6 Reasons the Jacksonville Jaguars Will Finish Dead Last in the AFC South
Despite the mandate of owner Wayne Weaver during the offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a long shot to find themselves playing football in January.
It's more likely they finish last in the division.
For myriad reasons, 2011 doesn't look to be a year of promised development for the Jaguars. With the Colts set to fall from their perennial perch atop the division, the Jaguars will fail to take advantage and be left pointing fingers at each other at season's end.
Here is a look at why you can expect the Jaguars to be looking up at everyone else in the AFC South.
Jack Del Rio
In his ninth season, Jack Del Rio is once again on the hot seat.
After narrowly surviving the chopping block following 2010's December downfall, one has to wonder how much the team truly believes in Del Rio as its leader. It's a matter of time before the axe falls, and his team likely knows it.
Having a coach whose job is in jeopardy, despite what you have been told, is a distraction for NFL players. It is for that very reason that, once near the edge, struggling coaches promptly fall off. Players hear the chatter. Players are asked the question, "So, are you firing Jack this year?" It affects their play, and they either press to help the current regime save their jobs or respond flippantly and wait for new leadership.
Coaches also hear the chatter, and that affects their decision-making. Jack Del Rio doesn't have the leniency Bill Belichick does to fail a controversial fourth-down attempt. Del Rio can't make a questionable decision, because he isn't allowed to fail.
He is, at all times, one bad decision away from the unemployment line.
There is little room for error. He knows it, the team knows it and it will prove to be divisive by season's end.
Maurice Jones-Drew Is Overused
Maurice Jones-Drew has been a fantastic player for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the franchise has leaned heavily on him the past few seasons.
That is the problem.
Jones-Drew had nearly 700 touches in 2009 and 2010 combined. He also missed the last two games of 2010 with a knee injury that required surgery and kept him out until the final preseason game this season.
The majority of successful NFL teams have a two-back system, or at least a second back with the capability to truly spell their starter. Those teams typically also have a highly effective passing game, which alleviates pressure from the run game by limiting how opposing defenses can stack the line of scrimmage.
The Jaguars have neither. The only real weapon they have is Maurice Jones-Drew.
While he had a nice game against the Titans in Week 1, he won't hold up with his current workload. The team is aware of this, which is why it relied heavily upon Deji Karim in the second half of last week's game.
Karim averaged just 2.4 yards per rush.
Karim isn't the answer to balance the Jaguars' offensive attack and take pressure off Jones-Drew, and I'm not sure they have the answer on their roster. Rookie Blaine Gabbert isn't ready to lead the offense, Marcedes Lewis is already injured and there are simply no weapons at receiver.
Once Maurice Jones-Drew either goes down or is slowed by injury, the Jaguars' season will be over.
Yes, that's Rashean Mathis in the photo, chasing another receiver from behind.
Mathis, the former Pro Bowler who had 18 interceptions between 2004 and 2006, is now a liability. He is 31, has clearly lost a step and seems stiff in transition when forced to flip his hips and cover a receiver downfield. Numerous injuries have taken their toll on the ninth-year pro, and he was abused in the second half of Sunday's game by Kenny Britt.
In fact, he nearly cost the Jaguars the game.
On the Titans' second-half touchdown drive that resulted in cutting the lead to 16-14, Mathis was clearly beaten in coverage when he face-guarded Nate Washington, and was later beaten on a fade route by Kenny Britt for a touchdown. Prior to this, he was called for an inexplicable offside penalty when he jammed the opposing receiver before the snap.
He looked lost, he looked slow and he looked confused. His ineptitude gave the Titans life they didn't deserve.
It won't be the last time the Jaguars get burned by Mathis' lack of man-coverage skills, but they simply don't have the talent or depth at the position to go in another direction.
The Jaguars have arguably the least threatening crop of wide receivers in the NFL.
I'll get my lone compliment for the receivers out of the way for their performance Sunday, as Mike Thomas made a great 26-yard catch in the fourth quarter to essentially seal the game. However, Thomas, the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver, finished with eight catches for 55 yards.
On his other 7 catches, Thomas had a paltry 29 yards.
Jason Hill, the other starter, is a castoff from the San Francisco 49ers who the Jaguars signed last season. The mere fact that the Jaguars are starting rejects from one of the worst teams in the NFL should be enough of an indictment that the wide receiver position is in bad shape.
Yet, there is more.
The Jaguars' biggest threat in the passing game, Marcedes Lewis, is injured and questionable for Week 2. Furthermore, Lewis only had two catches against the Titans before leaving with a calf strain. In addition, can we even be sure that Lewis can consistently be the tight end who caught 10 touchdown passes a year ago? In his previous four seasons, he caught just seven touchdowns and opposing defenses are sure to game-plan for him in 2011.
Fortunately, if the Jaguars finish last, they'll have Ryan Broyles, Alshon Jeffrey or Justin Blackmon to look forward to.
The Jaguars offensive line has the capability to be, well, offensive.
It's easy to begin with Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars' first-round pick in 2009, so I will. Monroe simply hasn't developed into the classic left tackle around whom franchises can solidify their offensive lines. Monroe's play through two seasons has been inconsistent at best, and he was clearly dominated throughout the preseason.
While he performed well enough against Tennessee in Week 1, the Titans have a poor pass-rush and the Jaguars didn't give Monroe an opportunity to exhibit his vulnerable pass protection, as they ran the ball more than 40 times.
The rest of the season won't be so easy.
Furthermore, the Jaguars second-round selection in 2009, right tackle Eben Britton, can't stay on the field. Britton suffered through camp in 2010 with a soft tissue injury, missed most of the regular season with a shoulder injury and missed Week 1 in 2011 because of a back injury suffered during camp.
The best ability is availability, and that is an area where Britton is a liability.
The interior of the Jaguars offensive line is sure to struggle as well. Vince Manuwai was cut for being out of shape entering camp, only to be replaced by rookie Will Rackley from Lehigh. While Rackley has ability, he will likely spend most of 2011 navigating the steep learning curve experienced by all rookies.
Brad Meester is a veteran, experienced center, but will be 35 in March and is seeing the sunset of his career. While solid, he and right guard Uche Nwaneri simply cannot compensate for the lack of experience and consistency along the rest of the offensive line.
Luke McCown is a nice quarterback, but he's what you would expect of an experienced journeyman with only two wins as a starter. McCown has a past that includes some inconsistent play and major injuries that have kept him from taking advantage of his opportunities.
At some point this season, opposing defenses will either figure out McCown, or he will fall victim to another injury.
When this happens, the Jaguars may as well prepare for 2012.
While I believe Blaine Gabbert will be an excellent quarterback, it won't be in 2011. Gabbert will be limited by the same things that limited David Garrard and are limiting Luke McCown: a bad offensive line and poor receivers.
Gabbert is the cornerstone, but there are simply no other pieces in place. The Jaguars will have to focus on building around Gabbert in the 2012 offseason, but his 2011 experience promises to be a difficult one.
Furthermore, if Gabbert is the quarterback while Maurice Jones-Drew experiences another injury, the Jaguars won't be guaranteed another victory.