With the 24 hour rule expired, it's time to take a serious look at what we learned about the Jaguars after they snatched victory from the hands of defeat against the Pittsburgh Steelers. While I'm completely overjoyed at the win, watching the game illustrated some serious flaws in the Jaguars game that must be corrected if we're going to have any chance against the New England Patriots. Now, it's important to realize that a lot of the metrics that we like to use in order to illustrate a strength or weakness of the Jags are difficult to use based off of Saturday's game. Special Teams and Defensive plays skewed the Offensive stats, specifically with Maurice Jones-Drew's 99 yard kick return in the first quarter and of course Rashean's 63 yard interception return for a touchdown. That's 14 points off of a net offensive possession of 24 seconds. So the six minute difference in the time of possession in favor of the Steelers is misleading, considering that two fantastic plays by the Jaguars kept the offense off of the field. This, of course, is the least of the Jaguars concerns as we plot our strategy against New England.
First, let's take a look at some elements of the Steelers game and see what it means for this week.
Running Attack Stalled: The traditional running attack of the Jaguars that we know and love struggled. While they did run for a total of 135 yards, 58 of those are from David Garrard, and 32 of David's yards are from a now legendary 4th quarter run. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew combined for a mere 77 yards on the ground, 48 and 29 yards respectively, and a little over 3 yards per run. Fred Taylor, despite a 1 yard touchdown in the first quarter, had little success finding an open cut back lane and had to settle for predominately 2 and 3 yard gains. The Steelers linebackers were particularly keyed up on stopping the cutbacks, which probably had something to do with [Mike Tomlin's game tape torture INSERT LINK HERE}
Maurice Jones-Drew was a little more successful, but only to the tune of 3.6 yards per carry to Fred's 3.0. In all fairness, Jones-Drew did have basically 3 touchdowns on the day, if you count his efforts on special teams, receiving, and on the ground, but as far as the traditional Jaguars running attack goes, this game is completely out of character. I really can't be surprised that the Steelers would focus so completely on stopping the run, it's not like it was absolutely obvious that the Jaguars would devote themselves to the Ground Game. The fact that our running game could be so stuffed and we still leave with a win says volumes about the emotional depth of the team. (More on that later)
What does this mean against the Patriots? Clearly the Jaguars are going to work on restoring a sense of normalcy to our ground attack. We're never going to stray far from our grind-house philosophy of running the ball, running the clock and using efficient passing to keep opposing offenses off the field. The Jaguars have a chance to attack some elder statesmen in the New England Linebacking Corps, which is not to say that Teddy and Seau can't play the game, just that Taylor and Jones-Drew might have just enough juke in them to blow past them, provided that the Jaguars offensive line can make the cut-back lanes. One benefit of playing the Steelers twice and the Chargers once is that we've seen the 3-4 defense a few times, so we won't be quite as worried about the unusual formations that the Patriots might throw at us.
Defensive Let-down: One thing is obvious about the upcoming game; don't blow 18 point leads in the 4th quarter. It took a bit of unusual play calling by the Steelers, as well as some exceedingly fortunate plays by the jaguars to even put us in a position to get the field goal and win. The Patriots, to our chagrin, will not make the same mistakes. In the end of the 3rd quarter and throughout the 4th, it felt as though the Jaguars defense forgot how to make the physical and accurate tackles that they're known for. This weakness was particularly obvious after the Steelers began to throw to underneath receivers and let Big Ben average 6.1 yards per pass, with 42 attempts and 297 yards through the air. Tom Brady will pick apart and devastate our defense with Wes Welker if we can't make sure to cover and shut down the underneath routes.
It was disturbing, to say the least, to see the Jaguars defense slip up and allow the Steelers to come back to life, but in all fairness, the offense didn't help with the multiple three and outs in the second half. The Jaguars needed only one more long scoring drive to make a terrifying and dangerous finish into the end of a boring game, but it is what it is.
Against the Patriots, as I've said, once we get any sort of momentum, it must be maintained on all sides of the ball. There's no doubt that the Patriots can exploit any slacking in effort by the Jaguars.
Gritty Win: You can't forget that the Jaguars stuck together and maintained enough focus to win despite standing on the edge of the biggest comeback in NFL Playoff History. That's a pretty good way to get mentally focused for the absolute underdog status that the Jaguars will see as they prepare for the Patriots. It's a little mental edge, that bit of "we can do anything", that playoff teams need.
As we get closer to Saturday our focus on New England will get a little more sophisticated. Most of today's writing comes from 3 hours on an airplane, so keep that in mind.