Exiting the pre-season and entering the opening game against the Denver Broncos, it's curious to see what the Jacksonville Jaguars offense is going to look like. The team chucked the football around in the pre-season and didn't run the ball very well. We were told however, that part of that reason was to work on the passing game, the running game is fine.
So, when the game planning begins, what is it going to look like when the Jaguars offense goes out onto the football field Sunday afternoon?
Ultimately, I believe this football team is going to rely heavily on the running game as it has in the past. There's really no reason not to ride Maurice Jones-Drew, as he's an elite NFL runningback. The interesting angle in all of this however, is offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter finally has full control of the offense to run as he sees fit, without other cooks in the kitchen. Most of us know about Koetter's history in the NCAA with Arizona State and Boise State, slinging the football around and being known as a passing game wiz.
We saw some of that in the pre-season, as back-up Luke McCown topped the league charts in passing yards and touchdowns. That doesn't really mean anything heading into the regular season as David Garrard is the starter, but you could see some of what Koetter likes to do take shape. Even in the little playing time Garrard had in the pre-season, he was able to move up and down the football field at will. It seemed like the Jaguars spread the field more and opened up the other team's defense, a big gripe I know a lot of fans had.
With that thought in mind, it's eyebrow raising that the Jacksonville Jaguars kept three fullbacks and two "blocking" tight ends, deciding on Zach Potter over Ernest Wilford. To me, that would signal the Jaguars are going to focus first and foremost on rushing the football. You don't focus that much on blocking if it's not going to be a point of emphasis. As I said previously, it should be a point of emphasis, it's the heart and soul of this football team.
Last season, the Jaguars had nearly a literal 1:1 pass:rush ratio. I'd expect it to be about the same this football season.
One of the differences this season however, is the progression of the Jaguars offensive line and it's re-vamped receiving corps. Three of the five offensive line spots will be better this season, as Justin Smiley will be an upgrade at left guard if he's fully healthy and both offensive tackles are a year more experience, and Eugene Monroe in particular had an outstanding off-season and pre-season. Guard Uche Nwaneri fits perfect at the right guard spot, and even if back up Vince Manuwai gets inserted back into the line up, Nwaneri is just as good at the left guard spot. Center Brad Meester keeps making people, like me, who've thought he's at the end of the line wait another year.
All of these things should add up to less sacks and less hits on the quarterback. In the pre-season, the Jaguars allowed only a single sack (I'm not counting Trevor Harris's play) between David Garrard and Luke McCown, and I'm not sure if that only sack was the play in which Garrard picked up a bad snap by Nwaneri and tried to scramble with it, ultimately going out of bounds for a loss. I don't know the "hits" on the quarterback number, but I'm a believer that's an overrated "statistic". Quarterbacks are going to get hit, it's inevitable. The passing game however, should be improved. Mike Sims-Walker keeps looking like he's ready to explode this season, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch this pre-season. Mike Thomas was kind of quiet in the pre-season, but most everyone has a feeling he's going to catch a lot of footballs, and there is a feeling tight end Marcedes Lewis is finally going to be featured in the passing attack to compliment his stellar blocking.
If the Jaguars are running the football at a consistent clip with Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings as they should, the offense can move up and down the football field and be explosive. The redzone woes that were experienced last season and came to light again in the pre-season is my only real concern as we head into the opener. Maurice Jones-Drew being back in the mix should help that, but that's the last hurdle for this offense. Despite how many people think I feel about David Garrard as a quarterback, I think if the running game is going and the way Koetter called the offense in the pre-season, he can run this offense. One thing Garrard is, is careful with the football and tries to avoid mistakes, which is what he's going to have to do if the Jaguars are going to play the pound the football and chip down the field in the passing game.
Garrard's going to make his mistakes. He'll have his brainfart plays, it's just what he does. He's a high/low type of guy. If Garrard can limit those mistakes and avoid them in the redzone however, a 2007 type season is very possible. All he needs to do for this offense to work is manage the football game and execute the plays. If the offense works how Koetter wants it, he shouldn't need to put the team on his back and carry them.