The dust has more than cleared from Jacksonville’s Friday-night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The final score, 28-27, does little to illustrate exactly what took place, however, precisely the reason we will take some time now to look a bit closer at what we might have learned about the Jags over the weekend.
As always, it’s worth first pointing out how cautious we have to be when analyzing pre-season football; when final results mean nothing, most individual performances must be considered within very specific contexts. Like Jaguar safety Gerald Alexander pointed out in a recent article in the Florida Times-Union, pre-season records mean next to nothing. And Alexander should know: he was on the 2008 Detroit Lion team that went 4-0 in the pres-season only to lose all 16 of their games that actually counted. Still, one has to take what he or she actually sees into account no matter when it happens, and, knowing what we know about the team’s goals and expectations, a lot of what Jacksonville put on display last Friday had to have been troubling for the team’s fans and coaches alike. There was some good, though, and below I provide a more in-depth look at what I took away from the team’s first pre-season game.
Still no pass rush: Jacksonville’s pass rush no doubt suffered without Aaron Kampman (calf injury), the team’s most significant free agent acquisition and a surefire starter at defensive end, and that neither rookie Austen Lane (hamstring injury) nor first-round pick Tyson Alualu made the trip didn’t help matters much either. But the four defensive linemen who played big minutes early – Jeremy Mincey, Derrick Harvey, Terrance Knighton and Atiyyah Ellison – will also play major minutes during the regular season and, on Friday, were totally ineffective rushing the passer, and not much better against the run. Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb had all day to throw and a number of down-field completions as a result. More significantly, he was at his best when it was third-and-long – an obvious passing down – as Jacksonville struggled mightily when it came to getting pressure on Kolb and the Eagles O off the field.
The third down is a problem: As mentioned above, Jacksonville was at its worst last Friday when the other team faced third and long. There is a grain of positive in this fact, because it means the Jaguars were at least relatively effective on first and second down. If you aren’t finishing off defensive drives on third down, however, all the good work on prior downs is lost and irrelevant. And, on Friday, Philadelphia’s Kolb found himself in third-and-long on numerous occasions only to convert each one that I can remember.
Team’s that excel on third down – both on defense and offense – are usually the ones that win the most ball games and, unfortunately, the Jaguar offense faired no better on the “money down” last Friday than did the D. Jacksonville’s offensive stars struggled in a big way at Philadelphia: David Garrard finished 5-of-10 for 35 yards, Maurice Jones-Drew carried the ball twice for two yards, Mike Sims-Walker finished the game with just one reception for two yards, and the unit as a whole had only 10 yards of total offense minutes into the second quarter.
Not surprisingly, then, Jacksonville didn’t convert a single third down all night, a number that is as shocking as it is dreadful. And, if the team has any hope of making some real noise in 2010, it will have to play third downs much better, on both sides of the ball.
SOME OTHER OBSERVATIONS…
-The team still has some major problems at safety and will more than likely not improve there until different talent is acquired. The Jaguars were burned deep across the middle on a number of occasions last Friday and save a few nice pass breakups from Alexander and Reggie Nelson, the unit mostly struggled to make plays when called upon. Speaking of Nelson, most of his good work early was negated when Michael Vick burned him in the open field for a second-quarter score.
-As much as I’ve lamented the Jaguar D above, it only gave up two touchdowns all game and, specifically, did a great job in the red-zone, forcing the Eagles to settle for five field-goal attempts despite giving up almost 500 yards of total offense.
-David Garrard has never really been a star, but always at least average. On Friday night, however, the 32-year-old vet was downright bad, and looked particularly shaky on some of the game’s most routine plays. I’ve never been one to lend much credibility to the quarterback-controversy talk that’s been slowly dripping out of Jacksonville of late, but things could get heated now when you consider how much better Luke McCown looked – he was an amazing 11-of-15 for 244 yards and three touchdowns – even if what against Philly’s backups. Oh, and while were touting certain Jaguars for their play during mop-up duty, it’s worthy mentioning that Troy Williamson had himself a heck of a game as well, hauling in two passes for 101 yards and a score.
-I can’t say for sure that he will make a meaningful impact on first, second or even third down this year, but rookie running back Deji Karim looks like a future and immediate star on special teams. In addition to having quality vision and a good sense of his lanes on kickoff returns, the Southern Illinois product is downright explosive with the ball in his hands, possessing tremendous speed, quickness and overall agility. Watch out NFL, is all I can say.
-It’s not a Jaguar-related note, at least not directly, but just as I originally anticipated, both DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy look like they will be NFL stars for years to come and neither disappointed last Friday. Despite a relative lack of size, Jackson is a smart receiver with just way too much speed and quickness for the average DB to deal with. Meanwhile, McCoy combines a great deal of speed and an impressive ability to get to the sideline with what is a newfound sense of toughness and inside, between-the-tackle running. In fact, Philly is downright loaded all around on offense and should remain so for years to come.
-I’ve mentioned a few times already how dangerous it can be to take too much away from pre-season action. And in relation to Jacksonville’s first game, that point is only magnified. Why, you ask? Well, Jacksonville and Philadelphia just so happen to face each other again, and for real this time, in Week 3, and there’s no doubt both teams were cautious and somewhat secretive in their play calling and overall game planning last Friday.
After hitting the road to play Philly last Friday, the Jags get their first chance to perform in front of the hometown crowd this Saturday when the Dolphins come calling. Miami won its first pre-season game 1ast week, defeating Tampa Bay, 10-7.
Finally, we mentioned Garrard’s recent struggles above, but, according to ESPN and some other sports publications more local to Jacksonville, the team is hoping to let the grizzled vet open things up a bit more in the passing game. Jacksonville coaches have been very open about their desire to see more big plays this season and, at least in part, believe stretching the field more often through the air could be the answer.
That, unfortunately, is all I’ve got for today’s blog, but be sure to check back here between now and when the Jags next take the field this coming Saturday. Until then, be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Written by Scott Janovitz