The next three days, I'll be looking at the Colts division rivals and assess their chances to unseat Indianapolis next season. First up, the Jaguars.
It's been a hilarious offseason in Jacksonville. The Jags have struggled to sell tickets. They've faced minor revolts over their decision to ignore Tim Tebow. They got ripped for having the worst draft in the NFL. Their quarterback has been publicly chastised by both the owner and head coach on the grounds that he just doesn't play well enough.
A look through the numbers reveals that the Jags were a deeply flawed team in 2009 despite inexplicably hanging around the playoff race for most of the year. The Jags finished 7-9 which is a respectable record for a last place team. However, a look at their Pythagorean wins shows that they were really more of a 5 or 6 win team. They lost their final four games on the season and had only one win by more than 5 points all season. They split their division games (beating Houston twice).
The Jags, conforming to Jack Del Rio's personality, are trying to rebuild as a defense first/running team. Apparently, they didn't get the memo that the NFL doesn't really work like that any more. What's particularly odd about their decision is that this strategy doesn't play to the talent the team already has on the roster.
Defensively in 2009, the Jags were a mess. According to DVOA, they were 28th in the league on defense and 30th against the pass. Their real weakness was a lack of pressure on the quarterback. Their 14 sacks were 8 fewer than the next worst team in football. To combat this problem, the Jags loaded up their defensive line in the draft. Their first four picks were defensive linemen, including the controversial pick of Tyson Alualu. The hope is that by getting more pressure on the quarterback, the Jags can hide their awful secondary.
Will the strategy pay off? Most likely, it won't help them this year. In the past 20 years, there have only been 19 rookies that posted double digit sacks. Even if we allow that the Jags managed to draft one of them and that this immediately increases their sack total by 10, the Jags would still rank in the bottom 2 or 3 teams in the league in total sacks. In other words, if Jacksonville's only problem was defensive line, and if they managed to hit on one of the great rookie rushers of the past 20 years, they still wouldn't be very good at pressuring the quarterback as a whole.
Offensively, the Jags were merely bad, but not horrible. David Garrard was the definition of average. Given how terrible his pass protection was (28th in the league in sack %), it's amazing that Garrard was taken to task so heavily by his coach and owner. Garrard is what he is: an average NFL quarterback. It's hard to understand why anyone would expect him to be more than that. The Jags play for improving their pass offense this offseason was to release Torry Holt and criticize their quarterback.
Their run game was solid behind Maurice Jones Drew. However, his carries spiked last year from fewer than 200 each of his first three seasons to more than 300 (plus 53 catches) last season. While that's not an exorbitant amount of touches, it is far more than he has had in any other season. Should he suffer any kind of injury, the Jaguars will have to depend on the unproven Rashad Jennings.
No team in football is under the kind of pressure the Jags are under. Every game in Jacksonville becomes a referendum on whether the city can support an NFL team. The players and the fans all know this. Moreover, Jack Del Rio has been questioned by owner Wayne Weaver over his treatment of people. Jacksonville is a powder keg that could easily turn into the biggest disaster in the NFL. If there is a team with a respectable 2009 record that could easily turn into a 3 win team, the Jags have to be considered a candidate.
Do they have more talent than they did 2009? It's possible. If they had a good draft, they could potentially see results in two or three seasons. However, if their rookies struggle even a normal amount, fan out rage might well bury the season. The Jaguars need some early season victories to keep the sharks at bay. Given that they play San Diego and Indianapolis in their first four games, it seems unlikely that they will be any better than 2-2, and more probably 1-3 at the quarter pole. That might be enough to send the entire season cascading into oblivion.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were a 5 win team on paper last year. I can't see them being any better than that in 2010. They have a questionable strategy being implemented by a questionable coach in a hostile environment.
The 2010 Jaguars: set the dumpster ablaze.