CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 25: Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Jacksonville Jaguars waits for a play to be called against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
I was there. I watched it all unfold in person. Did I go inside during the downpour and risk missing another "rebound" play for a touchdown? Absolutely not. Did the Jaguars coaching staff show the same intensity of commitment I had that day, but to win the game? Absolutely not. As I sat there in my seat, watching and dissecting every play, I realized this had to be one of the worst coaching performances I had ever seen. Playcallining-awful. I collaborated with opposing fans and we all agreed that once the ball was set on the line, the clock would start, and the Jaguars would need to be ready. A breakdown in communication, coupled with Gabbert pleading for Meester to snap the ball (he was unaware the clock was running and was calling pickups) led to an inept last attempt at winning the game.
Now I know I am one of the biggest critics when it comes to the "what if" game, but I asked myself as I left Bank of America Stadium in the midst of fans pouring on the "Jaguars suck" to my face, "what if the Jaguars had somehow pulled out a win, whether it'd be Newton not throwing the touchdown to Olsen or Gabbert finishing the drive with a win?" I would probably still be here saying this one of the poorest coaching performances I've ever seen, we just escaped with a victory. Though I would love to spend this whole column bashing Jack Del Rio's poor decisions and gameplan going in, as well as Dirk Koetter's inept offensive play calling (no one talks about calling a 7 step drop for Gabbert on your own 2 yard line on 3rd and long a bad idea but it was as bad as the 3rd and long draw plays) but I'm going to focus on the positives from this game that don't need to be fixed: the team.
1. In the few pass attempts Gabbert had (thanks coaches...) he looked comfortable. Watching a quarterback in person is much different than watching him on the tv. I could see him progress through his reads, trying to manipulate the pocket. On the one ball he threw over the top to Jason Hill, Captain Munnerlyn was in single coverage on him, and was beat. Gabbert read it, but Hill's streak led him out of bounds and forced a tough throw. It could have been a touchdown, because Gabbert still slinged a beauty, but Hill was out of bounds. The point: he read the single coverage at the line and made the right play.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew will be the workhorse of this team, but he needs help. Maurice Jones-Drew is good, really good, but an offense where I can predict every play leaves him with the giant bulls-eye. He can't do much when 11 guys on defense are playing run and the offense doesn't take advantage of that. I'm calling for a more aggressive offensive game plan. MJD would be even more effective if this happened. Karim had a pretty bad day in relief, but when you get 20 carries for 120 yards from your star running back, you should win the game. Not the Jaguars though.
3. Where was Marcedes Lewis? Instead of letting Gabbert have one of the best security blankets for a rookie quarterback in a big, pro bowl tight end, we keep him in to block every play, even pass plays. The protection was good enough. Get this man the football! Let him help Gabbert get some easy completions, not rely on receivers that can't get any separation and force a tough throw. He's the biggest mismatch on the field, get him the ball.
4. One thing I've been chiming on as the Jaguars defense's biggest problem: tight ends. The defense had a great game, holding the Panther's offense to minimal numbers in comparison to the previous weeks. But,I have been saying this week in and week out: the Jaguars can not cover tight ends, especially if they're spread out wide because Posluzny is in coverage. Daryl Smith can cover linebackers and tight ends much better, but he's usually matched up to cover a running back in a base offense, not the tight end. Last week: Dustin Keller: 6 catches, 101 yds, 1 td. This week against a base two tight end offense: Jeremy Shockey: 3 catches for 30 yards, targeted 7 times, Greg Olsen: 7 catches for 57 yards, targeted 10 times. That's 10 catches for 87 yards from tight ends, and 17 targets in that game. The worse part: most of these gains were 8, 9 yards on early downs, letting Cam Newton have manageable 3rd downs. If I was an offense gameplanning for the Jaguars, my best mismatch will be a tight end over any receiver.
5. Something has to change. I'm starting to realize the Titans win was a very lucky win in that Hasselbeck could have easily led the Titans for a game winning field goal. The mindset of this team is run the ball and stop the run, but this is a passing league. You have to let the kid live and learn, even if he makes mistakes, it's part of becoming a good quarterback. This season is far from over, but if this season is going to continue to be a playoff first mindset with a rookie quarterback, that's not going to fly. They playoffs would be great, but I'm more concerned with my franchise quarterback developing. The league is enjoying it's highest point totals and passing yards in years, that is, everyone except the Jaguars. There's no uniqueness in the offense, no special plays, nothing but I-formation run plays, 1-wide receiver run plays, and 3rd down plays that can't move the sticks because the offense is put in a 3rd down and long situation anyways from being so predictable(run, run, pass). Yes, we can all preach "players not plays" but without good plays, there's no chance for players to make plays. Don't play to not lose the game, play to kick the crap out of the other team.