Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been an inconsistent enigma so far during the 2012 NFL season, flashing some good plays and improvement but also sailing some passes that leave you scratching your head. So far on the season, Gabbert has completed 40 of his 79 pass attempts for 468 yards and four touchdowns, and has yet to throw an interception. The Jaguars passing offense is currently ranked at 31st in the NFL, averaging 147.3 yards per game.
Virtually half of Gabbert's total passing yards on the season are generating from Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, and in the first half of the game. On the first drive in Week 1, Gabbert completed four of his six passes for 52 yards, just missing a touchdown pass to a wide open Justin Blackmon. While the team left four points on the field, it was another opening drive where Gabbert helped lead the offense right down the field for a score, just like he had done much of the preseason.
The offense wasn't limited to just short, quick passes like it has been the past two games. While Gabbert didn't really take a shot down the field on the opening drive, he had time to scan the field and put guys in position to pick up yards after the catch, similar to the 18-yard reception by Marcedes Lewis, where Gabbert perfectly placed the ball over his shoulder and hit him in full stride.
Two drives later, Gabbert once again was able to march the Jaguars offense right down the football field completing all five of his passes for 51 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to Lewis in the back of the endzone and a 26 yard pass to Laurent Robinson to a hole in the Vikings zone defense.
So, early in the Week 1 matchup Gabbert was 9-of-13 for 103 yards and a touchdown on the first three drives of the game. That was also the the only three offensive series of the game where the Jaguars had their full offensive line intact, and Gabbert picked up the remaining 157 yards on the day in 26 pass attempts on the final nine drives of the game, including the late 39-yard touchdown pass.
Gabbert's yards-per-attempt (YPA) tanked from a very respectable 7.9 to a below average 6.0. Once Eben Britton and Cameron Bradfield left the game, it effectively wiped out the Jaguars game plan in the passing attack and Gabbert was under constant pressure from the right side of the line, as Guy Whimper struggled in pass protection.
The next two weeks of the season the Jaguars offense devolved into virtually all quick throws on the sideline, trying to quick hit the opposing team's defense and salvage yardage and lean on Maurice Jones-Drew. It's understandable why the Jaguars coaching staff did what they did, as the concerns about pass protection with the way the offensive line was setup was both voiced and easy to see by anyone watching, but that game plan needs to go out the window now.
The past two weeks have been difficult to tell what exactly is keeping the Jaguars passing offense stuck in neutral. Gabbert has been off the mark at times, receivers routes and hands have been poor at times, and the pass protection has been poor most of the time. The design of the passing offense the last two weeks hasn't been exactly a tutorial in Passing 101 either, basically limiting a lot of the down field throws and longer developing crossing plays that most teams use to pick up chunks of yardage.
Heading into Sunday's matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Jaguars offensive line should now be fully intact to what it was the first half of Week 1. The Bengals are also banged up in the secondary and will potentially be without four of their top cornerbacks. Their pass rushers will finally be healthy, which has been their Achilles heel defensively early in the season, but when the backend hurting the Jaguars would be wise to attack in the passing game early.
There's no more excuses with the line fully healthy and the full range of offensive "weapons" now available. The team should be able to send tight end Marcedes Lewis in the passing tree now, as he's been held in to assist in pass protection. Continue to run the longer developing plays down the field and over the middle as you did against the Colts, which was open but the pressure didn't allow the play to be a success.
Jaguars fans are growing restless in the plan, and while it may be a bit misguided with all the injuries on the offensive line, the offense needs to show something. It's time to take the training wheels off of the offense and see what you have. The only way you'll know for sure if you have the guy at quarterback in Gabbert is if you let him fail.
I'm not asking for a 300+ yard performance and three touchdowns, I'm asking for the offense to look functional passing the football, like it did early on before the injuries. If that was the reason for the passing offense being abysmal, we can accept that. If the Jaguars offense comes out and throws for 120 yards on the game again however... welp.