By Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Lobotomizer
A passing offense that’s stagnant and idle,
Maurice Jones-Drew carried to rushing title,
the new owner’s mustache long as shoestrings,
these are a few of our Jacksonville things.
When the crowd dies, when Del Rio leaves,
when we’re looking bad,
I simply remember we hired Mularkey,
and then I just feel more sad.
The Sound of Music
is 174 minutes long, which puts it on comparable terms with the length of a NFL game. It’s also probably more entertaining than any game the Jacksonville Jaguars played in 2011.
For years Jacksonville has looked the part of a great team. When they came off the bus, many would note their impressive size along the roster. Under Jack Del Rio, they wanted to be a physical team that would win with running the ball and playing great defense. It was the same way under Tom Coughlin, who was the first head coach in team history.
Last season the team ran the ball a lot (fourth-most attempts), and improved on defense. In the end, it produced a 5-11 record, because they forgot the all-important ingredients of a passing offense. Del Rio was fired during the season; a season in which that former coach, Coughlin, won another Super Bowl with a New York Giants team that ranked dead last in rushing offense. But they had a passing game.
It’s tough being a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The rest of the NFL fans can see this when ESPN is caught recycling overhead footage
during a Monday Night game. If the fans don’t want to watch their team, neither will anyone else.
For the Jaguars to get back into competition, they’ll have to field a passing offense that can put up points with the likes of New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego, and probably Denver.
The mindset Jacksonville uses to compete in the NFL has to change. They have just their third official head coach in team history (Mike Mularkey), a young quarterback (Blaine Gabbert), and new ownership (Shahid Khan).
Time for some new results.
The 2011 storyline
: Offensively offensive. Despite a 1,600 yard back and their best defense since 2007, the Jaguars finished just 5-11 because they had the most inept passing game in the league during the year of the quarterback
The Vital Signs
Mike Mularkey (1st year with Jacksonville; 14-18 overall)
5-11 (15.2 PPG – 20.6 PPG)
Record against the spread:
Record vs. Quality Opponents
: 2-7 (14.3 PPG – 22.1 PPG)
Record last five seasons:
Best Quality Stat in 2011:
Defensive Hog Index (11th).
Worst Quality Stat in 2011:
Real Passing Yards Per Attempt (32nd), Real Quarterback Rating (32nd), Offensive Passer Rating (32nd)
2011 Quality Stat Rankings
Overall =Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS= Quality Standings; SCOR= Scoreability; Bend= Bendability; RPYPA= Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; DRPYPA= Defensive Real Passing; QBR= Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR= Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR= Offensive Passer Rating; DPR= Defensive Passer Rating; PRD= Passer Rating Differential; OHI= Offensive Hog Index; DHI= Defensive Hog Index; REL= Relativity Index.
Statistical curiosity of 2011: What did MJD’s rushing yards actually produce?
In a season where throwing for 5,000 yards and producing offense seemed to be at an all-time high, the Jaguars were impotent in their ability to move the ball and fill up the scoreboard.
The 243 points scored were the fewest in team history for a season. The Jaguars hit the 20-point mark in only two games, making them one of 11 teams to score under 20 points in 14+ games in a season
Even when the team won it was in spite of the offense, which contributed a negative value in Expected Points
in each of the five wins. Jacksonville’s 22.05 yards/drive ranked dead last
in the league.
We already know their passing efficiency was worst in the league, but the production wasn’t there either. Blaine Gabbert and Luke McCown combined for just 2,510 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. There were four quarterbacks
that had more than 2,510 yards passing in just the last eight games
of the season.
Jacksonville fans should be used to their passing game not being very productive. In their 17-year history, the Jaguars have just one passer throw for more than 3,700 yards in a season. Mark Brunell passed for 4,367 yards way back in 1996. The Jaguars reached the AFC title game that season. This is a team that has had a quarterback start at least 10 games in all 17 seasons.
None of those players averaged fewer yards/game than Gabbert’s 147.6.
Best game of 2011: 12-7 win vs. Baltimore (Week 7)
. When you can get a home win in primetime over a team that would finish 12-4, you’ve found your game of the year for a 5-11 team. While it was another ugly display of offense, the Jacksonville defense stole the spotlight. However, one could argue it was the Baltimore offense playing terrible football.
Either way, the Jaguars forced the Ravens to go three and out an incredible eight times
in the first half. The third possession ended after one play, which was a fumble by Ray Rice. That means on 9 first-half possessions, the Ravens had no first downs, and just 16 net yards. The Ravens were 0/8 on third down.
Jacksonville started the second half with a time-consuming, 8:30 drive that added a field goal for a 9-0 lead. Baltimore finally got their initial first down of the game with just under 5:30 left in the third quarter.
After Baltimore’s offense finally got it together with a 90-yard touchdown drive, the unsuccessful onside kick resulted in Jacksonville adding another field goal for a 12-7 lead. With 1:43 left, Joe Flacco had a chance for a game-winning touchdown drive, but on the second play he threw a game-ending interception to Drew Coleman.
Jacksonville’s defense allowed a season-low 146 yards of offense, which were the second fewest any defense allowed in a game in 2011. Cleveland allowed 137 yards to Seattle one day before Jacksonville’s Monday night upset.
Worst game of 2011: 41-14 loss at Atlanta (Week 15)
. Though it wasn’t their worst performance (that would have to be Week 2 against the New York Jets), this loss to a playoff team was a quick reminder of just how far Jacksonville has to go to get back into competition.
After a 41-14 victory over Tampa Bay that Sunday, the Jaguars had to travel to Atlanta, which has become a difficult place to play, and especially on a short week (Thursday night game). It was just one day before the game that Shahid Khan’s purchase of the Jaguars was approved by the rest of the NFL owners, and he was in attendance.
While the mustache showed up, the Jaguars did not. They fell behind 27-0 at halftime, and the deficit reached 41-0 in the third quarter before a pair of garbage time scores. Just days after a 41-14 win, the Jaguars suffered a 41-14 loss.
No matter how optimistic one can be, when you’re spending about three-quarters of a billion dollars on a team, a poor showing like this can’t be good on the psyche.
Strength: Maurice Jones-Drew
/. Since entering the league in 2006, Maurice Jones-Drew has been one of the best running backs in the NFL. In that time he ranks fourth in rushing attempts (1,484), 3rd in rushing yards (6,854), and third in rushing touchdowns (62).
Jones-Drew won his first rushing title last season; partially because he led the league with 343 carries to gain those 1,606 yards. As he enters his age 27 season, there isn’t a lot of concern over his durability, but more seasons like last year and you’ll start to hear about it. The workhorse back is an endangered species in the NFL.
MJD remains a fan favorite, the best scoring option the offense has, and their most consistent player. Still, Jones-Drew playing well is not enough to overcome the team’s glaring weakness.
Weakness: Passing offense.
Blaine Gabbert’s rookie season did not go well, as he showed very little ability to push the ball down the field. We’re not talking about 40-yard bombs either. Just throwing the ball more than 10 yards was a real struggle for this passing game.
Even the 1-10 yard range was trouble, as Gabbert completed 53.4 percent of his passes in that range. Elite quarterbacks will complete around 70 percent of those passes.
Gabbert was not a big star at Missouri, but his name quickly jumped up draft boards last year, with some even suggesting he could be the first overall pick. He was selected 10th overall, and was the third quarterback taken after Cam Newton and Jake Locker.
Compared to his rookie peers at quarterback (Newton, Locker, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, T.J. Yates), Gabbert had the most disappointing rookie season.
Though not throwing many deep passes, Gabbert did not show great anticipation and had a sack rate of 8.8 percent. His 40 sacks lost the most yards in the league (293).
Showing little improvement in the second half of the season, Gabbert also struggled as the games went on, whether it was by quarter or by number of pass attempts. His need for a big step forward in 2012 is the number one story for Jacksonville this season.
What did not help last year was a starting wide receiver duo of Mike Thomas and Jason Hill. Thomas wasn’t much of a vertical threat when David Garrard was the quarterback, and Hill is more suited for a backup role.
TE Marcedes Lewis led the team with just 460 receiving yards, but that’s well down from the 700 yards and 10 touchdowns he had in a Pro Bowl season in 2010. Still, part of his bad year can be directly attributed to the play at quarterback.
General off-season strategy/overview:
Jacksonville made Mike Mularkey their third official head coach in team history. After Jack Del Rio was fired during the season, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker became the interim head coach for the final 5 games (2-3 record). Tucker is staying on as defensive coordinator in 2012.
Mularkey brings an offensive background, but it was a surprising signing as his last game ended with his Atlanta offense scoring no points in a playoff game against the New York Giants. Mularkey had one head coaching stint with the Buffalo Bills from 2004 to 2005, and he did little to fix that offense as well.
Some of Jacksonville’s offensive problems are similar to Atlanta’s: an overreliance in a power-running game and a passing game that lacks big plays.
With the No. 7 overall pick in the draft, Jacksonville has to look at their offense outside of QB, RB and TE. It is unlikely WR Justin Blackmon would still be there, but if he is, Jacksonville has to consider it. Part of the success of Dalton and Newton as rookies was having A.J. Green and Steve Smith there to make plays for them. The Jaguars don’t have that type of receiver, and Blackmon would have the potential to grow with Gabbert.
Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd may be too big of a reach at this spot. In the past the Jaguars have shown interest in making freakishly athletic picks on big players, but were burned by first round selections of Reggie Williams (2004) and Matt Jones (2005). Blackmon or Floyd would be safer than those picks.
If they can’t fix the pass offense, then focus on the pass defense. Jacksonville has used high picks to little success in recent drafts on defensive linemen like Derrick Harvey (8th overall in 2008), Quentin Groves (52nd overall in 2008), and Tyson Alualu (10th overall in 2010). They also drafted two offensive tackles in 2009 (Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton).
Should they go that route again, you could look for Riley Reiff (Iowa) to be Gabbert’s new tackle, or a defensive end like Quinton Coples (North Carolina).
On the free agency side, Jacksonville really didn’t lose any players of note, and they signed Chad Henne as a backup quarterback and possible push for Gabbert. They’ve also added Laurent Robinson at WR; likely overpaying him in the process (5 years, $32.5M).
Robinson has 1,858 yards and 15 receiving TD in 52 career games. He had 858 yards and 11 TD in 2011 for the Cowboys. He’ll be an improvement over last year’s starting receivers, but don’t expect the same numbers from last year with Tony Romo throwing the ball.
Aaron Ross, the solid cornerback and owner of two Super Bowl rings with the Giants, was also signed to improve the secondary which has been well on the decline since Jacksonville’s last postseason (2007).
The Jaguars thought about jumping into The Tebow Zone
, but the Florida kid ended up in New York instead.
Totally premature 2012 diagnosis:
It is hard to imagine the Jaguars can do anything greater than compete for second place in the AFC South this season. They are one of the least talented teams in the conference and they have a serious question at quarterback.
Mike Mularkey should be able to bring out some improvement in this offense, but it’d be hard not to after fielding the worst offense in franchise history. The defense might actually get better, but the offense has to make a huge leap for the Jaguars to compete for something meaningful.
Maurice Jones-Drew can remain the team’s most popular player, but as long as he is the best player on the team, then the Jacksonville Jaguars are likely not going to go deep into the playoffs. The shift to a passing team has to take place, and much of that burden is going to fall on Mularkey’s offense trying to enhance the development of Blaine Gabbert’s career. The first step is acknowledging this offensive mentality.
If that happens, then it won’t be long before the Jaguars are back in the AFC South hunt. If not, then Shahid Khan will soon be looking for another coach and quarterback to guide this franchise, which is just hoping to remain in Jacksonville long-term.