It took only one week, and a Monday night disaster, for Jacksonville to go from division leading to seller dwelling, as it was the only of four AFC South teams to lose over weekend. How quickly things can change in the NFL, a concept with which fans of the 2010 Jaguars have grown more than familiar. Not long ago, Jacksonville was riding an exciting two-game win streak, and had actually begun to turn things around. But while a close loss last Monday could have potentially been justified, the 30-3 thrashing Jacksonville absorbed instead was unacceptable for sure, and momentum killing at least. If we’ve learned anything over the last six weeks, though, its that momentum can be gained as quickly as it’s so often lost, and, as sour as things may seem at the moment, we all know that a road win at Arrowhead this Sunday would have Jaguar fans singing a very different tune at this time next week.
Beating the Chiefs on the road, however, will be far from easy, as Kansas City is a quality football team in need of a win in a big way. After starting the season off with three consecutive victories, the Chiefs have lost back-to-back road games, but ball small margins and to Indianapolis and Houston, two really good football teams. To make matters worse, Arrowhead is one of the NFL’s toughest places to play and the Chiefs excel in the all-important rushing department, on both sides of the ball. Not to mention Jacksonville has some huge injury concerns to worry about at quarterback, which just so happens to be the game’s most important position. So, if the Jags have any hope of turning things back around in Week 7, they are going to have to do a whole bunch of things really well this coming Sunday. Let’s inspect that list further below.
KEYS TO WEEK 7:
It’s hard to know which Jaguar team will show up on any given Sunday, as we’ve seemingly seen a different squad each week. We do know, though, that the Jacksonville offense needs to score more than the three points it managed against Tennessee on Monday night, and must do so on the road as opposed to at home, while led by a third-string quarterback (or so it appears) and against a team that is even better defensively than the Titans.
There is no question the Chiefs will be a difficult matchup for the Jags this Sunday, especially if neither David Garrard (concussion) nor backup quarterback Trent Edwards (finger) plays. We probably won’t know which signal caller Jacksonville will go with until Friday, Saturday, or maybe even Sunday, but it could be Garrard, Edwards or Todd Bouman, whom the team recently re-signed. With said uncertainty aside, then, let’s take some time to consider the matchups we actually know will take place this coming Sunday.
Ball in Hand:
To put it bluntly, a Jacksonville team that could once at least hang its hat on an ability to consistently pound the football with the run is now completely inept in all facets of offensive football. To win on Sunday, however, the team must return to traditional form, getting Maurice Jones-Drew going early with a commitment to the run and productive blocking from the Jaguar offensive line.
As if Jacksonville wasn’t already putrid enough in the passing department, it’s looking more and more like the team’s top two quarterbacks will be out this Sunday, leaving Bouman as the man. And this projection, assuming it comes to fruition, makes the run game an even more integral part of Jacksonville’s plan to win.
Unfortunately, the Kansas City defense is much more vulnerable against the pass than the run, ranking fifth overall when it comes to containing opposing rushers. Even Houston, which features a dominant ground game, chose to attack the Chiefs predominantly through the air when the two teams battled it out earlier in the season. And this means the Jags will be forced to either play right into Kansas City’s strength or, with a third-string journeyman quarterback at the helm, try to jumpstart a passing attack that has been dormant all year. As for me, I’m not so sure the Jags are capable of successfully pulling off either.
On the Defense:
Fortunately, at least as far as matchups go, the Jaguar defense should fair much better this Sunday than the Jaguar offense. Quarterback Matt Cassel and the Chiefs average just 164 yards passing per game, which should help a well-below average Jacksonville pass defense relax just a bit. Though receivers Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers – assuming Chambers plays – are both capable of hurting defenses deep at any given moment, so the Jaguar defensive backs must still perform at a high level.
The Jacksonville run defense, perhaps the team’s biggest strength, will have even more on its plate, however, as the Chiefs rush attack is one of the league’s best, featuring two dynamic rushers in Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. While Jacksonville ranks 20th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, some of the blame for that should fall on the team’s porous secondary, the ineptitude of which no doubt helps open up the field for opposing running backs. Either way, the Jacksonville front seven must bring its best game on Sunday, because stopping the Kansas City running backs is an absolute must if the Jaguars hope to be at all competitive.
When it’s all Said and Done:
As we established above, both the Jacksonville offense and defense will have their hands full, and, to keep my run on metaphors alive, the cards are significantly stacked against both. More than likely without Garrard and Edwards, the Jacksonville offense will have no choice but to commit to the run on Sunday, and the Kansas City defense should have little problem containing it.
On defense, Jacksonville must stop one of the best rushing attacks in the league while also contending with the NFL’s second-ranked punt return unit. And without some big plays from its own kick and punt returners as well as a few turnovers, I have little faith that Jacksonville will be able to defy the odds on both sides of the ball. In the end, the Chiefs will move the ball with good consistency against the Jags while the Jacksonville offense will find sustained drives hard to come by.
Prediction: 24-10, Kansas City
NEWS AND NOTES:
With the injury to Garrard, the Jags have been relatively busy since Monday. For already a second time this season, Jacksonville waived fourth-year safety Gerald Alexander. The move was done to make room for free agent quarterback Bouman, but I’m still confused by how many times the team has second-guessed itself as it concerns to Alexander. We know Jacksonville needs help at safety, so Alexander can either play a role there or not. Yet it’s clear, despite how much they have seen him play, that the Jags simply can’t decide exactly what Alexander brings to the table. And that, for the record, is usually a bad sign, for both the player and management alike.
Jacksonville also finalized a trade with Green Bay that sent safety Anthony Smith to the Packers in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick. Finally, the team signed third-year corner Chevis Jackson, a former third-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons.
But getting back to the Smith trade for a second, while I hate to beat a dead horse when it’s down, I’m not sure how it makes any sense to get rid of the most productive player in an already-weak secondary halfway through the season, and for a meaningless draft pick nonetheless. Yet, with my mind already on my LOCKS for this week, I digress.
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!).
So I guess we can just start calling me Mr. 2-1, because that seems to be perpetually where I sit. But seriously, I’ve now lost just one game four weeks in a row, and am still in search of the elusive 3-0, perfect record.
Then, without further ado, I give perfection another try with my Week 7 LOCKS:
PITTSBURGH at Miami, -2.5: Miami is a more-than solid football team, is coming off a big road win against Green Bay, and gets the Steelers at home. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back from suspension, however, Pittsburgh very well may be the best team in the NFL and, though I think the game this Sunday will be competitive, I expect the better team to win, and by at least three points.
TAMPA BAY vs. St. Louis, Straight Up: St. Louis may be the most surprising team of the season to date, now a winner of three of its last four games. It was only two weeks ago, though, when Detroit handed the Rams a 38-point road loss, and they will have an equally tough test this weekend when they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the three-win Bucs. If all Tampa needs to do is win, and that is in fact what this weekend’s spread dictates, I’m very comfortable with my chips in the home team’s corner.
NEW ENGLAND at San Diego, +3.5: This is one of those spreads that just doesn’t look right and, therefore, makes the gambler nervous. San Diego has been worse than bad of late – coming off back-to-back losses to Oakland and St. Louis – and the Patriots just got done beating Baltimore, which I think is the probably the best team in the NFL. Oddly enough, the above logic is probably exactly the reason New England is actually getting 3.5 points here and also why most have been scared to bet the Pats. I, however, am going with logic here, and that means New England and the points all the way.
So this officially concludes our Wednesday lesson in Jaguar football. As usual, though, be sure to return to this space on Sunday, as I will have a full game re-cap as well as comprehensive analysis following Jacksonville’s 1:00 p.m. showdown with the Chiefs. Until then, be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reached at Scott.Janovitz@gmail.com
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Written by Scott Janovitz