Jacksonville Jaguars' Rashean Mathis Can't Do It Alone
Watching (and cringing at) the game this Sunday definitely made me realize something: The only truly high-caliber player in the Jaguars' secondary is Rashean Mathis.
Mathis has had something of a slowdown in recent years as far as production goes, partially because of injuries and partially because of a significantly reduced ability on the part of the Jaguars to rush the passer and defend against the run which puts significantly more pressure on the corners.
In spite of this, however, Mathis has remained one of the best cover corners in the league and has been one of the only constants on the Jags defense.
The rest of the secondary has been undergoing major overhaul, particularly since Gene Smith took over as GM. In the Harris era, the Jaguars drafted only one safety, Reggie Nelson, who was traded this season for Bengals corner David Jones, who started at corner opposite Rashean Mathis in place of Derek Cox (who had a terrible season opener) last weekend.
Now, I believe it says something about the way you're drafting if you're trading a former 1st rounder for a fifth rounder who was claimed off of waivers by the Bengals last season. That's probably why Harris isn't the Jags GM anymore, though.
But I'm off track. So what ends up happening when you bust on a high draft pick at safety is you get Anthony Smith and Sean Considine starting at safety for you.
Now, don't get me wrong, Smith and Considine aren't bad players. Considine in particular is a very fundamentally strong safety who lacks only top end speed to be really great. The problem is that he and Smith are neither one very fast, which causes the following unique problem:
In a regular 4-3 defense, like the one the Jaguars run, the safeties are the last line of defense against the run. The issue with having slightly slower safeties is, when they're defending against the run and cheating up on the line of scrimmage a little, they don't have the ability to catch up to the play when it is a pass, which means that they run the risk of getting beat deep if they play the run at all.
The way to combat this is to have them always stay 12 or so yards off of the line of scrimmage, but the problem with that is then if the halfback breaks into the second level of the defense chances are he's going to get 12 yards, and that's not a defenses goal either.
That's exactly what happened to the Jags on Sunday, namely that the safety play affected the entire defense. When the safeties played up inside of 8 to 10 yards, Philip Rivers threw the ball deep to the middle of the field. When they stayed back to defend the pass the Chargers dialed up the running game and gashed the Jags for 15+ yards several times.
So, basically, the Jaguars need a faster free safety than Sean Considine. Considine is probably better suited to play strong safety with his larger size and lower speed. In the past they have moved corners to safety when Reggie Nelson struggled (they did this with Brian Williams in 2008 to some effect) and perhaps they should do this again.
I haven't really been able to Judge acquisition David Jones particularly well yet but we already know Derek Cox is fast and has good ball skills. If he proves himself to be an effective tackler he could be a good option at free safety until the Jags can deal with the position otherwise.
In any case, the Jags are going to keep struggling on defense until something is done at safety, particularly free safety, and that's just a fact.
Signing off from Jacksonville.
Auguste Archer ~ 12:14 PM EST
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