TD Score %
444 6088 364 6.9 2256 19 39.8
League Rank 29 30 31 28 30 31 3

I hyped up how amazingly balanced Houston was on offense and defense since A.W.P (After Wade Phillips), but it might be even more extraordinary how ghastly Jacksonville was able to play on both sides of the ball. I really have no clue how a Jaguars fan could sit through 16 Sundays of gag-worthy football like this, though as Texans fans we have done the very same thing. Hey, but at least we had Reggie Bush to look forward to! I would rather sit in the chair from A Clockwork Orange and undergo the Ludovico Technique than have to go back and rewatch every game the Jags played last season.

2012 was a mix of a wretched run-stopping game, poor QB play, and lots of sighs whenever Maurice Jones Drew's name was brought up. The offense was never able to get going because of their dependence on MJD. They had to rely on, gulp, Gabbert and Chad Henne tossing the ball in the air to gain yards. On defense, the abysmal numbers have been the result of a long history of talentless drafts that led to the Jags being unable to replace leaders like Marcus Stroud, Mike Peterson, and John Henderson of years past.

Luckily for the Jags and the rest of the league who has to spend at least one Sunday watching them play, 2012 is over and done with. The 2013 season is about to begin.

Offseason Moves and Draft

Arrivals- RB Justin Forsett, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, DT Roy Miller, DT Sen'Derrick Marks, OLB Geno Hayes, CB Marcus Trufant, CB Alan Ball.

Departures- RB Rashad Jennings, RB Jalen Parmele, FB Greg Jones, WR Laurent Robinson, OT Guy Whimper, G Eben Britton, DT Terrance Knighton, DT C.J. Mosley, OLB Daryl Smith, CB Derek Cox, CB William Middleton, CB Aaron Ross, S Dawan Landry.

Draft- 1st- Luke Joeckel (RT-Texas A&M), 2nd-Jonathon Cyprien (FS-Florida International), 3rd-Dwayne Gratz (CB-UConn), 4th- Ace Sanders (WR-South Carolina), 5th- Denard Robinson (QB/WR/RB-Michigan), 6th- Josh Evans (F-Florida), 7th- Jeremy Harris (CB-New Mexico State), 7th-Demetrius McCray (CB-Appalachain State).

(Info from Walter Foortball)

Most will look at the QB situation in Jacksonville and the problems they had on defense and scratch their heads in wonder over the Jags' offseason. However, the Jags made the right decisions. They wisely chose to build through the draft and not kill their cap by paying marginal players big money or giving away draft picks for a QB who might give the team only a few more wins. The free agent acquisitions are all decent players, but the key is that they were able to sign them all to small contracts. The biggest contract they gave was to Roy Miller, who only has a cap hit of $1.8 million. Forsett can deliver as a backup RB; he should have been given more carries last season in Houston. Alan Ball is an okay 4th corner when he's not having to defend Calvin Johnson.

This year, they could have lost any player from last season and it still would not have affected the 2013 team whatsoever. Most of the players they have lost are unknown to most people. The other sare well known players who have not been any good in five years like Aaron Ross, Derek Cox, and Laurent Robinson. Their biggest loss was their blocking fullback, Greg Jones who will now pave the way for Arian Foster. Even with Jones, the Jags had the 30th ranked running game in the league last season.

I really enjoyed the Jags' draft even because they balked at the chance to take a QB like Mike Glennon or Ryan Nassib (more on this later). They were able to pick the best player in the draft, Luke Joeckel, after the Chiefs passed on him because his arms were a few inches shorter than Eric Fisher's. Joeckel should improve an already adequate offensive line because he is filling in at their weakest position, right tackle. Cyprien will be a key building block as they attempt to improve one of the worst secondaries in the league. It's only August, but I already feel for the guy since he has to cover Alan Ball and rookie corner Dwayne Gratz's tracks this year. That will be one of the hardest jobs in America. The Jags took a small amount of risk when they used a 4th on Ace Sanders and a 5th on Denard Robinson, players whose speed is dangerous enough to warrant the picks. Those two will help improve the return game and will give new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch extra playmakers to use. The Jags should have four out of their eight picks play a significant amount of time for them this season, which is everything a team covets in a draft.

The offseason was not a knockout by any means, but they made the right moves. They are rebuilding the right way by drafting high, developing, and then filling the remaining holes in free agency later. They smartly avoided throwing money at the problem.

Defense

Melancholic. It's the only word to describe the Jags;situation as it turned from one of the best defenses in the league into the abomination it is today. Let's just take a look at how they have spent their first to third round draft picks on the defensive side of the ball since 2007.

2007- 1st Reggie Nelson, DB/2nd Justin Durant, LB

2008- 1st Derrick Harvey, DE (8th overall pick)/2nd Quentin Groves, DE

2009- 3rd Terrance Knighton, DT/3rd Derek Cox, DB

2010- 1st Tyson Alualu, DT/3rd D'Anthony Smith, DT

2012- 2nd Andre Branch, DE

As of today, only three out of those nine picks are still on the roster. Only one of them (Tyson Alualu) remains a starter. Even Mr. Alualu might be on his way out after Jacksonville signed Roy Miller to play DT; they could have him move a couple of feet over to DE. A first to third round pick is projected to be a starter in the NFL, and the Jags have done this at a success rate of 11% these past five years. The other players mentioned above who remain on the roster are Andre Branch and D'Anthony Smith, each of whom play on the second and third teams, respectively, right now.

Because of Gene Smith and James Harris' ineptitude, the Jaguars are left with some of the worst defensive talent in recent memory. As of right now, they have a secondary that fields two rookies, Marcus Trufant (yes, that old man), Alan Ball and Dwight Lowery. Their front seven is led by Paul Poslusnzy, who once tackled a lot of people at Penn State, and the new ferocious Miller and Alualu combo. This NFL season babies will be born, people will die, and the Jags' defense will finish around 30th in every major defensive statistic.

The Gruesome Twosome

Currently, the Jags have the worst stable of quarterbacks in the NFL and would certainly be the first pick in any Bad Quarterback League. Most are probably scratching their head wondering why they decided not to make any moves to improve their lugubrious situation. Why not draft a QB like Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib or any other midrange QB from the crapshoot that is the NFL Draft? Why deal with trying to develop another young unknown QB? None of the QBs drafted this year are a sure thing and would improve the Jags this year. It's not like the team is just a QB away from glory. They had too many holes to plug to even bother taking another QB. Why not do exactly what they are going to do--tank this year, let the new front office and coaching staff learn the ropes, and be rewarded with a high draft pick. The 2014 draft class is loaded and they can find a sure thing QB in the form of Teddy Bridgewater or Tajh Boyd. Or, if they don't want to address QB that high, they can improve the D-line and wait until the second round to snag a QB. It's better to be awful and pick in the top five under the current CBA then to wander aimlessly in mediocrity.

Gabbert has been about as awful and worthless as a Spike Fiend from Diablo 2. His career so far has been putrid. Even though he has shown any resemblance of being a NFL QB, Gabbert is still only 23 years old and has a contract with a cap hit of only $3.2 million; that is miniscule for quarterbacks in this league. The point is he is young, cheap and still has room to improve. Since he has come into the league, his career has been managed about as crudely as it can be.

He has been put into a nearly impossible position to succeed. His rookie year, the Jags cut David Garrard right after the preseason ended and blindsided Gabbert by tossing him into the starting role before he was ready. The Jags handled the situation like he was in an episode of "Naked and Afraid," not "How to Train a Franchise QB." It was a classic case of a coach on the way out trying to save his job by playing the wrong QB. Jack Del Rio must have thought, "There's no way they can fire me if I can talk them into starting Gabbert. I can blame the whole season on him... Damn, I'm brilliant." Now Gabbert is the worst starting QB in the league, and the Jags are perfectly content with it this year. Because of the poor way Jacksonville has handled Gabbert, nobody really knows how good he really is.

In the other corner of the ring is Chad "My favorite pasta is Penne" Henne. You know, the gunslinger from the University of Michigan who delivered one of the greatest performances in Jaguars history, one people will be telling their grandkids about, when he threw for 354 yards and 2 touchdowns, taking the then 8-1 Texans into OT. He threw the ball with no regard for anyone's feelings and took risk. Starting QB Chad Henne is the exact opposite. He contemplates plays too much and forces things. The Jags could even use a two QB ystem where Gabbert starts the first half and magically gets injured. Shortly afterwards, backup Henne comes in to save the day.

Last season, each of the two had similar sample sizes, so comparisons are easy. Would you like to play a game?

Player Comp% Yards INT TD AY/A Y/G QBR Sacked GWD
A 58.3 1662 6 9 6.0 166.2 40.94 22 1
B 53.9 2084 11 11 6.8 208.4 29.9 28 0

Neither of these guys are very good, but Player A is obviously better than the inaccurate, turnover machine who takes too long to get rid of the football. What if I told you Player A is The Real American Blaine Gabbert and Player B is Chad Henne? When looking at the numbers, Gabbert really did not play too badly, but the Jags still went 1-9 in games he started. Whichever QB they go with, it really does not matter in the long run unless Gabbert has been training with Captain Insane-O all summer and turns his career around.

The funny part of this equation is that the Jags actually have some playmakers who just need someone to get them the ball. Justin Blackmon, who will miss the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, has the makings to be a great player if he can fix the mental aspect of his game. When he gets back, he and Cecil Shorts will be a great young WR combo. The Jags also have Robinson and Sanders, both of whom can run really fast. MJD will make his first start this week since having foot surgery last year, and he will dramatically improve the offense. He's a cannonball who the offense depends on. If he can delver 100 yard games, it will take pressure off of whichever member of the Gruesome Twosome starts. Their offfense struggled last year because they threw the ball 586 times (11th in the league) and ran the ball only 358 times (30th in the league). Part of it was that they were playing from behind most of the time. The other is that Rashad Jennings was in the backfield. Forsett and MJD should make the Jags a run-oriented team and relieve us from a universe where Henne/Gabbert throw 586 times. If one of the two has an adequate season, the Jags will have a good offense. That is a big IF.

The Jags will make the choice of who starts sometime after the preseason. If I was the decision maker, I would start Henne for the first four games and see what the team's record is while letting Gabbert relax and hold the clipboard. If it's below .500 and the offense is ranked around 30th in every category, I would bring in Blaine Gabbert for his final interview for the rest of the season. Whoever they choose, it will bring cataclysmic change to the NFL and the game will never be the same. The Jags will lose a lot of 35-17 games.

Change Is A Coming...


Now, not all is bad in the land of the giant kitties. They finally moved away from the con artist, Jack Del Rio, who was somehow able to keep his job for ten years and convince ownership they were close to winning year after year, and the one season that was the Mike Mularkey Era. At least now the Jaguars have looked past the illusions and false truths and have finally started to rebuild, realizing how horrendous their team really is.

This year the Jags have a new head coach in Gus Bradley, a new offensive coordinator in Jedd Fisch, a new defensive coordinator in Bob Babich, a new general manager in David Caldwell and an owner who just bought the team last year in Shad Khan. It's an entire new front office to clean up the sadness and pain from the last few years, like one of the house cleaning teams from an episode of "Hoarders." Gus Bradley should be able to bring toughness to the Jags. He reminds me of John Harbaugh. Caldwell has a prestigious resume and seems to know what he his doing, even if he says things like this. The Jags are now brand spanking new from their front office to their logo.

Their new logo and uniforms are not something I dig. The new Jaguar reminds me of a Maximal from "Transformers: Beast Wars." The two-tone helmets are a culmination of the idea that since we live in the 2000s, everything has to be futuristic. Aesthetics aside, the logo change is the focal point of the Jags' rebuilding process. The point is that the Jags are able to rid themselves and scrub the inches of grime that have corroded the skin of the franchise since its inception. They are able to rebrand and start new, which is the greatest thing to happen to some franchises. My logo theory is simple: Bad teams change their logo and find success shortly afterwards. There's a long history of teams who were miserable, but finally found success after creating a new image. For example, the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis and changed their ferocious Grizzly Bear into the blue and yellow cartoon bear they have now. The previous logo is sweeter, but it was not until after the logo change in 2004 that the team finally won a playoff series. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed from the creamsicle swashbuckler to the the demonic pirate flag in 1997. That season, they went to their first playoff game since 1982 and five years later they won their only Super Bowl. The Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Anaheim Angles, Anaheim Ducks (won the Cup the year they changed logos), Buffalo Sabres, and Dallas Mavericks are all teams who turned the tides of ineptitude by forgetting their past with a new logo.

The reason why the logo changes affect performance is that they usually are the result of a new front office, owner, and coaching staff who make it their goal to win. And there is also something mysterious about the way adopting a new logo and starting fresh removes the bad memories and karma of the past. It's like how someone who is weird and gets bullied in high school goes out of state for college and begins to flourish. Sometimes people and organizations need change. If there's anything these past five years have shown in Jacksonville, it's that change is something the Jaguars desperately need.

Conclusion

Despite the waxing crescent moon of optimism generated by the new cabinet leading the Jags, the team will still lose games. Not as many as most think, though. The offense's play will improve dramatically with a healthy MJD. Luke Joeckel will fix the biggest hole on the offensive line, the right side. Even if Gabbert or Henne does not improve, the team will be better just because of the running game. However, the defense will still be an Oldsmobile Bravada and will be torched most weeks of the year.

In spite of this, there is still room for optimism because the team is actually changing. Whatever happens this year really does not matter because the team is young and filled with new decision makers who are building toward the future. The Jags will be bad, but not the 2-12 bad I have seen predicted elsewhere. Jacksonville will finish last in the AFC South at 5-11. They'll give Gabbert another chance and continue the rebuilding process with another high draft pick next spring.

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