The last three seasons for the Jaguars have been difficult. 5-11 in 2011. 2-14 in 2012. 4-12 in 2013. Until recently they have had a tough division, and facing the Texans and Peyton Manning twice a year would be difficult for anyone. Now, however, the former is weaker and the latter is playing elsewhere. Is it possible for the Jaguars to start doing a Kansas City, or even a Seattle Seahawks? As we will see the Seahawks are a benchmark for this organisation, and they are hoping that they're only one or two seasons away from being playoff contenders themselves. Of course it is not that easy to predict (as we Redskins fans know too well) and it takes a marriage of a few different aspects to turn a team around, not to mention good timing. Going into week 2 of the 2014 season the Washington Redskins will be trying to identify if the Jags are already a serious threat, or just another Jaguars team from years gone by. Fortunately 2013 gave us some clues as to what the organisation are trying to achieve, and I for one believe that this will be a much tougher game than most people will give it credit for when flicking through our schedule - albeit one we should win.
Let's start from the top. The Jaguars are very much a work in progress. Their 2013 season showed us that they have:
A solid defense that can keep them in games
A stuttering offense that lacks proven weapons
A good group of young and hungry coaches
Some excellent and promising young players, particularly on defense
A template from top to bottom taken right out of Seattle
The last point above comes in to stark focus when we look at the coaching situation. The Jaguars hired Gus Bradley as their Head Coach prior to the 2013 season. Bradley came from his previous role as the coordinator for one of the most talked about groups in football, the Seattle Seahawks defense. Bradley and Pete Carroll spent 4 years at Seattle planning and creating the great defense that recently lifted the Super Bowl. Obviously everyone currently attributes this success to Carroll, but Bradley is attempting to prove that this was not the whole story by moulding a similarly successful defensive force in Jacksonville.
This was a bold hire by the Jaguars organisation. Instead of going with a big name coach they identified Bradley's talent and ambition and gave him the keys to this team for years to come, and he is starting with a template for defensive success seen in Seattle. It is worth noting that Bradley hired Bob Babich as his Defensive Coordinator to help him install this aggressive scheme. Babich is a relative unknown, and his main experience has come as a positional coach, so this tells you a lot about who is running this side of the team.
Bradley's template means they will be mimicking the Seahawks use of the ‘4-3 Over' formation which has been written up and talked about ever since it became evident that Seattle had a rather good defense. For those of you who like reading about schemes and Xs and Os check out the following links from the Field Gulls SB Nation site, I would really recommend it.
Obviously, employing a system that is proven to work in Seattle does not guarantee success, otherwise everyone would be running it. Seattle are successful at what they do because they have the players to make it work. Bradley was aware of this, and when he joined he immediately looked to renovate what was already a top 10 defense. This gave him room in free agency this year to make some important acquisitions that he hopes will help mould this group of players around his winning scheme. Let's have a look at the positional groups to see what they have done...
On the defensive line the Jaguars picked up Red Bryant from, you guessed it, Seattle. Bryant will be that important 5 technique/2 gap anchorman needed for this system. This will free up Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller (plus backups Tyson Alualu, and Ziggy Hood - free agent from Pittsburgh) to make plays on the inside. Finally the Jags brought in Chris Clemons from (surprise surprise) Seattle to take up the important ‘Leo' role (see introductory piece on field gulls above) to split time with Jason Babin and complete this impressive defensive line, with some depth to spare. If this line settles into this scheme opposing teams will need to be on their guard (pun intended), as it is all about quick inside pressure and stuffing the run. That said, the one weakness here is at nose tackle, where there are still questions about Miller after a poor 2013 campaign. The Jags also added defensive end Chris Smith to this group in the draft, however he will most likely be a rotational player at least in his rookie year.
Behind the line the Jaguars have a sub par linebacker crew. The only real stand out being Paul Posluszny, who had a good season last year and will be looking to build on this going into 2014. The Jaguars need to add players with athleticism and coverage skills into this group for it to mimic Seattle, as the Bradley system requires the linebackers to drop into zones frequently, as well as getting up to the line and helping in the run game. They added some athleticism in the draft by way of Telvin Smith, but this is certainly an area the Redskins can focus on when game planning, especially with Jordan Reed and a quick WR core at their disposal.
The secondary is a young and promising group for the Jaguars. A focus on developing youth was the key to last season. Players like Cyprien, Evans, Gratz and Guy are all in their football infancy, but experience is there with the consistent captain and cornerback Alan Ball. Another key to this group is flexibility, with many of the players being able to play at cornerback and safety, meaning coordinators and coaches can get creative when lining up their players. In the draft the Jaguars added two more safeties, Aaron Colvin (coming off an ACL) and Craig Loston (UDFA) who likely won't make much impact in their first years, however there is some excitement about Loston amongst fans. There is much that this group needs to learn, and they will make mistakes as they did in 2013, but if they continue to grow then they will be an asset to this team for years to come.
This defense has the potential to becoming a serious contender, and the Redskins should not take it lightly. Our offensive line will need to be strong and flexible to withhold the pressure particularly up the middle. Alfred Morris may also find it difficult to find running room in the stacked box that we will be shown on many downs. Our receiving core will need to work hard for separation. Their weakness looks to be in the middle of the field and targeting the LBs with slants, digs and in routes could be a heavy part of Gruden's offensive gameplan. Look for Jordan Reed to feature and I also would not be surprised to see our RB's used frequently in the passing game. Following on from week 1 vs Texans, the Redskins will have faced a couple of good defenses to start the season. That is a trend that will continue in 2014 as we will see in coming weeks.
It is quite obvious where the problem lies when talking about the Jaguars. Offensively they just can't score points. Last year the team had a horrible start, which resulted in some predicting one of the worst offensive performances in living memory. The Jags started to pull things together however, and this resulted in 4 wins from a 5 game stretch after their bye week (this was against the Titans, Texans x 2 and the Browns, so how much we can read into this is up for debate). The offense proved to a degree that it can score points and play with more freedom, yet even with this minor improvement the issues this team face are obvious.
Bradley brought in a relatively unknown coach called Jedd Fisch to run his offense. Fisch brings with him experience from the college level, and he is very much a West Coast, zone run disciple who falls under the Mike Shanahan branch of the coaching tree. This may help the Redskins defense who have practised against this type of offense for the last few years, but even if not, it is no Eagles or Broncos by any stretch of the imagination.
If his first year is anything to go by then Fisch has a lot to do to turn this team around, however a perfectly valid argument can be made that he does not have any weapons at his disposal.
Let's start with the QB position, and that first round draft choice...
....Ok let's move onto the offensive line.
Jokes aside, Gabbert has been shipped to the 49ers this offseason, and Henne is not the long term answer at QB, therefore picking up a QB in the draft was not a surprise. Picking up Bortles with their first pick in the draft caught most completely off guard however, but the Jaguars seem to have been in love with him for a while. What does he bring to this team? In the short term, not much according to reports out of Jacksonville. The plan seems to be to sit him behind Henne for his rookie season, which means the Redskins should be facing Chad Henne in week 1 (of course Bortles could easily beat Henne out of this spot during the offseason). This should be music to any Redskins fan's ears, and I think the Redskins will be looking to pressure Henne and the offensive line from the first minute of this game.
This offensive line is another issue for the Jaguars. Pro Football Focus ranked them 31st in 2013. Since then they have added pro bowl guard Zane Beadles, who will help this team immediately. Former 1st round pick Luke Joeckel, who got injured early on in his rookie year, will return from injury to help add more talent, however this is spreading it a little thin - and the right side of the line in particular is weak. The Jags added right guard Brandon Linder in the draft and the hope is that they will be able to start him right away and make a difference to this group. Luke Bowanko (center) was also added but he looks to be a backup for Mike Brewster initially, and question marks remain at this position going into the start of the season.
The tight end depth chart features Mercedes Lewis, who is a good blocker and an effective red zone target. Behind him it looks very thin. Another area of need, but it wasn't addressed in the draft.
The Jaguars are moving on from long-serving running back Maurice Jones-Drew who has joined the Oakland Raiders. He leaves the door open for new acquisition Toby Gerhart to take the predicted heavy load of this offense in 2014 along with late round draft pick Storm Johnson, who many considered a reach. He is a similar player to Gerhart and will only likely feature when Gerhart needs a breather.
Wide receiver is also a much talked about position in Jacksonville. Justin Blackmon has been suspended by the NFL for continued substance abuse policy infringements, and the Jaguars are not sure when he will be available again. That leaves Cecil Shorts, who is recovering from a hernia picked up in December 2013, and Ace Sanders who is a second year playmaker that flashed at times in 2013 (one to watch). The draft provided an opportunity to bolster this group, and they sure took it by picking up both Allen Robinson and Marquise Lee. Robinson is more of a possession receiver who will work on the boundary and run comeback routes. Lee is more of an X receiver who will compete for playing time with Cecil Shorts.
The consensus on the Jacksonville Jaguars offense is that it is still a few years away from giving the team a chance to win games off it's own back, and my research above would lead me to believe the same. There is not much outside of the two new WR draft picks to inspire confidence here. The team will look to pound the running game hard and often, and use play action to open up the field when teams start to over commit. We all know the routine from our experience with the Shanahan's. Zone running, play action rollouts, timed drop backs etc etc...
To summarise, the Jaguars are a tale of two teams. If the Redskins can cancel out the Jaguars running game I feel like the game lands on RGIII's shoulders and our offense can start to spread the game out. The game can easily be put beyond Jacksonville's reach if the Redskins defense can stay on top of this stuttering offense. (I am sure we are all confident of that!?) Win or lose, this game will be an interesting watch as it will provide some insight as to how the Redskins will plan to face the Seahawks a few weeks later - purely in terms of attacking this defensive scheme of course!
The keys to the game will be:
Containing the Jaguars defensive line and pass rush
Can Alfred Morris establish a running game? If not, can he or Seastrunk/Helu be a threat coming out of the backfield?
The Redskins defense stuffing the Jaguars running game is critical.
Attacking the weak Jaguars offensive line and pressuring Henne, particularly up the middle and at right tackle.
How will Garcon, Jackson, Roberts and Reed play against the Jaguars secondary and weaker linebackers? How will Gruden attack this weakness?
So that is it for our look at the Jacksonville Jaguars. Next week we will be looking at the first of our divisional rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.