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Jacksonville Jaguars: A Defense in Decline? (Game Notes and Injury Report)

I'm going to be frank here, I was completely and utterly wrong about the Jaguars defense.  I said in a couple of very public radio places that I would be surprised if the Jaguars were anything less than the best defense in the league this season.  Of course, just to make myself feel better, I wasn't the only fool.

Anyone who's watched the team knows that couldn't be further from the truth.  If you told me in August that it was going to be our offense that kept us alive in games, I would have written off the season and started to look at the 2008 Draft instead.

Let's start with the facts:

  1. Jacksonville's pass defense is ranked 27 of 32.
  2. Jacksonville's pass defense has allowed as many as 445 yards in a game, a franchise record.
  3. Jacksonville is 7th in the NFL in least points allowed.
  4. Jacksonville has allowed 47 passing plays of 20 yards or longer.  These are considered "explosive" plays, and have game changing potential.
The first two are devastating, the third makes things a little better.  The 4th has to stop or we will have a very short post season adventure.

These facts on there own are fair cause to have doom and gloom.  In fact, the Associated Press, wrote a pretty good obituary for the Jaguars Defense.  In it, they break down the failing domination of the Jaguars Defense and attempt to explain why the team fell so far, from 2nd to 22nd in overall defense.

Their Conclusion:

The defensive decline started when the front office allowed safety Deon Grant to leave via free agency, which essentially forced first-round draft pick Nelson into the starting lineup.

Nelson and fellow safety Sammy Knight have been picked on all season, embarrassingly exposed by Manning, Jeff Garcia and Drew Brees.

There's not much the Jaguars can do to prevent it, especially since they're not getting nearly enough pressure up front.

Linemen Henderson, Reggie Hayward and Bobby McCray have made little or no impact.

Henderson said he is having personal problems. Hayward might never return to form after rupturing his Achilles' tendon in 2006 and missing the season. And McCray, who had a career-high 10 sacks last year, can't seem to get near the quarterback.

The Jaguars also are playing without linebacker Mike Peterson, the team's top tackler and defensive leader.

I'd lean very much toward the defensive line as the root cause of the Jaguars troubles.  Not to throw them under the bus, but there are far too many pass plays where the quarterback has 7 or 8 seconds to find the open receiver, or move just enough in the pocket to make the big throw.  Peyton Manning is by no means a mobile quarterback, and even he was able to move enough in the face of our "pass-rush" to complete passes, especially on third down.

Of course, it's never as simple as it looks.  Jacksonville is going to have a hard time bringing the extra pressure with the injuries on the line.  Stroud has played beneith his potential as he's recovering from micro-fracture surgery in his ankle, and of course the suspension.  Reggie Hayward returns from a torn Achilles, but then injures his groin.  Bobby "New Contract" McCray isn't playing anywhere near what he did last season ( He went from 35 tackles and 10 sacks to ten tackles and no sacks this season).

Paul Spicer is the only bright spot, and to reflect that, he's now a Defensive Capitan.  Mike Smith on Paul Spicer:

"Paul has had a great season. If you had asked back in August, with the back injury; it looked like there were times he had trouble walking down the hallway. He's been our most productive player up front,"

There's another factor in why we can't beat the pass, that's the relative challenge in our defensive backfield.  Reggie Nelson has been outstanding for a rookie, but he's getting targeted by offenses hoping for a rookie mistake.  Sort of like the one that allowed Reggie Wayne to get inside and uncovered for that very painful touchdown last week.  We've also got Sammy Knight, a good but aging Strong Safety, who is getting targeted by speedy slot receivers and on occasion, badly burnt.  Jacksonville is torn between putting extra players in coverage to help the safeties, or sending extra pressure to offset the weak pass-rush.

Mike Smith is a fantastic defensive coordinator, but he's got his hands full this week.  If Jacksonville doesn't figure out how to bring some sort of pressure on the Quarterback, I don't know how we'll survive in the playoffs against some of the better offenses.  

It distrurbs me that as we enter the thick of the hunt that it's the Defense that has me worried.  Not so much against the Carolina Panthers specifically, but a general fear of worry.  There has to be a schematic solution found, otherwise we could be in a world of trouble.

There is good news though, we do a fantastic job at shutting down the run.  We're keeping points off the board, and that's good too.  If we can just figure out the tweak that we need to bring the heat, we're going to be a scary team in the playoffs.

Think about it this way, in August we would have written off the season if we knew our defense would struggle.  Thankfully David Garrard and our offense have stepped up and shown that we're a complete and well rounded team that can run the ball, throw the ball and stop the run.  If we can just figure out that one other part of our game, we'll be ok.

Speaking of our defense, Marcus Stroud is back after his 4 game suspension.  Marcus, if you read this, I'd really like it if you came back and had a huge day.  You know, show that you're still the force of nature that you can be.  Maybe team up with Henderson and do some extra practice, just to shore up the footwork.

Other News and Notes: Congratulations Jacksonville, you're being recognized as one of the 6 best teams for encouraging Designated Drivers at their games. Big Cat Country has no tolerance for drunk driving, so good job Jaguars and Jacksonville for doing the right thing!

Injury Report

Jaguars:

Vincent Manuwai (G)
Practice:     Limited Participation in Practice     Shoulder

Reggie Hayward (DE)
Practice:     Out (Definitely Will Not Play)     Groin

Mike Peterson (LB)
Practice:     Out (Definitely Will Not Play)     Hand

Panthers:

Dwayne Jarrett (WR)
Practice:     Did Not Participate In Practice     Knee

Na'il Diggs (LB)
Practice:     Full Participation in Practice     Calf

DeShaun Foster (RB)
Practice:     Full Participation in Practice     Head

Chris Harris (S)
Practice:     Full Participation in Practice     Shoulder

That's all for today, back tomorrow with our scouting report and some crossblogging with the fine folks over at Cat Scratch Reader

-Chris