Cola's NFL Preview has a wonderful review of the Jags (and an even Better one of the Colts)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio
Best Player: John Henderson, DT. He's finally elevated to a Pro Bowl level.
Most Overrated Player: Donovin Darius, SS. He gets a little worse each year.
Most Underrated Player: Rashean Mathis, CB. He's one of the premiere cornerbacks in the league.
Breakout Player: Matt Jones, WR. He was steadily improving and developing a rapport with Byron Leftwich before Leftwich broke his ankle. He'll only get better this season.
I know you forgot because everyone else did too but the Jaguars won 12 games last season. That's more than the Panthers won, more than the Steelers won, more than the Patriots won. The reaction from every pundit? A collective yawn.
I'm not exactly sure why that is the case. Jacksonville looks to me like a young team that is clearly on the way up. I know, I know, their schedule was pretty easy last season but they did beat the Seahawks and they did go to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers, although Roethlisberger missed that game with a knee injury. Remember where the Seahawks and the Steelers were first weekend of February?
Certainly, there are questions about this team's offense, especially with Greg Jones out for the year and Jimmy Smith enjoying retirement. But it still has the makings of an effective unit if Fred Taylor can stay reasonably healthy for him and Maurice Jones-Drew ends up being another Lionel James, like I think he could be. The guy is so fast that the Jaguars have to find a way to get him the ball in space. Matt Jones, the converted college quarterback, was really coming on as a receiver before Byron Leftwich's injury and in Mercedes Lewis, the Jaguars have their first good receiver at the tight end position since the glory days of Pete Mitchell.
Letwich isn't a superstar quarterback and he does take more hits than he needs too but he's efficient and smart. When he went down last season, he had a rating of 89.3 with 15 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. Jack Del Rio wants to play a conservative brand of offense and Leftwich fits that style perfectly because he doesn't make poor decisions.
What's going to carry the Jaguars to the AFC South crown is their defense. I don't think there is a better unit in the entire AFC. It's absolutely loaded. If you win Super Bowls in the trenches, the Jaguars are on their way, at least on defense. Who has a better defensive line than they do? John Henderson and Marcus Stroud are unmatched as a tackle tandem and Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward are a strong pair of ends who combined for 16 sacks last season. And it's a young group too.
Here's what the anonymous scout in the Sports Illustrated preview says of Mike Peterson: "If middle linebacker Mike Peterson played in New York, he'd be as big as Michael Strahan." Arguable since I think Antonio Pierce, who does play in New York, is better than Peterson but Peterson has become a fantastic player (which explains why the Colts let him go as a free agent--they apparently have no value for good defensive players). And I love the secondary, even if they did overpay for Brian Williams and even if Donovin Darius is starting to slip a little. Rashean Mathis is a fantastic cornerback.
I understand the whole notion of "they aren't going to sneak up on anyone this year!" and that the schedule is harder but this is a very young team coming off a 12-win season. They're only going to get better.
First off, anyone who referecnes Pete Mitchell is on top of his game (Pete was our pass catching tight end from 95-98, and then for a short stint in 02). Second, he nails the gist of the team. A great read.
Behind the Cut is his review of the Colts. [Stampede Blue www.stampedeblue] would have a stroke if he read it.
Head Coach: Tony Dungy
Best Player: Dwight Freeney, DE. He's been a shining light on an otherwise lousy defense since the moment he entered the league.
Most Overrated Player: Bob Sanders, FS. People are enamored with his hitting ability but he's awful in coverage and doesn't have the range to play Dungy's two-deep zone.
Most Underrated Player: Dallas Clark, TE. He makes it impossible for opponents to pay complete attention to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne by getting open in the deep middle. He's perfect for their offense.
Breakout Player: Joseph Addai, RB. The rookie will be counted on to not only pick up the rushing slack Edgerrin James left behind but, just as importantly, the blitz pickups. Not a small task.
Now is the portion of this NFL preview in which you stop taking seriously what I say because I'm about to go out on a real limb and make a bold proclamation:
The Indianapolis Colts will miss the playoffs.
You're clicking the X on the upper right of your browser right now so you can stop reading my drivel but I really believe that this is going to happen. There are things working against the Colts. I really believe that. And it some point, it comes crashing down for teams in the NFL. It always does. No one thought the Eagles would miss the playoffs last season and they did, in grand fashion. I don't know if I think the Colts will stumble as much as the Eagles did but I think they'll stumble in a pretty big way.
The main reason, as always, is the defense. Their defense is terrible. Any offense that challenges them succeeds. How do you think the Steelers got out to that early 14-0 lead in the playoffs last season? I think Dwight Freeney may well be the best defensive player in the league for doing what he does with the players around him. Unfortunately, he has to do it with mediocrity around him.
I'm sorry but Super Bowl contenders aren't starting Nick Harper and Jason David on the corners. Nor are they starting Gary Brackett or Gilbert Gardner at linebacker. People somehow have concluded that Bob Sanders is good because he's a big hitter, even though neither he nor Mike Doss have the diagnostic skills necessary to be a safety in Tony Dungy's two-deep zone scheme. And their defensive line, while quick, is greatly undersized. Teams are going to push them around. A year after eating Warren Sapp to balloon up to about 400 pounds, Corey Simon apparently vomited Sap and is now back to the old, small Simon who teams pushed around on the ground. Any team willing to commit to a power running game is going to give this defense fits. So too will teams that find a way to protect the quarterback because the only thing the Colts defense does well is rush the passer with the incomparable Freeney and running mate Robert Mathis. Of course, Mathis is so small that anyone can run right at him.
The thing is, the defense was lousy last year too, as they showed any time they faced a quality opponent, and they let David Thornton and Larry Tripplett go. Two starters. Two of their more valuable defensive players. I always expect the Colts defense to be weak and that expectation seems likely to come true yet again this season.
But let's be honest here: the main reason the Colts have flopped in the playoffs has been their offense, a unit that routinely underachieves against any championship caliber defense or, perhaps more to the point, any defense capable of putting pressure on Peyton Manning. And that's what leads me to my Edge James, the guy who went to college with the idea of "Three years and out!" I completely agree with the people who say the Colts can come close to replicating Edge's contribution running the ball with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes. But they're not going to come anywhere near replacing Edge in pass protection, one of the underrated by highly important aspects of running backs. Considering that Manning always melts down when teams are able to put heat on him, shouldn't this be considered a huge loss? Didn't Manning publicly call out his offensive line for poorly protecting him in the playoff loss to Pittsburgh? And isn't that protection going to be even worse without James helping them out?
James had replaced Garrison Hearst as the best pass-protection running back in the league and now he's gone. That's not an insignificant loss, no matter how many yards Addai and Rhodes combine for. The last time Edge wasn't able to play for the Colts was 2001, when he blew out his knee and missed most of the season. Not coincidentally, that's also the last time they missed the playoffs.
Ah yes, the playoffs, where the Colts flop every season. But I don't think they get there this time around. Not when the offense has to face the pass rushes of the Giants, Redskins, Patriots, Cowboys, Eagles and Dolphins, to say nothing of the Jaguars twice. And Manning's history against 3-4 defenses is dubious at best and he gets the Jets, Patriots, Cowboys and Dolphins in a 3-4 scheme.
It's great that Manning will combine with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne for 450 passing yards and 44 points against the Texans and Bills but let's see how they do against the top defenses without the key pass protector in the lineup.
One more note on the Colts: I think Adam Vinatieri is the greatest kicker of all-time but the people who somehow believe his acquisition is the most significant of the off-season are out of their mind. In all of those playoff flops, Mike Vanderjagt's kicking only cost them in two of them, back in 2000 when they lost to the Dolphins after he missed a field goal in overtime and again last season when he missed a tying field goal at the end of regulation. But no kicker was going to save them from losing 41-0 to the Jets in 2002 or 24-14 and 20-3 to the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. And it should be noted that part of the reason Vanderjagt missed the field goal last year was because the offense didn't bother trying to get into field goal range, preferring instead to try to take their shots for a big play rather than guaranteeing overtime.
If the Colts have a close playoff game, Vinatieri may put them over the top. But most of the time, the Colts got demolished in the playoffs. He's not making any difference if that trend continues.
Or if they miss the playoffs. Like they're going to.
Awesome. I'd love to see the Jags knock the Colts out of the division. I think Cola might be the only person in the world NOT saying the Colts are going to the Super Bowl.