Prior to every game, I'll post a new article in my "Battle to the Bottom" series, chronicling the Jaguars struggle to earn the 1st overall pick. And there's good news: We're in the lead!!!
Alfie reported today that the Jaguars are the Odds on favorite for the first overall pick!
A quick note: I am not prancing around on the Titanic in a cheerleader costume rooting for the Jags to go down, I am trying to give practical ways in which the Jaguars can increase their chances of securing the #1 pick. If you don't like it, don't read it. I think it's fun and a way that I can enjoy following a team that is, quite frankly, bad.
Don't be sucked in by the good news, though. The 1-4 Raiders are well prepared for the Battle to the Bottom and this is a major trap game for the Jaguars. Both teams have only one win, and the Raiders haven't been the most threatening team so far this season. The return of Daryl Smith is bigger than you may think. Smith is an all-around linebacker who makes plays in the running and passing games. Having him on the field makes this game more difficult. Thankfully, the Jaguars still stand a pretty good chance of giving us the desired result by the end of the game.
Update: It appears that Daryl Smith will not play on Sunday. This further increases the likelihood that the Jaguars will lose.
So, without further ado, here are the 4 things the Jaguars can do stay on track in the "Battle to the Bottom":
1) Take risks down the field early:
The Jaguars have been searching for years and years for a downfield threat. WR Cecil Shorts III is getting his shot to fill that role on Sunday in his first career start. He has three catches for more than 30 yards this season, including an 80-yarder against the Colts that gave the Jaguars their only win of the year. This makes taking shots down the field risky, because Shorts could actually go up and catch them. Still, I think this is the way for the Jaguars to go.
Throwing downfield (as we all know) is not Blaine Gabbert's strength. He does "well" throwing short, contained passes underneath, but we all saw what happened when he tried to look down the field against Chicago last week. A key fumble in the 1st half and two pick sixes in the 2nd half. The turnover battle is a big deciding factor in NFL games, and taking risks down the field could be what the Jaguars need to get those turnover numbers up.
2) Pass and Pass:
This goes hand in hand with number one. Both teams need to put an emphasis on the passing game.
The Jaguars need to put Gabbert in harm's way early. In the first half of the Bears game Gabbert played as well he has ever played at quarterback. That only lasted until Corey Wootton came off the right end and planted Gabbert with a sack fumble near the end of the first half. From that point on, Gabbert was as out of sorts as he's ever been under center. The Raiders' pass rush is the second worst in the league behind only the Jaguars. They'll need some chances to get after the quarterback before it can happen. The Jaguars must give them those chances. Also, the Jaguars get first downs on a higher percentage of Maurice Jones-Drew runs than Blaine Gabbert passes, so this strategy will take the ball out of the hands of MJD, who has been very effective through the first 5 games.
On the other side of the ball, I have the same recommendation. The Raiders may have an effective ground game with RB Darren McFadden, but their passing game is nothing to scoff at either. Oakland is 12th in passing yardage, averaging a cool 271 yards per game ( a little less than double the Jaguars' average). Bringing an effective air attack against a team with the league's worst pass rush has to sound pretty nice. By the numbers, it would seem better to challenge a 30th ranked run D instead of trying the 23rd ranked passing game, but the return of Daryl Smith to the front seven and the presence of Mr. Whiff-tacular himself Chris Prosinski in the secondary make passing a better option.
3) Close calls must stay close calls:
How many times this season have the Jaguars come tantalizingly close to making big plays only to have them fall apart at the last second? Just last week there were two interceptions dropped by the defense and multiple fumbles that the Jaguars just couldn't fall on. Converting those plays makes an impact; not converting them is only good for woulda, coulda, shoulda. When the Jaguars get those opportunities, they have to continue to be "close calls" and not turnovers.
4) Keep to the West Coast trend:
The Jaguars generally don't show well in games played on the West Coast. They are 2-6 all time in the Pacific Time Zone, but if you look at more recent history, the numbers are more one sided. The Jaguars have played on the West Coast four times in the Gene Smith era, and are 0-4. What's more, they've allowed 137 points over those four games and scored only 30. Now is not the time to buck this trend.
This is a tougher than usual game to call because the Jaguars could easily lay an egg on the West Coast like they have historically. Both teams are near the bottom of the league, but all in all I get the feeling that the Raiders are going to put up more points than Gabbert and the Jags offense can match. At the end of the day, I think the Jaguars keep their hopes for the number one pick alive: 31-13 Oakland