Cardinals vs. Jaguars: Takeaways from Jacksonville's 27-14 Loss to Arizona
This week's Cardinals vs. Jaguars matchup looked like a potential trap game for Arizona, and for the first half the Jaguars played their part. The game was tied 14-14 at the half, and the score wasn't indicative of the play on the field, as Jacksonville was clearly the better team through 30 minutes of play.
The Cardinals, though, straightened out their issues in the second half and proceeded to stifle the Jaguars' offense on their way to a 27-14 victory. Arizona moves to 6-4 and looks poised to make a run at an NFC playoff spot.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, put in a promising performance today. The Jaguars played hard and fast all game, and the score would've been much closer were it not for two Chad Henne interceptions and a 91-yard touchdown catch by Arizona's Michael Floyd that featured a handful of missed tackles.
Similar to last week, the Jaguars were not dominated like they were almost every week before their bye, which is a promising trend for fans that deserve to see a few wins. What did we learn from Jacksonville in Week 11?
Alan Ball Might Be the Jaguars' Best Cornerback
Stats sometimes lie, but today they didn't. Alan Ball was targeted early and often by Carson Palmer and the Arizona passing game, and Ball responded with a fantastic performance.
Ball was credited with four passes defensed against Arizona, an outstanding total. Though the Cardinals piled up 419 yards through the air, some of which was obtained with Ball in coverage, he was clearly the best Jacksonville defensive back this week.
When general manager Dave Caldwell gave Ball a two-year, $2 million contract in this offseason it was an opportunity for Ball to prove he was a piece worthy of being part of the Jaguars' future. Given his solid play this season combined with his versatility, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ball in black and teal again next year.
Jacksonville's Special Teams Were Impressive
It's hard to call a punter a weapon, but Bryan Anger helped the Jaguars stay in the game against the Cardinals. Anger punted eight times, and six of those punts resulted in the Cardinals starting inside the 20. Three of them were downed inside the ten-yard line, and two of them were downed inside the five.
Though he spent most of the game pinning the Cardinals inside their own 20, Anger still managed a net average of 47.8 yards per punt with a long of 58 yards. In a low-scoring game, field position can be key, and Anger provided the Jaguars a lift in that regard.
It wasn't just Anger standing out on special teams, though: Ace Sanders returned six punts and picked up 48 yards for an average of eight yards per return, and Jordan Todman picked up 144 yards on four kickoff returns for an average of 36 yards per return. A 59-yard return in the first half gave the Jaguars great field position on a drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars are far from a dominant team, so they can use every advantage they can get, and this week special teams was definitely an advantage.
The Jaguars Have Trouble Defending Tight Ends
The Jaguars entered Week 11 having allowed a total of 51 catches for 561 yards and eight touchdowns to opposing tight ends, and they continued their generous ways against the Cardinals. Arizona's tight end group of Rob Housler, Jim Dray, and Jake Ballard combined for nine catches for 117 yards against the Jaguars, and Jacksonville's inability to cover the tight end kept several drives alive.
Housler/Dray/Ballard is hardly a daunting group, but the Jaguars still had trouble keeping the ball out of their hands. The Jacksonville linebackers were the main culprits, giving the Arizona tight ends a free release on most plays and failing to find them in the soft spots in the zone.
If the Jaguars can't defend tight ends, it's going to be tough for the defense to get off the field. Hopefully they can get this problem rectified sooner than later.
Chad Henne Was Terrible
Chad Henne's box score looks mediocre, but it's a generous indicator of his performance this week. A 69.0 QB Rating isn't considered great by any means...however, Henne played more like an inexperienced backup than a veteran backup/marginal starter.
Henne spent the entire game throwing short passes. He had a 62-yard touchdown pass to tight end Danny Noble on a blown coverage play on the Jaguars' first drive and a 29-yard completion to Ace Sanders in the second half on a desperation heave that Sanders stole from a defender. He also had a 21-yard throw to Clay Harbor on a "hide on the sideline" play similar to the one San Francisco ran against the Jaguars in London.
Apart from those three plays, two of which were busted coverages and one of which was a bail-out by the receiver, Henne didn't complete a single pass over 20 yards. Most of his passes were short throws, and even on third down he failed to get the ball past the sticks, as the Jaguars ended the game with a 2-14 third-down conversion rate.
By now it's pretty clear Chad Henne isn't the solution at quarterback for the Jaguars, but this week he was a big part of the problem. His two interceptions were back-breakers, and his inability to get the ball downfield handcuffed the Jacksonville offense and led to a second-half shutout by the Arizona defense. Henne needs to look downfield if the Jaguars want to be competitive down the stretch.
Jacksonville Can't Run the Ball
Maurice Jones-Drew has shown flashes of his previous self this season, but for the most part he's been more Michael Turner than C. J. Spiller. The MJD with the career 4.5 yards-per-carry average hasn't shown up much this year; instead, he's averaging a career-low 3.0 yards per carry.
MJD's inability to get going has left the Jaguars second-to-last in the NFL in rushing with an average of 65 yards per game and tied for dead last in the league with an average of 2.8 yards per carry. The makeshift offensive line blocking in front of him hasn't helped either. The Jaguars' running game is a disaster.
This isn't an issue that will be fixed this season. Luke Joeckel is out for the year, and the Jaguars' left guard, center and running back of the future are currently playing college football. Jacksonville needs to look to the air the rest of the way; the running game is hurting them more than it's helping.
Cecil Shorts Isn't a Big Enough Part of the Game Plan
With Justin Blackmon receiving an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy during the Jaguars' bye week, it seemed likely Cecil Shorts would be the go-to receiving option for Jacksonville going forward. Shorts had averaged 10.6 targets per game prior to the bye, and he only played one snap in one of those games before leaving with an injury.
Since the bye, however, Shorts has been relatively silent. In two games, he's picked up a total of four catches for 64 yards on nine targets and zero touchdowns. This week Shorts only had one target through the midway point of the fourth quarter, and he wasn't very happy about it:
Shorts: "To have 1 target until 7 minutes left in the game, that's [bleeping] dumb. That's dumb, period." #Jaguars— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) November 17, 2013
There's a saying that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," and right now Shorts is definitely squeaky. Going forward, the Jaguars should be targeting Shorts early and often; he's clearly the best receiver on the roster and should be a major part of the offense, if not the largest part.
Would the Jaguars have defeated the Cardinals if Shorts had been targeted ten times? There's no way to know, but I sure would've liked to find out.
The Officials Didn't Help the Jaguars Much
Being an NFL official is difficult, but there are certain things all officials should be able to handle. One of those things is whether or not a play is reviewable, and this week Jeff Triplette and his crew botched that rule and cost the Jaguars a timeout.
Midway through the third quarter with the Cardinals holding a 24-14 lead, Bryan Anger punted to Patrick Peterson, who fielded the ball at his own ten-yard line. Peterson muffed the catch, and at first glance it appeared the Jaguars had recovered the fumble; however, the officials awarded the ball to Arizona.
Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley challenged the play, and the officiating crew went under the hood to review the play. They upheld the call on the field, costing Jacksonville a timeout.
In the FOX studio, former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira stated the play should not have been reviewed:
It has been confirmed, that play in Arizona should not have been reviewed.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 17, 2013
Nevertheless, the Jaguars lost a timeout. It may or may not have made a difference, but it was an egregious error.
The Cardinals kept the ball and started their drive. On second down, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was picked off by Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen inside the Arizona 30. Everyone on the field thought it was an interception...except the officiating crew, which stated the Cardinals had successfully called a timeout prior to the play. The whistle didn't blow, but the timeout was awarded anyway.
Jacksonville simply isn't a good enough team to survive slanted officiating, and the refs in this game made more mistakes that favored Arizona than that favored Jacksonville. Jeff Triplette and his crew need to review this game tape and try to learn from their mistakes.
The Jaguars Won Even Though They Lost
The Jacksonville Jaguars lost the football game this week, falling to 1-9 on the season, but they took a step toward winning a much larger prize. In Tampa Bay, the previously 1-8 Buccaneers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 41-28, putting them in the two-victory club along with the Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, and Minnesota Vikings.
Jacksonville is the only NFL team with only one win, and they are well on their way to the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The Jaguars "control their own destiny" in the race for the No. 1 pick, and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater stands at the finish line of that race.
With the addition of a legitimate franchise quarterback like Bridgewater, the Jaguars could jump-start their rebuild and take a major step forward next year. Though Jaguars fans aren't rooting for losses, in some scenarios a loss is really a win in the long run, and the 2013 season is one of those scenarios.
It's a win-win for Jacksonville fans: either the team wins (celebrate!), or the Jaguars have a better shot at getting a franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft. Six more games to go!