For those of you who read me often, you know I'm a big fan of Football Outsiders. I get their almanac every year and I find it's a great resource for information and learning about each NFL team. Recently, Football Outisders released their 2011 Football Almanac and I had a chance to ask a couple questions to Rivers McCown, who wrote the Jacksonville Jaguars chapter of the Almanac.
You made mention that the Jaguars were a bit lucky to be in position to win the AFC South last season. Can you expound on that a little bit?
By just about any advanced statistical measure we have, the Jaguars were closer to the bottom of the league than they were the top. They finished with just 6.4 Pythagorean Wins, 6.7 Estimated Wins, and their total DVOA of -9.5% ranked 22nd in the NFL. I hate to bring this back to Houston, because I am an acknowledged Texans fan (the drinking helps!), but we had the Texans and Jaguars with roughly equivalent defenses last season, and had the Texans with a much better offense. Yet, the Jags won 8 games, the Texans won 6, and the overall mediocrity of the AFC South enabled Jacksonville to play Indianapolis to a stand-still for 16 weeks. That's not to say that Jacksonville was unworthy of the playoffs or anything -- they weren't Seattle by any means -- but the combination of a down division and good luck in close games made them seem a bit better than they were in 2010.
A lot has been made about the Jaguars free agent signings being more run-stoppers than pass defenders. How much can the pass defense be upgraded by these new additions by virtue of simply replacing the previous players?
It's hard to know just what to expect from Drew Coleman, mostly because he's never played a huge role on the Jets and we expect him to see more targets than ever with Jacksonville. One thing that we know for certain is that getting David Jones off the field as much as possible will do wonders for the Jacksonville pass defense, as he was one of the worst corners we've ever charted. Dawan Landry will definitely be an upgrade on Don Carey, but he had a career lows in yards per pass allowed (8.9) by almost two full yards last season. That will probably come up a bit, especially now that he's removed from the parts he had surrounding him in Baltimore. I think it's reasonable to expect some improvement for Jacksonville's pass defense, both because of the talent they acquired and the "dead cat" bounce, but it probably won't get them out of the bottom 10.
What's the outlook for David Garrard in 2011, based on his past history? How would FO rate him using their metrics? (These questions were asked before final cuts... obviously)
We've been overly positive on Garrard in the past, prompting staffer Ben Muth's famous comment that "even David Garrard's mom thinks ranking him ahead of Tony Romo this year is a little much," before the 2010 season. It's a little bit worrying that Garrard has taken so many hits over the last few years (by our metrics, he led the league in QB hits last year and in 2009, and was second in 2008), but he'd been plenty durable until the finger problem last season. Our projections dip a little on him this year, but this is mainly due to age-based regression and a lack of receivers around him. Personally, he reminds me a bit of Jon Kitna. Solid quarterback in his prime, and it looks like he's about ready to transition into the apprenticeship/journeyman second-half of his career this year with Blaine Gabbert in town.
The pass rush is still a big concern, given Aaron Kampman is coming back from another ACL. The team has since added Matt Roth. Is there hope, or does it all seem to hinge on how healthy Kampman is?
Roth is a solid signing, but it's really hard to generate a real pass rush purely with free agents unless big dollars are involved. The Jaguars had the right basic idea with the Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves picks (not the trades to get those picks, the picks themselves), but had the misfortune of watching them both flame out. I hate to end on such a down note, but with Kampman's injury history and Roth probably being a better fit in a 3-4, we don't really see much reason for optimism with their pass rush this year. The fact that it took them four preseason games to get a sack is also troubling, particularly since it speaks to a lack of quality depth should Kampman get hurt again.
Football Outsiders Almanac is the essential guide to the 2011 season, the book that correctly predicted 9 of 12 playoff teams last year, fully updated with post-lockout free agency and trades.