As the Jacksonville Jaguars head into their final preseason game of 2011 against the St. Louis Rams, instead of doing a preview for the game and what to look for, I wanted to look at what some of the questions were before the preseason even started. What we'll be looking for in the final preseason game will be what we've looked for and really failed to see in the previous three preseason games. The offense has struggled in virtually every game. The defense has been inconsistent stopping the run and rushing the passer, and some of the Jaguars best players haven't even really been on the field. It's the same questions we've had every week:
How will the quarterbacks play?
Can the defense get pressure?
Which wide receiver will emerge?
Quite frankly, right now I've got more questions about the 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars than I do answers.
One of the questions heading into the Jaguars preseason was the pass rush. Even with the additions of free agents Paul Posluszny, Clint Session, and Dawan Landry the Jaguars pass rush still needed to improve. It improved in 2010 significantly from 2009, but it was still poor. The team went from 32nd in the NFL in sacks to 31st. The team's best pass rusher, Aaron Kampman, will play his first live snaps tonight against the Rams for about 10-12 plays. Not only that, but the team has already decided it will reduce his overall snaps in the early part of the season. In three games in the preseason so far, the Jaguars are the only team in the NFL without a sack. While they were able to put pressure on Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, they also got handled by the offensive lines of the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.
While the team was without starters Jeremy Mincey and Tyson Alualu against the Bills, both played against the Patriots and Falcons with mixed results. The return of Kampman is being touted as if it's a fix-all, but in reality he's a 30+ year old defensive end coming off a torn ACL for the second year in a row. Expecting him to be a big-time impact early is expecting a lot, especially considering the pass rush has been poor without him.
Not only has the pass rush been suspect, but so has the pass coverage once again. The team stifled Matt Ryan outside of one long touchdown play, but was shredded by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Patriots back up quarterback Brian Hoyer. New safety Dawan Landry has been questionable in coverage and overran quite a few plays. I'm sure he's adjusting to the new scheme, but he's adjusting on the fly so there will be mistakes early in the season. To sum it all up, the defense has been... inconsistent.
On the offensive side of the ball, it's actually been worse than the defense. The offense, as a whole, has spun it's wheels and struggled to move the football. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert started the first preseason game due to David Garrard's back injury, and while he wasn't good or bad, looked like a rookie. The team didn't score anything but field goals and looked shaky. In the second game, we saw the return of Garrard who threw a poor interception on his first drive of the game. Two drives later, Garrard missed on two passes to tight end Marcedes Lewis and the team settle for a field goal. Gabbert didn't far much better than Garrard, completing less than 50% of his passes.
Jump ahead to last Saturday's game against the Buffalo Bills and the offense once again struggled. David Garrard's first three drives ended in 3-and-outs and the team didn't score until they were assisted by a questionable pass interference call. Gabbert entered the game later and just like in the previous week, didn't far much better. He was able to throw a touchdown pass, but also threw a cringe worthy interception.
Not only have the quarterbacks struggled to do much, but no one has emerged from the wide receiving corps yet. Mike Thomas, while a good player, hasn't really looked like that go-to guy the team hopes he will be. Jason Hill, who's supposed to be the team's main deep threat, can certainly get deep but no one seems to be able to get the ball to him. Then again, when the ball is actually thrown perfectly to him, he's short armed the pass. The most consistent receiver has been rookie Cecil Shorts, but to expect a lot out of him is unlikely. After that it's really just a hodge-podge of guys fighting for a roster spot.
The team is missing their Pro-Bowl runningback in Maurice Jones-Drew, who's coming off a bone-on-bone condition he played with in 2010, but he also won't take his first live snaps until tonight. Even with his return, will it alleviate the struggles of the offense to pass the football? It will certainly help, but to what degree? Even with Jones-Drew last year, despite breaking the franchise record for passing touchdowns, the passing offense was in the bottom of the NFL.
I haven't even gotten to the fact that the team in starting a rookie left guard and Eben Britton is coming off recent back surgery to repair a disc.
I apologize for being a total buzz kill, if there was still any buzz, but right now this football team just doesn't look very good. I know some fans have playoff aspirations and hope they will compete for the AFC South division title, but based on what I've seen from this team and the others in the preseason, that's hard for me to see.
I'll spare the "Who to start" at quarterback discussion, because we all know how I feel about it. I'd just rip the band-aid off and get it over with. I don't think the team will do it, but for David Garrard's sake he needs to do something tonight. It's not just David Garrard that needs to show something however, this team as a whole needs to have a good game all around.