The Jacksonville Jaguars sit at 0-8 heading into the bye week, looking every bit of an 0-16 team for the 2013 NFL season. The Jaguars haven't really been in any of their games, though against the Denver Broncos it appeared to be close until the fourth quarter, when talent eventually took over.
It's been tough to watch through the first eight games, as the Jaguars have lost by double-digits in every game, with virtually ever game decided early in the first half. It's clearly a roster that lacks talent and it's a roster that can't be fixed with just a single offseason, and probably won't be fixed next year.
So let's review where things are after the first half of the season.
Most NFL teams rise and fall with their starting quarterback and the Jacksonville Jaguars are no different. Third-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert won the starting job after an open competition in the offseason and preseason with veteran Chad Henne, but he broke his thumb on his throwing hand in the preseason and his first game back was the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he ended the day with only 121 passing yards on 35 attempts, getting sacked six times, and throwing two interceptions.
Not only was Gabbert bad, but he got hurt once again suffering a massive gash on his hand forcing him to miss the next two games, putting Chad Henne back in as the starting quarterback. Luckily for Gabbert, Henne didn't fair much better as the offense continued to struggle to even pick up a first down and the Jaguars fell to 0-3.
Gabbert returned against the Indianapolis Colts, another game where the offense was woeful, and once again got injured the following week against the St. Louis Rams, leaving Henne to finish the game and wind up starting the next few weeks.
Henne seemed to be showing a little better than Gabbert, actually starting to move the football and score some points and looking competitive against the Denver Broncos, ultimately leading him to start the next two weeks and over a finally healthy Gabbert in London. But, Chad Henne returned to his old form in London as he struggled to move the football down the field until late in the game.
The Jaguars head into the bye with a mess at quarterback, and it doesn't appear as if it will be resolved anytime soon. It wouldn't be surprising to see a quarterback switch a few more times in the final eight games.
The Jaguars selected Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, which was supposed to solidify the Jaguars offensive line with two good offensive tackles. The team presented some analytical data that showed when Blaine Gabbert had a certain amount of time, he was a significantly better quarterback. The team was also getting back Will Rackley, who missed 2012 with an injury, and long time cornerstone Brad Meester came back for a final year rather than retiring.
From the start, the Jaguars offensive line was a sieve. The team gave up six sacks in the opening game and to date has given up 28 sacks, tied for the third most in the NFL. The main culprit has been Rackley, who by Pro Football Focus, grades out as the worst starting offensive guard in the NFL. Meester has also been a shell of his former self and then the Jaguars lost Joeckel for the year to an ankle injury.
Going forward the team has moved on to Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor at the tackle spots, which shockingly enough has seen protection and run blocking improve. One of the two could wind up being the answer going forward at the right tackle position, as Joeckel will take over at left tackle again when he returns in 2014.
What was once a strength for the Jacksonville Jaguars has becoming one of their weak spots, as they currently rank 29th overall in rushing the football. Maurice Jones-Drew, once the heart of the offense, has struggled through the first eight games of the season, failing to eclipse over 4-yards per carry. Some of it is on the poor play of the offensive line but it's also plain to see that the carries are starting to catch up with Jones-Drew, as he doesn't seem to have the same burst he once had.
He's turned into more of a grinding power back, but he's not that full-time workhorse anymore.
Beyond Jones-Drew, there hasn't been much production because no one's really been given a shot to produce. Jones-Drew has 122 carries through the first half of the season, while the rest of the backfield has just 33 among them total, including "wild cat" plays.
In London, the final game before the bye week, it appeared the Jaguars were willing to give other players more carries to give Jones-Drew a breather, so maybe that's a sign of things to come going forward.
Oddly enough, the Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver group has been arguably it's best unit on both sides of the ball. Cecil Shorts III still looks to be progressing as a receiver, though dealing with some drops, appears to not be a flash in the pan guy. Justin Blackmon dominated as soon as he came back from his four-game suspension to start the year. Shorts is currently on pace for the Jaguars first 1,000 yard season since Jimmy Smith did it some years ago.
Not only have Shorts and Blackmon looked good, but the Jaguars might have found themselves another gem in second-year receiver Mike Brown, who after returning from injury has put on a bit of a show the past two weeks. Exiting the bye week the Jaguars should finally have a healthy stable of wide receivers to give the offense some more options, but they'll ultimately be limited by the play at the quarterback position.
An area many thought would improve with the change in defensive scheme was the pass rush, but unfortunately it's as bad as it's ever been. The Jaguars rank 29th in the NFL in sacks with just 11 on the season, with three players tied for the team lead with two each. In the new scheme, it was supposed to unlock Andre Branch's athleticism and make the most of Jason Babin's dwindling speed rush, but neither have come to fruition.
Branch has looked simple like "just a guy" on the field, and at times worse than that. Babin has caused more trouble to the Jaguars than he has opposing quarterbacks, accounting for eight of the Jaguars defense's 22 penalties on the year so far. The only bright spot in the pass rush has been from flashes by defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks.
One area most thought would be solid to start the year was the run defense, but even that has been poor as team average 161.8 rushing yards per game against the Jaguars, the worst in the NFL. Part of that is that teams are ahead early and just run clock, but also part of that is the simple fact that patchwork free agents like Roy Miller haven't done what they were expected to do.
We knew there would be a transition to the new scheme, as Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell would need to find players who fit, but it's been a bit rougher than most expected. A lot of that however falls back to the ineffectiveness of Branch and Babin rushing the passer, but that's been a long term problem for the Jaguars.
It's possible some roster changes are made at the trade deadline and during the bye week, especially on the defensive line, but help doesn't appear to be on the way until free agency or the draft.
The play of the Jaguars linebacker group has been a bit of a mixed bag. Quietly, oft-criticized linebacker Russell Allen has been the teams best linebacker, but fans still want him cut after every game. Meanwhile oft-praised linebacker Paul Posluszny has struggled in coverage and in his run fits adjusting to the new scheme.
What's been a long standing issue for the Jaguars is covering tight ends, which continues to be a problem even with the defensive change. The big problem is the simple fact that none of the team's linebackers can match up well with the new breed of tight end and it appears this position is merely a bandaid until the team can sift more through free agency and the draft.
Free agent bandaid Geno Hayes has been up and down for the team, doing well in pass coverage but struggling elsewhere. There do not appear to be any changes on the horizon for the linebacker group, so it's just time to strap on the helmet and hold on.
Often misunderstood, the Jaguars secondary has also been a bright spot for the team. The defense has been starting and playing multiple rookies all season, yet they've only given up two passing plays over 40 yards through the first eight games. Teams have been forced to take the short stuff against the Jaguars defense, but missed tackles by rookies like Jonathan Cyprien have led to some big gains.
Since Week 3, the Jaguars have started a pair of rookie draft picks at the safety positions which has netted mixed results. Josh Evans, the Jaguars sixth-round pick, has actually been the more consistent of the two, but Cyprien has flashed big hit and play potential, forcing a few turnovers and knocking some players out of the game (cleanly, I might add).
Third-round pick Dwayne Gratz is finally back from a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for much of the first half of the season, but in his stead journeymen Will Blackmon and Allen Ball have stepped up to the plate, especially Blackmon. With his injury history scaring teams away, the Jaguars appeared to find a gem in giving Blackmon a chance.
Going forward on the season this should be an area that improves as players like Cyprien continue to ease into learning their new positions and roles, most of which are completely different than what they did in college. They're still bound to get beat and give up some big plays, both because they're inexperience rookies making the NFL/scheme adjustment, but also because there's no pass rush to aide them.