Jacksonville Jaguars: QB David Garrard Heads Jags' Bad News, Good News in Week 4
The Jacksonville Jaguars' preparation for the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4 will include plenty of the Philadelphia Eagles' highlight-reel plays from last Sunday's 28-3 spanking.
There's no need to rehash them here.
Looking forward, it's important to temper all the negativity surrounding Jacksonville's two blowout losses. This young season still holds 13 games' worth of revelations for the Jaguars, and—despite the abundance of gloom-and-doom projections this week—not all of their 2010 headlines have been bad.
To that end, here are Jacksonville's five most pressing problems paired with five silver linings.
Bad News, Part 1: QB David Garrard
It's only been two weeks since David Garrard was on top of his game in the Jaguars' season-opening win over the Denver Broncos.
Two very long weeks.
In blowout losses against the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, Garrard sunk Jacksonville with five interceptions, managing a mediocre 278 yards and completing just over half of his passes.
Even in the home opener, Garrard only threw for 170 yards as Jacksonville's ground game pounded Denver into submission. Plunking passes off defensive linemen and wasting precious seconds staring down his targets, he has reminded Jaguars fans why their team is a strong candidate to draft a quarterback in 2011.
Good News, Part 1: RB Rashad Jennings
Behind Garrard in Jacksonville's backfield, the Jaguars are growing another weapon to help their beleaguered quarterback.
Through three games, Rashad Jennings has racked up an impressive 151 yards on 22 total touches. That's an average of just under seven yards each time he gets his hands on the football.
With preseason sleeper Zach Miller failing to contribute much at tight end, Jacksonville's offense would do better to use Jennings in more two-back sets alongside Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jaguars have already worked him in as a slot receiver in some packages, where his steady hands have reeled in six receptions.
Bad News, Part 2: OL Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton
Last Sunday against Philadelphia, Jacksonville's second-year bookend tackles had a one-week relapse into their 2009 form that has darkened their outlook a little for this season.
Jaguars fans shouldn't expect Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton to have ironed out all the kinks in their pass-blocking techniques, but the Eagles' six-sack shellacking of David Garrard involved some egregious missteps by the pair.
Specifically, Britton's feet were much too slow against Daryl Tapp and Juqua Parker, and Monroe gave former All-Pro Trent Cole too much space to work with past the line of scrimmage. Philadelphia's linemen are talented, but Jacksonville's tackles are supposed to be pretty good, too.
In passing, it's worth mentioning that—though it might've just been the jersey—Monroe looks like he's regained a bit of the gut he lost over the summer.
Good News, Part 2: TE Marcedes Lewis
Outside of Monroe and Britton, Marcedes Lewis has finally become the player the Jaguars wanted when they used a first-round pick on him in 2006.
For the past few years, Lewis has thrived as an unheralded in-line blocker. His route running left much to be desired and his hands had a way of failing him in crunch time, but he had no trouble walling off opposing linebackers in front of Maurice Jones-Drew.
This season, Lewis has found a cure for the "dropsies" of yesteryear. His 10 catches are third on the team, barely behind wideouts Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas, who have 12 each.
More importantly, his 116 receiving yards include catch-and-run jobs of 21 and 26 yards. Safety-valve tight ends are a dime a dozen, but the mark of a top-tier talent is that ability to turn short throws into big gains.
Bad News, Part 3: DE Derrick Harvey
Amidst the surprising productivity of Jacksonville's pass rush, which has registered seven sacks and put consistent pressure on opposing passers, one defensive lineman seems to be missing in action.
While veteran free agent signee Aaron Kampman, rookie Tyson Alualu, and second-year nose tackle Terrance Knighton have combined for five of those seven sacks, Derrick Harvey has made few noteworthy plays.
His best work has been setting the edge and stalling lead blockers in run defense, continuing his solid play in that area from 2009.
Heading into this season, the Jaguars might have expected Harvey to take advantage of improved talent along the defensive line to get to the quarterback. Through three games, he just doesn't seem to have that burst.
Good News, Part 3: DT Tyson Alualu
Among that trio of standout linemen, who would have predicted back in April that Tyson Alualu would be right in the thick of things?
Oh, that's right: Jacksonville GM Gene Smith.
The Jaguars took plenty of flak from their fans and the media for passing over a handful of big names to pick Alualu 10th overall this year. But the early returns on this so-called "reach" have been impressive: nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, and constant double-team attention from opposing guards and centers.
Once Jacksonville's secondary becomes less leaky, the Jaguars' linebackers are going to have a field day blitzing in Alualu's wake.
Bad News, Part 4: CB Derek Cox
At the moment, though, that secondary is still under heavy construction.
Jacksonville's mix-and-match game at the two safety positions shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the mess on the depth chart that's been there ever since Deon Grant and Donovin Darius left.
When Gerald Alexander takes the field against Indianapolis in Week 4, he'll be the Jaguars' fourth different starting safety in 2010.
But they hadn't expected such instability at cornerback. Former All-Pro Rashean Mathis has been mostly solid, if utterly unspectacular, on one side, but promising second-year athlete Derek Cox still hasn't gotten a handle on how to stay close to his man in coverage.
As Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson illustrated last Sunday, uncertainty among Cox, nickel corner David Jones, and the safeties is a recipe for disaster.
Good News, Part 4: LB Kirk Morrison
If Jacksonville's fans can muster up some optimism for their team's pass defense, it'll be centered around the heady play of draft-day addition Kirk Morrison in the middle.
Most of Morrison's personal highlight-reel plays this year have come against the run, including a high-flying torpedo tackle of the Eagles' Mike Bell on a short-yardage stop Sunday.
But shutting down Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek was no mean feat, and it's Morrison who ensured that Michael Vick had to wait a whole extra second to hit one of several open targets along the sidelines.
Outside of Terrance Knighton's bad day against the San Diego Chargers up front, "Captain Kirk" has keyed the Jaguars' linebackers as an aggressive run-stopping unit, too.
Bad News, Part 5: Coach Mel Tucker
When Jacksonville hired defensive coordinator Mel Tucker in 2009, he was fresh off a disappointing four-year tenure in that role for the Cleveland Browns.
Since taking control of the Jaguars' defense, Tucker has attempted a failed switch to his concept of the 3-4 defense and employed a puckered-up coverage scheme that's been picked apart weekly.
Tucker made a name for himself as a defensive backs coach at Ohio State, where he turned Michael Doss, Will Allen, and Chris Gamble into collegiate All-Americans. Out of those three players, only Gamble has been a professional success.
Coupled with the current state of Jacksonville's secondary, it's a specious list of credentials that comprise Tucker's hold on his job. Clamoring for the firing and hiring of coaches is often a knee-jerk reaction to players' mistakes, but it's reasonable to wonder if Tucker was ever the man for this job in the first place.
Good News, Part 5: Coach Joe Cullen
The saving grace of the Jaguars' pencil-whipped coaching staff has been defensive line coach Joe Cullen—or, as Cullen would say, "rushmen" coach Joe Cullen.
When Jacksonville hired Cullen this spring to revamp a last-place pass rush, he got plenty of tools to work with. First-rounder Tyson Alualu and $26 million free agent Aaron Kampman were the highlights, and the Jaguars spent three more draft picks on defensive linemen.
If improvement was just a matter of money and draft picks, Jacksonville's secondary would be doing just as well: Reggie Nelson, who's now with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Derek Cox were high draft picks, too.
But Culllen has instilled an aggressive spirit in his unit, as evidenced by the churning arms and legs of Alualu and Kampman on 80 percent of the Jaguars' defensive snaps. He's going to blow past Jacksonville's pathetic 14-sack total from 2009, and that's just the beginning.