Jacksonville had every chance of losing to Houston. That was the feeling I had while watching the first quarter at my local neighborhood sports bar. From the moment they started driving down the field while Jacksonville missed chances to put points on the board I began to get that terrible feeling in my stomach that this season was going to be exactly like the last several seasons. Seasons where we dominate teams and then fall asleep at the wheel.
Then something happened that changed everything. Jacksonville lined up with Greg Estandia as a TE on the right side of the line, Marcades Lewis on the Left, and George Wrightster as a "Wing Back and scored on a short pass. There was some controversy in the play, as it appeared that Greg Estandia committed offensive pass interference, but since he never attempted to be anything other than a blocker on this one-man pass route, the officials reversed the call, the touchdown stood, and the outcome of the game would never again be in doubt.
The story of the game has to be our Running Game. The first run was a 76 yard jaunt by Fred Taylor early in the first quarter that should have been a Touchdown, but age and that groin slowed him down just enough to let him get snagged from behind. Jones-Drew would prove very capable of doing the rest as he was absolutely unstoppable. He punished defenders for trying to tackle him by lowering his shoulder and knocking would-be tacklers clean out of the play. But don't take my word for it, here's what Jones-Drew had to say about it:
I'd need to watch the film a bit closer to verify this, but I'd like to know if the Texans changed their approach to tackling MJD as the game progressed. Though, it wouldn't have mattered considering how he racked up the yards.
Another important fact about our ground game, it keeps our offense on the field. David Garrard ran on 4th and 1, right up the middle, behind a Center that had only practiced for two weeks. Yeah, Brad Meester was fantastic in his rush blocking even considering that he'd not seen anything approaching a real game situation since last season. Jack Del Rio had no qualms calling for up the middle runs knowing full and well that his Center was getting his game legs about him as they played. Talk about absolute confidence in a players ability to adjust. Anyhow, so David keeps a drive alive in the 2nd quarter that leads us to the eventual touchdown by George Wrightster. Very good. You also can't argue with 9 first downs on the ground either, with some key ones coming out of our boy, Jones-Drew.
Homage to Maurice Jones-Drew:
Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Averaging 5.7 yards per carry and with 3 touchdowns, the sky is the limit for this guy. With Fred a little limited, you can expect Jones-Drew to get close to the 16 TD's he had last season. Hell, the way he's playing he could score 16 touchdowns on Monday for all we know. He's unreal. He's also a nominee for the "Fed-Ex ground player of the week award. Vote for him here DO IT NOW. I'll wait.
The Passing Game:
What can I say, while not spectacular, the passing game is getting the job done. David has now gone 5 games without throwing an interception, a Jaguars record. His passer rating is an astounding 104.7, from the guy we derided for not protecting the ball nearly enough. He's improved from an 80.5 and an 83.9 passer rating in the previous two seasons to the triple digits, and that's with a very weak set of receivers.
Jones-Drew was our leading receiver, with 4 receptions and 59 yards. Reggie Williams scored a touchdown, but did everything in his power to hurt us by losing two fumbles. On back to back drives. But Del Rio didn't change his game plan, Reggie still caught balls.
Matt Jones and David Garrard had some interesting practice time, as they thought they had the "Fade Route-Jump Ball" thing mastered. Unfortunately in the game it was a complete flop as we missed out on points with this awful play. Twice Matt was covered like a blanket, and the third time was, to me, a lack of effort. Matt did redeem himself by catching a critical 3rd down catch and keeping a drive alive.
I don't think that the best way to understand our passing game is in individual numbers. Instead, imagine our whole offense as a machine designed to keep itself on the field for as long as possible. As long as the machine is fed yards and time, the machine will be successful. While each individuals effort might not be particularly inspiring, the collective experience is of a coldly efficient machine that will suck the air out of a defense, keep opponents quarterbacks on the bench, and produce points while consuming time at an unbelievable rate.
Take a look at this:
We did not attempt a single punt. And we know that Podlesh has a leg on him.
9.4 yards rushing on the ground, 4.9 in the air, it's hard to stop that under any circumstance.
People (mainly Stampede Blue) think that Jack Del Rio is a stupid coach. They think he makes bad decisions, is too much of a "players coach", and that he can't win games because his teams are too undisciplined. I scoff at all that, especially this season. Now I will admit that Del Rio is coaching like a man with his job on the line at times, but his decisions have this "all in" flavor to them that is pretty exciting. Going for it on 4th down is a regular part of our offense. Crazy Onside Kicks timed to murder an opponents momentum, and lets not forget the decision to dump Byron Leftwich and start David. That is without a doubt the most important decision he's made as a coach.
Rashean Mathis describes the change:
Our offense can be described in two words. Colt Killer. Remember my terrible simile of the Jaguars offense as a clock consuming machine that lives off the life-energy of the opposing defense? Imagine what that will do to the Colts, knowing what an injured version did to them last season? When executed to perfection, our offense doesn't need anyone to do any more than make sure that every three downs turns into a first down. Yeah, having Jones-Drew go crazy on the ground is great, but as long as we're getting 1st downs from somewhere, we're going to win. You can't score when you're not on the field. I don't care who you are as a quarterback, whether it be Manning on Monday Night or Tom Brady in the playoffs, the Jaguars have a system in place that will be very hard to contain. So you stack the box against Jones-Drew and dare David to throw? We've got enough talent at receiver that we'll get open. Which one of our three tight ends are you going to focus on? Which Wide-Receiver?
Some people think our offense isn't explosive enough. Me, I think it's perfect just the way it is. As the defenses stack up against the run we'll see a deep ball get open. Trust me on that.
This is the end of our discussion of last week's offense. It's all about the Colts, save for my breakdown of the defense later today.