Jaguars at Browns 2009: Understanding The Need For Defensive Tackles

Some dominant play at defensive tackle could have stopped this touchdown run by Josh Cribbs.

Over the last two days there has been a mad scramble through the maze that is the Jaguars 2010 NFL Draft. Somewhere amidst the twists and turns is a glass. It might be a stein or a goblet, but for the Jacksonville fan base a quest has been undertaken to determine just one thing: is it half full or half empty.

With the final day of drafting behind us, and the initial shock dissipating, it is important to step away from the ledge and shred those mock drafts. Better yet, that four hours of research accumulated over the past four months to educate yourself on all the players available, go ahead and shred that one as well.

I am surely not going to offer up an opinion on whether Tyson Alualu was a bad pick, nor will I postulate on whether D'Anthony Smith was the best available player in round three. I did one player profile, UCLA's Brian Price, so beyond name recognition my opinion is no better than asking a wedge of cheese.

I like game tape, and from what I've seen on Tyson and D'Anthony they produced on the field. They also match the personality template Gene Smith looks for in a draft pick. So to continue with the theme of trying to get into the head of the Great and Powerful OZ that is the Jaguars' GM, I went back to the highlights of the season ending loss to the Cleveland Browns.

If you only remember the score you may have forgotten that the Browns rolled up 214 rushing yards, the second time Jacksonville was trod upon for over 200 yards (they gave up 305 to the Titans in week 8), and a week after giving up 197 yards to the New England Patriots. For the season they yielded over 100 yard rushing in eight games.

Rushing yards are but half the battle and as Gene noted in his post draft press conferences, this team needs to get to the quarterback and acquiring some penetrating defensive tackles is critical. I could throw last year's passing statistics at you but I respect you as fans too much to dredge up such pain. We all know a penguin has a better shot at flying than the Jaguars had at pressuring any opposing quarterback.

The video of the game can be found here but I wanted to highlight five specific plays for comment.

HIGHLIGHT ONE

At 46 seconds into the video the Browns have the ball at the Jaguars 46 yard line. Jerome Harrison takes the ball off tackle right for a nice gain. Pay close attention to John Henderson on this play. Center Alex Mack pushes Big John three yards off the ball. Terrance Knighton is holding point of attack.

HIGHLIGHT TWO

At 1:08 the Browns have 3rd and 4 at the Jacksonville 14. You may recall this Josh Cribbs' touchdown run. Henderson is at LDT while Motavious Stanley is RDT. Stanley is initially hit by the center, who he pushes to the ground, and then drives back the guard. Cribbs is running left. Henderson is again forced back, two yards this time, and is knocked over by the linebacker trying to fill the gap.

HIGHLIGHT THREE

AT 2:04 Cleveland has the ball on the Jaguars six. The Browns run a Boise State Statue of Liberty play. Knighton, at LDT, makes a nice swim move to get into the backfield while Henderson falls to the ground after being punched by guard Eric Steinbach.

HIGHLIGHT FOUR

At 3:08 the Jaguars have Cleveland at 4th and 1 from the Jacksonville six. On a play where you must get DT penetration, Knighton is submarined on the left side while the play is a sweep to the right. Henderson is immediately stood up and makes no ground what-so-ever.

There could surely be more variables to consider when analyzing the failure of the Jaguars' defense in this game. For example, in highlight four we could note the inability of the defensive end to penetrate and extend the play wide or turn it inside.

I also appreciate that this is but a sampling of the season, and one which focuses on the last game of a disappointing year and which was played under icy conditions. I can assure you, if I had the time I would pick through every bit of video there is and I am confident we'd see the same thing: a failure to penetrate.

Watching this clip in totality you can also see areas of failure in the pass game. Now Derek Anderson only accumulate 86 yards through the air, but when he was he literally had a running start to throw the ball. He wasn't being forced to roll out or check down. With a four man rush the Jaguars could do nothing, a theme which we have become sadly accustomed.

Prior to the draft the Jaguars' roster consisted of Henderson, Knighton, Stanley and Atiyyah Ellison at the tackle position. Ellison and Stanley are nice rotation guys but neither offers any promise of being a starting tackle that can disrupt the interior of an offensive line. When you're facing Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning twice a year you do not have the luxury of bringing your linebackers and defensive backs in on a regular basis to create pressure. This will only open passing lanes through which to be exploited.

Pointing out that Henderson may be a weak spot is not breaking news considering the attempts to move him but that was not my purpose here. And as I stated at the beginning this is not meant to defend the two players taken.

What I think needs to be discussed is why that position carried weight on Gene's draft board. Yes Dez Bryant, Tim Tebow, Brandon Graham or Earl Thomas may have been the more glamorous pick, but would they have really offered immediate help?

When we at BCC began discussing what the biggest need was going into the draft I held firm to the belief that it was defensive tackle. The reason was that if the Jaguars failed to create chaos between the offensive tackles, every other position would be destined for failure and every flaw exposed. If rumors are true that Rolando McClain and C. J. Spiller were round one targets it may be the case that Gene saw those players as value adds beyond the DT weakness.

Still, with his LB and RB off the board, Smith went for defensive tackle. Then he went for it again. This team has enough needs to fill a draft, but a quick look back at the game in Cleveland shows no matter whose name might be associated with the position, defensive tackle demanded attention.

- Brian Fullford

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