Jaguars vs. Colts: Takeaways from Jacksonville's 30-10 Loss to Indianapolis
This Week 17 Jaguars vs. Colts matchup had the feeling of a preseason game. Jacksonville was minus several starters and just couldn't compete with AFC South division champion Indianapolis, which moved the ball at will and didn't allow the Jaguars to do much of anything offensively.
Indy goes into the playoffs as the division's only representative, and given its performance in this game, it was well earned. The Colts outplayed the Jaguars in all aspects of the game; Jacksonville was simply overmatched.
The Jaguars started the 2013 season slowly but went .500 in the second half. They had hoped to push their post-bye record to 5-3 with a win over the Colts, but it wasn't meant to be.
Week 17 is inherently boring, especially for non-playoff teams, and this week was more about watching the scoreboard for draft-slotting updates than anything else. What did we learn from watching the Jaguars' blowout loss this week?
This Felt Like a Preseason Game
This game had the feel of a preseason contest in multiple ways. The Jaguars' performance on the field was reminiscent of a preseason tilt, but their roster also looked similar to a pre-cutdown group.
Starting outside linebackers Geno Hayes and Russell Allen were replaced by LaRoy Reynolds, J.T. Thomas and John Lotulelei. Starting cornerback Dwayne Gratz was out. Defensive tackle Roy Miller wasn't available. Starting wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts were both missing.
Backups abounded, and it showed. Jacksonville appeared to spend the game deciding what to do while the Colts spent the game doing essentially whatever they wanted.
It was messy. Unfortunately, this type of game is par for the course in Week 17. And the league wants a LONGER schedule?
Johnathan Cyprien Was All over the Place Early
The Colts changed their scheme in the second quarter to target more quick-hitting pass routes to keep receivers away from Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien. Why? Because Cyprien spent the entire first quarter playing like Troy Polamalu.
Cyprien improved steadily as the season progressed. Early on, he was lost in defensive schemes and was often a step late getting to the ball. Now he has the look of an impact safety with Pro Bowl potential.
In the first quarter, Cyprien made an impact on seemingly every play. He jarred the ball loose from tight end Coby Fleener on a pass down the middle. He drilled Donald Brown on a run and sent him to the turf hard.
The Jacksonville strong safety finished the game credited with six tackles and three passes defensed. He became the eighth rookie defensive back with 100-plus tackles in the last 10 years, according to the Jacksonville Jaguars' official Twitter account:
If Cyprien continues to develop at the rate he did in his rookie season, he'll be one of the best in the league at the position sooner rather than later.
Jacksonville Is No Longer a Black Hole for Wide Receiver Development
It wasn't that long ago Jacksonville had what was considered the worst receiving corps in the league. Without Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts in the lineup, some would say that's what they put out there in Week 17.
That's narrative, not reality. The reality is that Jacksonville has actually become pretty effective at developing wide receivers over the past couple of years.
This week, former Cardinals practice-squad member Kerry Taylor stepped up in the absence of Blackmon and Shorts and grabbed eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Mike Brown started opposite Taylor and pulled in three passes for 43 yards. Ace Sanders had six catches for 50 yards.
Taylor, Brown and Sanders all look like natural pass-catchers. They grab balls with their hands instead of their bodies and can make people miss after making the catch. These players' abilities are a testament to the Jaguars coaching staff.
Wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan is the man that has made all the difference. From the day he took the position, the team's receiving corps received a noticeable boost. Sullivan's pass-catchers have consistently made plays and showed improvement over time instead of the stagnant lack of development shown by previous Jaguars receivers.
With Sullivan in place, Jacksonville is no longer a black hole from which receiving talent cannot emerge. And they're just going to keep getting better.
It's Time to Let Paul Posluszny Move on
Paul Posluszny entered Week 17 second in the NFL in tackles, according to NFL.com, with 152. He had three sacks and two interceptions as well. As a middle linebacker, Posluszny is a player who looks nice on the scoresheet.
On the field, it's not exactly the same story. Though he does make his share of positive plays, Posluszny also struggles mightily in coverage and often misses run fits. Making a tackle is great, but making a tackle after a five-yard gain when you should've stopped him for no gain isn't nearly as great.
Posluszny will turn 30 next year and, according to Spotrac, has a $9.5 million cap hit in 2014. Cutting him would cost the team $4 million in dead money on its cap, but it might be worthwhile for the $5.5 million cap savings and the ability to give a younger player the chance to get snaps in the middle.
There's no reason to cut Posluszny unless the replacement is already on the roster, and if the Jaguars don't directly replace him in free agency or the draft, I don't expect him to be released.
However, if Dave Caldwell and his staff think they have the team's middle linebacker of the future on the roster, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Paul Posluszny finds himself on the free-agent market once again.
No More Chad Henne, Please
Chad Henne finished the game against the Colts with 30 completions on 51 attempts for 331 yards, a touchdown and an interception. It might have been the sloppiest 331-yard game I've ever witnessed.
Henne consistently missed receivers despite having time to throw most of the game. He threw high to short receivers and low to tall receivers.
It would be a major stunner if the Jaguars didn't draft a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft, but that rookie may or may not be ready to play right away. Some have suggested the Jaguars should bring back Henne, who is a free agent, as the bridge to the team's next starting quarterback.
Too many are saying this. Please...no.
Jaguars fans are just done watching Chad Henne. They are also done watching Blaine Gabbert. It will be a tough year if they're subjected to Henne yet again, even if he's just keeping a seat warm for a guy like Blake Bortles or David Fales or Johnny Manziel.
Sometimes change for the sake of change is actually warranted when it stabilizes the sanity of a team's fan base. Please, Mr. Caldwell...don't make us watch Chad Henne again.
This Was Probably MJD's Final Game in a Jaguars Uniform
For eight years, Jaguars fans have had an absolute blast watching Maurice Jones-Drew play. He's been one of the franchise's most dynamic offensive players from the get-go when he scored 15 offensive touchdowns on only 212 total touches his rookie season.
Jones-Drew has piled up over 8,000 rushing yards in Jacksonville and picked up almost 13,000 total yards in eight seasons. He scored 81 total touchdowns and led the league in rushing in 2011 with 1,606 yards on the ground. He WAS the Jacksonville offense for several years' worth of quarterback purgatory.
This might have been MJD's last game in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are a rebuilding franchise, and Jones-Drew will be 29 years old next year, fairly old for an NFL running back. He seems to have lost a step this season, though that may just be due to suspect run-blocking.
If the price is right, both sides would love for MJD to remain in Jacksonville, but the chances that price is the same for both sides seems slim. Jones-Drew likely thinks he's got several years of peak performance remaining and will want to be paid as such.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, will likely prefer a short deal with low guaranteed money in case MJD's performance tails off like that of Shaun Alexander, Clinton Portis and other former star backs-turned-retirees.
We shall see what happens, but until I see a contract extension agreed upon, I will assume we've witnessed Maurice Jones-Drew's final game in a Jaguars uniform.
The Jaguars Will Have the Third Overall Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft
With their loss to the Colts and the Redskins' loss to the New York Giants, the Jaguars clinched the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Division rival Houston will select first overall, and the St. Louis Rams will have the second pick obtained from the Redskins in the RG3 trade a couple years ago.
Some see this draft as a two-player draft with those two players being Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but there is plenty of other talent available.
General manager Dave Caldwell still might have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney if Houston or St. Louis decides to go in a different direction, but even if they're both off the board, there will still be plenty of talent available to Jacksonville.
Caldwell could go a similar route as last year's draft and take Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, 2013 first-round pick Luke Joeckel's bookend at A&M last year. This seems unlikely, as right tackle Austin Pasztor played extremely well in 2013.
Pass-rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack from Buffalo would be a fantastic fit in the LEO position of the Jacksonville defense and would give the Jaguars their best pass-rush prospect since Tony Brackens was in Duval.
If Caldwell wants to stick with a quarterback, Fresno State's Derek Carr is thought of by some as just as good as Bridgewater and could even potentially be rated higher than the Louisville signal-caller by some teams.
No team can have too many playmakers; Caldwell could just hoard explosive pass-catchers and take potential superstar receiver Sammy Watkins from the Clemson Tigers.
There are others who will demand Jacksonville's attention at No. 3 as well such as UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles and many more.
It's up to Caldwell to weed through the possibilities and pick the player that fits best for the Jaguars. It would be great to end up with a top-two pick, but third sure isn't a bad place to be.
Some Core Pieces Are in Place
The 2013 season was far from a lost year. Jacksonville started its rebuilding process in earnest this year with a new regime in place and a new philosophy to be implemented.
Head coach Gus Bradley told Jaguars.com's J.P. Shadrick the team improved this year:
Changing a franchise's culture is no easy task. There are some teams like Miami and Cleveland that appear to have the talent to be successful but seem to run into difficulty when the entire team isn't on the same page.
The roster has improved as well. Several players brought in on short-term "prove it" deals have established themselves as long-term contributors for the Jaguars.
General manager Dave Caldwell's low-risk gambles on defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, cornerback Alan Ball and right tackle Austin Pasztor (originally a Gene Smith signing) have paid off handsomely, and Marks' performance has already been rewarded with a four-year contract extension.
The building process is on the right track. Some major pieces (quarterback, pass-rusher) are still missing, but the Jaguars are building their roster the right way, and Jacksonville fans should see it pay off in the form of playoff appearances sooner rather than later.