No amount of excuses can justify Jacksonville’s two-week departure from winning. Sure, the NFL is a scary place and wins can be incredibly difficult to come by, no matter which teams we’re talking. But in following up a six-turnover performance on the road against San Diego with a 25-point loss at home to Philly, the Jags have fallen to a new low. Apologists may argue that the team lacks elite NFL talent, and there’s no debating that. Yet, as losers by a combined 50 points to the Chargers and Eagles over the last two weeks, Jacksonville has proven incapable of even competing with less-than-great football teams (neither Philly nor San Diego have legitimate chances of reaching the Super Bowl this year).
To put it bluntly, thus far in 2010 the Jags have truly stunk on both sides of the ball. The Jacksonville D has given up the fourth most points in the NFL this year – only the Giants, 49ers and Bills, three winless teams, have surrendered more – and the team’s offense is the third worst in the league, scoring a total of just 40 points in three games. And, unfortunately, thanks to the schedule makers, now is no time to rest, as the Jags face the always-dangerous Colts at home this Sunday, a matchup we will discuss in greater detail below.
Before that, though, one very important point must be made, however obvious it may be. In his eighth season as Jacksonville head football coach, Jack Del Rio’s team is performing at an all-time low, and the seat on which the coach sits continues to grow hotter and hotter by the week. All metaphors aside, Del Rio is in SERIOUS jeopardy of losing his job and, at this point, I’m not even sure he can defend the work he’s done of late.
But enough of all this negative discourse; for now, let’s move on to Week 4 and Jacksonville’s challenging matchup with the Colts.
KEYS TO WEEK 4:
You don’t have to know much about the NFL, or football for that matter, to know Peyton Manning and the Colts offense have long presented considerable challenges to just about every defense in the league. Taking Jacksonville’s suspect unit into consideration, then, doesn’t do much to build conference in the Jaguars or their chances of winning this Sunday.
Looking for a ray of light, however, the Jacksonville defense may find at least some hope in how one-dimensional this year’s version of the Colts has been – the team ranks 25th in the league in rushing offense through three weeks.
On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville’s current offense doesn’t match up well with air, so we’re a bit hesitant to give it any sort of an edge this weekend, though the Indy D has been vulnerable this year against both the run and the pass. Below I take a closer look at how these matchups might shake out when all is said and done.
Ball in Hand:
As I alluded to above, the Colts haven’t exactly been prolific on defense this year, which can only mean good tings for the Jags. Indy has been taken advantage by quarterbacks/receivers and running backs alike and, outside of Houston, hasn’t exactly faced offensive juggernauts to date, defeating the misguided Giants and Broncos in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively.
Now, while the Colts can indeed be attacked either through the air or on the ground, they are clearly most vulnerable against the run and, considering that Jacksonville is better at rushing the football than throwing it, it seems like the Jaguar game plan should be pretty obvious: run at the Colts with conviction and consistency, putting the game in the hands of Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings.
Of course, I’m not suggesting the Jags shouldn’t throw the football at all; in fact, I think they need to do so to win. They must, however, first establish a certain level of dominance on the ground, as Jacksonville’s chances of victory greatly diminish otherwise.
Simply put, the Jags cannot get into a shootout with the Colts, at least not if they want to win. Punishing the colts, then, with long, physical, ground-oriented drives is not just key, but essential should Jacksonville leave the field victorious this Sunday.
On the Defense:
As we’ve already discussed above, nobody matches up “well” with Indy’s offense. Jacksonville, however, appears to be even further behind the eight ball than most, as the team’s biggest defensive weakness – containing the pass – happens to oppose the Colts’ biggest strength.
Indy can run the football when it needs to – see its Week 2 production – and starting tailback Joseph Addai is far from a slouch. Still, though, Manning and the Colts are hardly secretive about their desire to toss the pigskin all over, and Jacksonville must do everything it can to contend with Indy’s dynamic pass attack.
While lending extra help to the Jaguar secondary may make Jacksonville more vulnerable against the run, the team cannot afford to get torched through the air as it has in previous weeks, especially with Manning at the controls. As such, Jacksonville should rarely have more than seven men in the box and, despite what may seem logical, must avoid blitzing as much as possible; though one would think pressuring Manning with blitzes would slow him, in truth the veteran quarterback is as good as it gets when it comes to putting his team in position to pickup blitzers, and even more adept when it comes to getting rid of the football quickly with accuracy.
So, in the end, there’s really no stopping the Colts. Jacksonville, however, must slow them down, and in this case that means focusing nearly all its attention on containing the pass.
When it’s all Said and Done:
As established above, on offense, the Jags must feature a punishing ground game, with some intermediate passes sprinkled in when necessary. Unfortunately, to date, Jacksonville hasn’t shown the ability to do either, as the team is averaging just 111 yards per game on the ground and just 277 yards of total offense. And though the Colts D has proven vulnerable against solid rushing attacks – Houston’s Arian Foster rushed for 231 yards and three scores in a Week 1 matchup with the Colts – until I actually see the Jags put forth an impressive rushing performance of their own, I have a hard time counting on them to do so this weekend.
In a similar vein, Jacksonville’s inability to contain passing attacks through Week 3 gives me little reason to think it will perform at any higher a level this weekend, especially with the prolific Manning and dynamic Reggie Wayne coming to town. In fact, just as I predicted DeSean Jackson would torch JVille in last week’s showdown (and he did), I also predict Manning will find his plethora of receivers in space, running free with great frequency this Sunday.
In the end, the Colts’ offensive prowess through the air, combined with Jacksonville’s overall ineptitude on offense – particularly on the ground, where Indy is defensively most vulnerable – will lead to yet another uncompetitive performance from the Jags.
Prediction: 35-13, Indianapolis
NEWS AND NOTES:
In roster news, the Jags used Monday to sign safety Gerald Alexander and to waive tight end Ernest Wilford, whom they had just signed last week. Alexander is now in his second stint with the Jaguars. Over the last few weeks, Jacksonville has cut and then re-signed four or five different players.
Now, I’ve got to say, I’ve never in my life seen a team so unsure of its own moves, or one operate with less conviction, for that matter. For example, if team officials determined Alexander wasn’t worth holding on to when they cut him a few weeks ago, what could have possibly changed their minds, or increased his value, in the meantime? Or, better yet, where was the value in signing Wilford one week and then cutting him, for the second time this summer, the next? In truth, very little of what this team does makes any sense at all.
On Tuesday, however, the team did make a much more rational decision when it decided to pick up quarterback Trent Edwards off waivers from the Buffalo Bills. Edwards, 6-4, 231 pounds, has started 32 of 34 games since the Bills selected him in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Of course, the Edwards pickup became a necessary move when quarterback Luke McCown, David Garrard’s backup, went down with a torn ACL in Week 2.
Finally, in off-the-field news, the Jaguars and the NFL are proud to support the fight against breast cancer. The NFL’s campaign, “A Crucial Catch”, which is in partnership with the American Cancer Society, is focused on the importance of annual screenings, especially for women over the age of 40.
Throughout October, NFL games will feature players, coaches and referees wearing pink game apparel to raise awareness for the campaign. This Sunday, the Jaguars will kick off the 2010 campaign at EverBank Field during their game against the Colts.
To support “A Crucial Catch”, a limited edition pink Jaguars cap will be available at a special price of just $10 during this Sunday’s game, with proceeds going to support the fight against breast cancer.
BEATING THE SPREAD:
Just for kicks, each week I will pick against the spread in my three favorite games, using the opening lines from the USA Today Newspaper as my reference. Feel free to do the same; we can even compete, if you don’t mind losing (Zing!).
Last week, I finished 2-1, bumping my record up to 5-4 on the year. For those keeping close score, I have yet to finish a week a perfect 3-0; perhaps, then, I should stop referring to my picks each week as “LOCKS”. On second thought, never mind.
Check out, and enjoy, Week 4’s LOCKS (minus Jacksonville, whom, for obvious reasons, I refuse to bet against):
NEW YORK, JETS at Buffalo, - 5: Since dropping their opening game against Baltimore, which I accurately predicted, the Jets have been playing great football, recording a two-touchdown victory over the Patriots before an impressive road win against the Dolphins. Quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense are finally starting to get into a rhythm and, more importantly, Buffalo is winless and bad. Really, what’s there not to like about New York here?
SEATTLE at St. Louis, - 1.5: Though St. Louis is actually playing decent football at the moment and coming off a big 30-16 win over Washington, I’m still not convinced the Rams are even an average NFL football team. What really pushes me in Seattle’s favor, however, is that its defense has already forced an impressive 10 turnovers this year and thus should match up favorably with Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford.
HOUSTON at Oakland, - 3: Until its loss against a desperate Dallas team last Sunday, Houston was playing about as well as any team in the league, and I expect the Texans to respond favorably and get back on track this weekend. Excluding an underwhelming two-point victory over the Rams in Week 2, Oakland has lost by 25 points to Tennessee and by one against a Cardinal bunch that was absolutely annihilated by Atlanta, 41-7. Solid Texan football, therefore, should be more than enough to cover a small three-point spread.
I’m all out of time for today, but don’t forget to check back here Sunday for quality analysis and a complete recap of Jacksonville’s 4:05 showdown with the Colts. Until then, be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reached at Scott.Janovitz@gmail.com.
About the Author
Written by Scott Janovitz