No Line, No Spine
Eons of transition blur reality. Good players become great, because they're familiar. Leading the team in tackles becomes fodder for Pro Bowl accolades and lukewarm improvement at a position charades as stardom throughout the haze of a season. But now the clouds part, the dust settles and the horizon becomes clear. And while the offensive unit has its issues, the greatest challenges lie on the defensive portion of scrimmage, because recognition of hard work and decent stats has blurred the truth. The Jaguars defense needs a better line and a better spine.
The backbone. Linebackers. Supposedly the triad of Ingram, Durant and Smith are capable. So we've been told. However fans, eyes don't lie and let us examine the following: (1) have they pressured opposing quarterbacks? (2) have they effectively covered tight ends or backs out of the backfield? and (3) have they solidified containment on the corners and executed solid tackles in doing so? Jags' fans know that all of these questions produce answers in the negative. On paper the number of takedowns for some of these Jacksonville position players seems respectable. Yet, games present unique situations which can't be measured on paper. And too many times the linebackers' zone is unmanned and/or unconvincingly guarded. The linebacking-role requires relentless aggression, speed and smarts; whether O, I or M. It's time to ask, does our current trio really possess such tools, or are they merely cleaning up the leftovers that our front four fails to feed upon? Based on game momentum and crucial moments, the answer remains in the latter. While our current backers are athletic, something at the position is lacking. Drafting strong at this position never hurts; although it can be a gamble. But please, do not bring fire and brimstone down upon a rule-handicapped defensive backfield when the current unit of linebackers has repeatedly failed to show success at the three numbered requirements mentioned above. Verdict: Behind our line, plays a unit that's fine. Yet fine at this level will fail, because the great ones prevail. And even with Jack, at LB we lack. No spine.
It's as if they're getting paid merely to massage the pectorals of their enemies. An NFL-low sack total results from consistency; consistent acceptance that man-on-man engagement equals productivity. At the professional level however, engagement alone fails to produce effective results. Creativity, muscle, anticipation and short-area speed shared amongst an attacking concert of four individuals must be present for a defensive line to operate successfully. Gone are such traits in the River City's defensive front. A line of Brackens, Henderson, Stroud and Spicer in prime form is a dream. And one that biological clocks were never to allow. Yet, one can imagine just how such ingredients might penetrate and solidify when called upon. This year however, Groves and Harvey (along with roster-filling journeymen) tried to swim with sharks in an ocean of heavyweights, and all we saw was overrunning, malleability and weak roots. The interior defensive line showed occasional fortitude and outstanding play from Knighton along with a stalwart, yet unimpressive Henderson; thus helping to keep at bay floods of rushing and comfortable pocket-time that opposing offenses truly could have exploited. Don't those wins against Houston still defy explanation? Ultimately, confrontation at scrimmage requires more than contact. Blockers must be shed, unity in execution must rattle offensive strategy and horsepower must be at a maximum. As a Jaguars' fan you know this. Such is why our quarterback so often is toppled while opposing throwers deposit stainless jerseys into the wash. Drafty day remedies for game-changing defensive linemen come with measurable unpredictability. Those wearing teal and black on church day with beer and hot dog in hand hope Mr. G. Smith prognosticates defensive line skills that will create a championship defense, comprised of a front four with run-stopping power and closing speed on enemy quarterbacks. This season has however shown that the Jaguars' defensive ends represent the beginnings of a stat-padding day for teams that could otherwise be overcome. Verdict: With a secondary confused and linebackers overused, the men up front must press on...lest the chances of winning are gone.
Conclusion: Football is a game of tendency. When an enemy offensive unit converts third downs early on, even if they don't score, a tendency is shown. Revealed is the ability to win the battle of the beef, to win the battle of X's and O's, and to dictate the pace of the game. While the Jaguars offense showed some spark this year, the defense consistently dragged. Tendencies leaned against the mighty cats, and Jack's specialty became Tucker's folly. Can the gap from almost-there to sacked be closed? Only Gene Smith knows, and until we have answers, we're hosed. This defense needs a real line. And a real, not hyped, spine. Backers and linemen for the Jags must play with smarts, speed and power once again. Like Brackens, Hardy, Stroud and Big Hen. The adversary receiving snap must fall hard in 2010.