When you work for a place like SBNation, you end up making relationships with other bloggers that you would have otherwise never fraternized with. Not for any inherent reasons, it's not like I am unable to see myself as friends with fans of just about any team, but we would have otherwise never met. But you do meet people and develop both working and social relationships with these people.
That's what makes it so hard to do some of these write-ups without offending people that I consider to be no less than "blogging friends" or "blends." It just so happens that when I was in New York last year for an NFL meetup that I happened to be drinking buddies (or drinking blends aka bluddies) with representatives of the Raiders and Jaguars. It's not my fault that their teams are in such disarray at the moment!
I thought that the Jaguars would be okay last year, but they fell just shy of being "okay" and instead landed in the "the horror, the horror" category. According to Football Outsiders, they were the only team in the league to finish 25th or worse on offense, defense, and special teams. They went 5-11 in 2011, but closer inspection saw two wins over the Colts (worst team in the league) as well as wins over the Titans, Buccaneers, and Ravens. The win over Baltimore on Monday night was impressive for the defense and notable for it's upsetteyness, but still it was a 12-7 win with Josh Scobee doing all of the scoring.
In 2011 the Jags were arguably overrated even at 5-11, and that perhaps helped blind people like me that saw the Jags beat the Ravens on Monday night. This was still a team that lost by double-digits six times, and was blown out by the Jets, Chargers, and Falcons.
The 2012 Jaguars, it could be said, were basically that 5-11 team with a couple of receivers now but with less Maurice Jones-Drew.
The pass defense was no good (29th in DVOA, 89.8 QB rating for opposing QBs), the rush defense was no good (27th in DVOA, 2,256 yards, 19 touchdowns), so overall the defense was fairly terrible and when coupled with an offense that finished 30th in scoring (and Jones-Drew backup Rashad Jennings averaging 2.8 yards per carry) is how you get to 2-14. So the question is: What makes the Jags not a 2-14 team this season? What have they done to get better?
The most obvious and also most relevant to us is the hiring of former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to be their head coach. For the Jaguars to be successful, Gus has to use his experience to turn around a terrible defense, much like he was around for in Seattle. *notices the backhanded italics*
Gus was a holdover from Jim Mora in 2009. The defense wasn't good in 2009. The defense wasn't good in 2010. But Gus was able to stick around long enough to see certain players arrive or get better that helped make it one of the best defenses in the league by 2012 and also raised the profile of Bradley well enough to get a job coaching the Jaguars. But how much his role in that turnaround was worth is impossible to know. I do know that in 2009, he didn't have Earl Thomas or Chris Clemons. He didn't have Red Bryant playing defensive end, either.
In 2010, he didn't have K.J. Wright or Richard Sherman or Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor was only a backup. In 2011, he didn't have Bruce Irvin or Bobby Wagner. Since Bradley was hired, the defense has added Thomas, Clemons, Wright, Sherman, Browner, Chancellor, Irvin, and Wagner, to name a few of the most important additions, and the defense got better. How much of that is due only to the Bradley variable?
On the player side, the Jags have parted ways with players like Aaron Ross, Dawan Landry, Rashad Jennings, Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, Laurent Robinson, Montell Owens, Derek Cox, Guy Whimper, and Greg Jones, among others. They've added Geno Hayes, Justin Forsett, Alan Ball, Sen'Derrick Marks, Mohamed Massaquoi, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, and Marcus Trufant through free agency. They drafted Luke Joeckel, Johnathan Cyprien, Dwayne Gratz, Ace Sanders, Denard Robinson, Josh Evans, Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray through the draft.
How much does all of that alter their 2-14 finish in 2012 to a much better record in 2013, plus a win over the Seahawks in Seattle? Well, I'm not sure much about the former part of that but I can give you a definitive on the latter: It doesn't. The Seahawks maintain their perfect season. Here's why (hopefully Alfie at Big Cat Country doesn't unfollow me after this. I'm pretty sure he owes me a drink.)
1. Double Quarterback Flounder with Please
When in doubt, use a lot of puns.
Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne? It matters none which you choose. If this were the door in Labyrinth with the riddle, your answer was moot because both are sending you down the hand shoot and you're gonna be touched where you don't like it.
Football Outsiders ranks Gabbert 32nd in DYAR and Henne at 33rd. They have Gabbert at 30th in QBR (40.9) and Henne at 34th (29.9.) Joeckel might provide an extra second for either of these guys in the pocket, but let's not forget that as of now he's protecting the side with sight. Sandra Bullock has no plans to make a movie about Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher as of yet. (But you can check her out in the all-new hit comedy The Heat co-starring Melissa McCarthy on June 28, 2013 in a theater near you. "She's fit, but she's fat. Can they co-exist as buddy cops even thought they're.... *gulp* ... females?!?! Find out! Remember how you didn't want to see Bridesmaids because it was a "chick comedy"? Well that worked out alright, didn't it? Didn't it!!!! June 28.)
What Joeckel can't do is get either of these guys to shoot straight. That's up to them, but Henne has shown almost no improvement in five seasons while Gabbert showed a lot of improvement last year... because he was so terrible as a rookie that there really was nowhere else to go. He was so much better that he got benched for Chad Henne, so how about that?
Could one of these two exhibit thus far unseen skills next year and become decent? Yes. But I can only go off what we know so far, and what I know so far is that undrafted rookies Jordan Rodgers and Matt Scott have a chance at starting.
2. "Play it again, absolutely anyone"
Cecil Shorts has one of my favorite names in the league, and also busted out of nowhere for 979 yards and 7 touchdowns. He didn't only have a few long highlight catches (though he did have those too) but he was consistent and helped your fantasy team or was the guy you cursed on the other fantasy team because "who the f%#! is Cecil Shorts."
Justin Blackmon was supposed to be good. The 5th overall pick last year, Blackmon struggled in the first half of the year, then had 236 yards against the Texans, and had consistent production over the final four games. He finished with 64 catches for 865 yards. That all sounds good.
Remember Ernest Wilford? He came out of nowhere to be productive in the mid-2000's but never got better and his time was short-lived. Of course you remember Reggie Williams. The former Huskies star topped out in 2007 with 629 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was out of the league a year later. Remember Matt Jones? The Jags double-bagged their first round receivers in 2004, 2005 with Jones and Williams. Jones might've known how to party like a rock star but he was out of the league shortly following his best season. Remember Mike Sims-Walker? Out of nowhere. Big year. No followup. Mike Thomas in 2010? That's a Storage Wars-level "Yuuuuuppp!"
The Jags had one of the most reliable receivers of the last 20 years with Jimmy Smith. They've had almost zero luck with any receiver since. Will Blackmon and/or Shorts build on what they've started or fall back into obscurity? Can Jordan Shipley, Massaquoi, Sanders, or Denard Robinson contribute this year or enjoy a breakout season?
Will any of it matter against Richard Sherman and company? No.
3. Stop in the name of... In the name of... Wait, why should the Seahawks offense stop at all?
The biggest thing for Gus to do for the Jags would be to help Jacksonville reach a level of defensive excellence like what he saw in Seattle. As said before, none of that was possible without three years of adding talent.
Welcome to year one of that process all over again!
The Jaguars were one of the worst defenses in the NFL last year. They added Cyprien to play safety. They've added a host of other players like Love, Deaderick, Hayes, Gratz... guys they're hoping haven't reached their full potential. This is the third game of the first year of Bradley's rebuild. Which players on defense are replacing players that they are exponentially more talented than from a year ago, when the Jags were 30th in total defense?
4. Special tease?
Two players that I'm definitely looking forward to seeing with the ball in their hands this year are Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson. (Just the fact that I would have drafted them is probably a bad sign, but I digress.) The Jags saw six different players return punts last year, including Michael "No Shit" Spurlock, Quan "Tum Leap followed by Bill" Cosby, Mike "I'm not even supposed to be here today" Thomas, and Maurice "But aren't I the hurt one that's not supposed to be playing special teams?" Jones-Drew. And NINE players returned at least 2 kickoffs.
But whatever role they play as returner doesn't completely turn around one of the worst all-around special teams units in the league.
I mean, their punter and kicker aren't bad. Some say that Bryan Anger was definitely a better draft pick than Russell Wilson haha no one says that. But their coverage apparently wasn't so good and they released Montell Owens who I can only describe to you as "the Alex Bannister" of special teams. Or the Heath Farwell, but also if Heath Farwell averaged 5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Seattle was one of the best special teams units last season, and there's little reason to believe that they should fall dramatically far from that this year.
5. Because we're at home. No puns needed.
Ideally I would have liked to see the Texans and Colts come to Seattle and have the team travel to Jacksonville and Tennessee. Of course, it worked out the exact opposite of that.
If the Seahawks can lose at home to the Jaguars in Week 3, then what the hell am I doing writing these thousands upon thousands of words building up to a perfect season for? It's almost as if there's a chance that we don't go 16-0.
But this isn't a sci-fi novel. This is real life. Of course the Seahawks will enjoy a perfect season, especially with eight home games and that's the simplest reason of all.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some friendships to patch up.